Trinidad is a doctoral candidate in Biomedical Engineering and her
primary focus is on her 9-to-5 role, working on the scale up of
cultured meat as well as life cycle assessments to understand its
environmental impacts, she said. The treat waiting for her at the
end of the day is another professional commitment entirely:
entertaining thousands as a member of the
Boston Celtics Dancers.
“Dance to me has always been so cathartic and such a great way to
relieve stress,” Trinidad said. “So, it's almost like a reward
system to me. I like to compartmentalize my two jobs and only
focus on one at a time.”
“In the lab we were given superlatives, and the one I received was
most likely to live a double life,” Trinidad said, laughing.
To be successful in both her creative pursuits and her STEM
career, Trinidad said she’s developed different personas—and
although they’re different, they’re also complementary.
“The skillsets are so different,” Trinidad said. “But the
discipline that I learned from school also applies to dance. And
the creativity from dance can also apply to school, especially in
a Ph.D. program where we're essentially forced to think about our
own research ideas and creative solutions to problems we see. So,
yes, I have two different personas, but they complement each other
Right now, Trinidad is working harder than ever to balance those
personas and her commitments to her scholarship and dance career.
After reaching the 2022 NBA Finals before ultimately being taken
down by the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics are back in
postseason play, this year as a No. 2 seed. With 2023 NBA Playoffs
games starting later and sometimes lasting longer, Trinidad is
putting in extra hours for games and for practices—but the hard
work is all worth it, she said.
Trinidad grew up in New Jersey, where she found joy in dance from
a young age. After initially giving up on the art as a toddler,
her older sister convinced her to return to the studio in
elementary school and it became a major part of her life from
When she wasn’t dancing, though, Trinidad was focused on devouring
information in the STEM fields, similar to how she structures her
schedule now. That interest led her to Rutgers University, where
she earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and
It was during her time at Rutgers that she realized how much her
academic commitments could help her succeed on the Rutgers dance
team, and vice versa.
“I think I'm able to balance my life now because of Rutgers,”
Trinidad said. “Competition dancing at the college level requires
constant gym sessions and practices two to three times a week
outside of football and basketball gameday commitments. That
helped me learn how to balance everything because both are time
After graduating from Rutgers, Trinidad continued to hone her two
personas, spending days working as a packaging engineer at
cosmetic companies in Manhattan. When it made sense for her
schedule and her career, she would squeeze in professional dance
tryouts she was sent by her talent agency.
“Dance has always been a supplement to my life,” Trinidad said.
“It's never been 100% my personality. I've always loved science,
so when I signed with my former talent agency, I would go to an
audition if it fit my timeline. Rejection with an audition in New
York City is so high and so my priority was always on my
Finding a New Path
Trinidad’s dedication to her professional career is how she
stumbled across the concept of cultured meat, which opened her
eyes to a potential new career path.
“When I got my bachelor’s degree, graduate school was never in the
cards for me,” Trinidad remembered. But that was before she delved
into the ways in which industries outside of cosmetics and beauty
were working to make their products more sustainable.
“Cosmetic packaging generates a lot of waste. There were ongoing
initiatives to make packaging more sustainable and I was curious
how we could quantify or benchmark sustainability efforts,”
Trinidad remembered. “So, I spent a lot of time outside work
reading papers and academic journals about how people do it in
other disciplines, which really inspired me.”
In the course of her research, Trinidad found a paper about life
cycle assessment, which is a sustainability methodology that’s
often used in
cellular agriculture, specifically cultured meat.
That spark led her to read more and learn about other potential
impacts of lab-grown meat, like animal welfare and health
benefits. She was so fascinated by the topic, she reached out to
David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts, as well as
Natalie Rubio, EG22, a recent alum of the Kaplan Lab, both among
the first proponents of the field, to learn more.
Around the same time, she took a Tufts course in cultured meat
online, and that experience confirmed what she already knew: she
wanted to get into the lab.
Kirsten Trinidad, EG26, wears a big smile while working in the
lab at Tufts University School of Engineering. Photo: Chettar
Now close to two years into her program, Trinidad is working in
the Kaplan Lab, on the topic which originally piqued her interest: lifecycle
assessment (LCA), which takes a holistic look at the process of
creating cultured meat to quantify its environmental impacts.
“I feel like a lot of projects are focused on one aspect of an
entire process, but LCAs are neat because they consider every
single part of a cultured meat system. It's allowed me to learn
about all aspects of creating meat in a lab,” Trinidad said. “It's
also really cool because I can apply my findings from my other
in-lab scale up projects to construct an experimentally-sound
With that knowledge, Trinidad works as the student club lead for
the USDA National Institute for Cellular Agriculture at Tufts
University, educating other college students about the benefits
and impacts of cultured meat. Tufts was one of several schools to
receive a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture in 2021
to establish the institute.
“My role helps work toward the institute’s education goal to reach
out to as many students as possible and let them know about
cultured meat and immerse them into the science in a very
transparent and communicable way,” Trinidad said. “Science can be
so daunting, so the whole goal of the student club is to get
students from all different universities to make cell-ag less
Looking to the Future
Trinidad is wrapping up her first year with the Celtics. She looks
forward to trying out for another season this summer, and
potentially getting to experience veteran life on the team.
As a lifelong dancer, Trinidad is particularly proud to be a part
of the Celtics Dancers, which is creating equity and space for
dancers of all genders on its roster. There are three men on the
team this season, which has meant updating routines and dances to
“Because of how the professional dance world is changing with the
emphasis on inclusivity of men, we sometimes have to change our
choreography to be fitting for all genders,” Trinidad said. “Which
I think is really cool because it shows that we're versatile and
can adapt well. It brings a different kind of energy to the dances
because I think everyone, gender regardless, has something unique
Trinidad also feels empowered as a woman on the team, knowing that
she is there for the benefit of everyone in the audience.
“We’re there to entertain, but we’re not there for the sole
entertainment of men,” Trinidad said.
The confidence she finds on the court has also helped her in
academic pursuits as well. The discipline that Trinidad has honed
has sparked her next goal in the lab. Once she completes her work
in LCA, Trinidad hopes to spend the second half of her Ph.D.
exploring the nutritional aspects of cultured meat.
“Because diet has been such a big part of my life with dance,
nutrition would be a cool integration of both of my passions into
my scientific work,” Trinidad said. “Without going into too much
scientific detail, red meat has a bad reputation because it's
correlated to higher incidence of colorectal cancer
and atherosclerosis. So, what I want to figure out is if it’s
possible to ameliorate or negate the negative effects of red meat
in the lab. These pathologies are something in which I'm really
Celtics Dancer and Biomedical Engineering Student Strikes Balance
On, Off Court -
Published originally on Tufts Now