On Monday 20th of November, L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science will honour the achievements of five female scientists in Australia and New Zealand at a ceremony in Sydney, New South Wales. The exceptional women in the early stages of their careers will be granted a prestigious Fellowship and valuable funding to help further important research.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Global For Women in Science Awards. Since 1998, the awards have been celebrating and empowering female scientists worldwide and has recognised 4,100 female researchers globally and 65 locally with 500 scientific experts involved in the selection worldwide. Whilst promising advances have been made, there is still work to be done with the representation of women in STEMM only increasing by 1 percent between the years of 2014–2019 in Australia and less than 4 percent of women have been awarded a Nobel Prize for Science globally. A report by the World Economic Forum, estimated that at the current rate of progress, it will take over two centuries to achieve gender parity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, emphasising the importance of programs such as L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science to accelerate efforts to bridge the gap.
L’Oréal was founded by scientist, Eugène Schueller in 1909 and for over the past 25 years, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been shining a light on scientific research and developments while advocating that the world needs science and science needs women.
According to an analysis of 2 million computer science papers in the USA between 1970 and 2018, researchers concluded that gender parity would not be reached in this field until the year 2100. Only 4 percent of those surveyed could name a female tech leader, with 2 percent of those stating Alexa or Siri*.
Further to the 5 local nominees, this year, L’Oréal-UNESCO announced Australian Professor Lidia Morawska from the Queensland University of Technology as a Laureate for the prestigious 2023 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Program. Professor Morawska was recognised at the awards ceremony in Paris earlier this year for her outstanding contributions to scientific research in the field of air pollution and its impact on human health and the environment. Professor Morawska also received €100,000 ($165,000 AUD) to further her research.
Chief Corporate Affairs & Engagement Officer at L'Oréal Australia & New Zealand, Marnie Carroll said “The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program continues to recognise and celebrate the groundbreaking achievements and contributions to scientific progress made by females across Australia and New Zealand. Through awarding our 2023 Fellows, we aim to continue breaking down gender barriers within STEM and inspire younger generations of women to pursue their curiosity and ambitions within the field.”
“This year, the selection of Fellows bring a diverse spectrum of knowledge and experience to our cohort of female scientists, so we are thrilled to be able to acknowledge their accomplishments and help foster the progression of their individual endeavours into the future,” concluded Marnie.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science ceremony will honour four Australia Fellows including Dr Renata Borovica-Gajic, Dr Deborah Burnett, Dr Anna Trigos and Dr Lucia Romani, and New Zealand Fellow Dr Georgia Grant.
DR RENATA BOROVICA-GAJIC
University of Melbourne, VIC
From data to rapid insights, revolutionising data exploration as a pathway to scientific discovery
A career in science was not always on the cards for Renata, whose passion for sports led her to achieve a black belt in Karate with a dream to become a PE teacher through her senior years of schooling. However, the universe had other plans, with a career changing injury in her final year of school putting a halt to these ambitions.
Renata then looked to her other loves; mathematics and science for the inspiration of her tertiary studies. Through Renata’s research, she serendipitously discovered Computer Science – the perfect marriage of her two interests, and it was this leap of faith that has led her here, a leader in data research at the forefront of the field.
Today, Renata is a Senior Lecturer in Data Analytics and ARC DECRA Fellow in the School of Computing and Information Systems, as well as Assistant Dean (Diversity and Inclusion) for the Faculty of Engineering and IT at the University of Melbourne.
Dr Borovica-Gajic’s research focus is on solving data management problems when storing, accessing, and processing massive data sets, enabling faster, more predictable, and cheaper data analysis as a result. Envisioning database systems as dynamic entities able to adjust query processing strategies to fit the characteristics of data and usage patterns, she facilitates data exploration in scientific domains, where the lack of amenable tools for efficient data analysis hinders scientific discoveries..
“My research aims to develop a next-generation self-driving database for seamless data exploration, where users can interactively search for insights buried in the data without a clear outcome in mind. Using new machine learning techniques, my research advances databases and makes them accessible to non-experts by automating laborious and complex tasks that currently require costly domain expertise. Self-driving databases predict user intention and help them retrieve data of interest promptly,” said Dr Borovica-Gajic.
Dr Deborah Burnett
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, NSW
Investigating “rogue” antibodies to uncover the driver mechanisms behind autoimmune diseases
Science was always on the brain, but not in the way Deborah practices now. Since she can remember, Deborah has always possessed an overt love of animals (she still fosters ringtail possums!) – and from the age of five, had only ever considered being a vet. Studying Veterinary Science at university and practicing in both Australia and New Zealand, Deborah was living out her dream. However, through her years as a vet, she grew more and more restless trying to understand why some animals were not as responsive as expected to the recommended treatment.
