Celebrate International Women’s Day with Australian women scientists

Marking International Women’s Day, five of the world’s women leaders in science each received the $US100,000 L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards For Women in Science at a ceremony in Paris.

The five laureates have diverse interests – from light-based cancer therapy to the life of stars. There are no Australian recipients this year.

In Australia, L’Oréal provides $20,000 fellowships for early-career researchers. Several past winners are available to talk this weekend about their work, and about the importance of young women retaining an interest in science through school, university and life.

The 2009 International Laureates are:

  • Africa & the Arab States: Pr. Tebello Nyokong, Rhodes University in South Africa, for her work on harnessing light for cancer therapy and for environmental clean-up.
  • Asia-Pacific: Pr. Akiko Kobayashi, Nihon University in Japan, for her contribution to the development of molecular conductors and the design and synthesis of a single-component -organic metal.
  • North America: Pr. Eugenia Kumacheva, University of Toronto in Canada, for the design and development of new materials with many applications including targeted drug delivery for cancer treatments and materials for high density optical data storage.
  • Europe: Pr. Athene M. Donald, University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, for her work in unravelling the mysteries of the physics of messy materials, ranging from cement to starch.
  • Latin America: Pr. Beatriz Barbuy, University of São Paulo in Brazil, for her work on the life of stars from the birth of the universe to the present time.

The L’Oréal Australia Fellows available for interview are:

Big ecology: from tundra to rainforest, desert to savanna: Angela Moles, UNSW

Evolutionary biologist Angela Moles visited 75 ecosystems in her effort to understand the big picture – how and why plants vary. She and her team are still mining the data but are already making intriguing findings. For example: plant seeds in the tropics are, on average, 300 times bigger than seeds in colder places.

Are nanoparticles safe? Amanda Barnard, CSIRO Vic

Nanotechnology is being used in catalysts, in surface treatments for glass, in cosmetics and in drug delivery. Many more applications are just around the corner. But how will these particles behave in the environment?

Crystallising a career in immunology: Natalie Borg, Monash University

Protein chemist Natalie Borg is analysing protein crystals with synchrotron light, to figure out how our bodies mount a rapid defence when we are attacked by viruses.

Unravelling the immune system: Erika Cretney, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne

Immunologist Erika Cretney is fascinated by the human immune system. She is investigating T cells that play a role in controlling inflammation and in auto-immune diseases.

Studying black holes: Ilana Feian, CSIRO NSW

Black holes are some of the most bizarre objects in the universe. They can have as much mass as a billion stars combined. How did they form and how did they get so big?

  • For interviews: Megan Ryan 0400 641 737 or Niall Byrne (03) 9398 1416, 0417 131 977

Background information

The international laureates were chosen from nominations made by a network of almost 1000 members of the international scientific community. A jury of 17 eminent scientists led by 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient Professor Ahmed Zewail selected the final winners from the shortlisted applicants.

“It is a pleasure to be the president of the jury,” says Professor Zewail.  “There is no doubt that the programme’s goal of identifying women notable for their scientific excellence is of major importance to the future of science and our world.”

Professor Christian de Duve, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine 1974, is the Founding President of the Awards, and Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO, is Honorary President.

A Pioneering Programme: More Than 10 Years of Supporting Women in Science

Created in 1998, the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards For Women in Science were established as the first international awards dedicated to women scientists around the world.

Today, 11 years and 57 Laureates later, the programme is a benchmark of international scientific excellence, and an invaluable source of motivation, support, and inspiration for women in the scientific field. The Awards alternate each year between Life Sciences and Physical Sciences, recognising work that addresses major challenges in modern science. The Laureates serve as role models for future generations, encouraging young women around the world to follow in their footsteps.

In addition to its international Laureates, the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO For Women in Science programme has to date granted 120 International Fellowships and 340 National Fellowships to female doctoral and postdoctoral students, fostering a global community of scientific talent that continues to grow each year.

The Australian program

L’Oréal Australia’s For Women in Science Fellowships were first awarded in 2007. In 2009 three early career women will each receive a $A20,000 fellowship.

Nominations for 2009 will open on 1 April.