Cortina McCurry was born in Anchorage, Alaska into a family of eight. She grew up playing with Eskimo yo-yos and fishing for wild salmon. Three times she spotted in the Alaskan sky the northern lights. Now her dream is to photograph them.

McCurry, who is pursing a Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences, and who is also a photographer, modern dancer, and painter, hopes one day to merge her love of science and art. “Science is like art,” says McCurry, who is often awed by the beauty of science. “I want to show students who love art and science that you don’t have to forsake one at the expense of the other.”

Her dream is to found a school for young children and to develop a curriculum that blends both fields. Her wish is that her innovative teaching method will one day spread across the country and the world.

McCurry, who also plans to work to increase the number of underrepresented students in science, graduated from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania with a degree in chemistry in 2002. She spent three months at Lancaster University in England, where she conducted Alzheimer’s research, and she came to MIT in 2003.

McCurry, a recipient of a Norman B. Leventhal Presidential Graduate Fellowship, says the fellowship is a great gift. “I have the freedom to take any class I wish and am free to focus completely on my research without any distractions.”

Freedom, she says, has brought her focus. She now focuses on passing on to others her own passion and love of science. “I want children to see the beauty of art and science, to believe in themselves, and to go after their dreams.”