Deborah’s lightbulb moment came as she battled a sick Rottweiler in the clinic at 3am and was baffled as to why its autoimmune disease was not only unresponsive to treatment, but the dog’s illness was becoming worse. As such, Deborah cultivated a passion to be at the forefront of research, to understand why some animals do not respond to immune therapies. When Deborah began to understand the field of immunology, she realised that this understanding could also help her to explain the immune responses in humans – which led her to where she is today, studying the immune response in people to better develop and target medicine(s).
“This award supports my research into understanding why certain immune triggers result in the production of particular antibodies. I’m fascinated by learning how we can help the immune system better target difficult-to-fight threats and why in some situations, the immune response goes “rogue” and people develop autoimmune diseases following normal immune stimuli. Better understanding would allow us to prevent this from happening in the future and develop targeted therapies for these devastating immune diseases,” said Burnett.
Dr Burnett’s work has redefined the accepted role of B cells in vaccine responses against threats which mimic our own proteins, resulting in first-author publications in the journals Science, Immunity and PNAS which have since received 2 F1000 recommendations.
Her research has contributed vital insights to understanding autoimmune pathophysiology; being able to provide the experimental basis to support the listing of soluble CTLA 4 therapy as an effective precision medicine to treat LRBA-deficient children. This work was recognised as the ‘Publication of the Year’ in the ICB journal. Dr Burnett’s research continues in the field of comparative immunology in health and disease as she focuses on the sophisticated mouse models to understand the role of antibodies in healthy vaccine responses and in autoimmune disease.
Dr Anna Trigos
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC
What can the cosmos teach us about Cancer?
Growing up in Venezuela, Anna always had an innovative and curious disposition. Studying science at university, Anna found the sterile environment of a lab stifling (think white lab coats and fluorescent lighting) and very challenging to make a breakthrough as cancer and diseases are so complex.
Anna took an evening out of her week to see The Social Network, a movie that sparked a pivotal moment into Anna’s thinking about the interconnectedness of our world and research, and a moment of certainty that she wanted a career marrying biology and informatics to make medical breakthroughs. Anna made the move to Australia to pursue her career, as a world leading researcher in understanding the dynamics of cancer ecosystems.
As a newly appointed Group Leader at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Dr Anna Trigos is focused on understanding the dynamics of cancer ecosystems based on evolutionary principles, using a combination of single-cell-omics technologies and spatial platforms.
Completing her Bachelor and Honours degree in Venezuela followed by a MSc and PhD in Australia, Dr Trigos currently leads a team of six. With extensive expertise in the spatial analysis of cells in tissues, Dr Trigos conceived and led a project developing algorithms for the spatial distribution of cells of the microenvironment from spatial proteomics data.
“Every day at work I, alongside my incredible team, am actively contributing to breaking down the stereotype of women in science. Whether you are wanting to manage a team in a lab, research, or play an active role in an experiment, STEM is all about narrowing in on what your strengths are and matching the person with the right role. I’m so grateful to receive this Fellowship to help make a difference to the lives of future cancer patients and the people around them,” said Dr Trigos.
Dr Lucia Romani
Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney
Molecular antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae positive samples from Fiji
Growing up in Italy, Lucia was fascinated with travel, and discovery and had a dream of becoming an inventor. In her final year of school she nurtured a passion for social justice which led her to undertake a Masters of International Social Development, with a particular focus on the imbalances of the global distribution of wealth and access to healthcare.
With limited funding in Italy for women in science, and as the first in her family to go to university, Lucia continued her studies in Australia which led her to where she is now, leading research in developing countries to reduce the burden of infectious diseases endemic in communities of the Pacific region. Lucia's road to science was not specific to one breakthrough moment, but a series of events led by her curiosity and search for more.
A world leader in epidemiologic research, Dr Romani has over 15 years’ experience leading and collaborating on implementation research focused on infectious diseases in low and middle-income countries.
Respected as a world leader in her field, Dr Romani has extensive knowledge in a diverse range of areas, including large-scale clinical trials and observational studies, community interventions for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in resource-poor settings.
Over the past 10 years, Lucia’s research has focused on the epidemiology, control and elimination of NTDs in the Pacific. She was recently awarded a grant to reduce STI prevalence and adverse perinatal outcomes in Fiji while addressing antimicrobial resistance in a population of over 150,000 people. Lucia is recognised internationally receiving over $4.5 million in funding as CIA and over 25 grants as Co-CI worth $21 million. Lucia is actively involved in the oversight of four large clinical trials, funded by NHMRC and the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, to control infectious diseases in the Pacific Islands.
“There are two important lessons that I have learned during my career in science: to remember that we never stop learning and growing, and that your failures are just as important as your successes, because they teach you just as much. Through this Fellowship, I hope to show young people, and especially girls, who would like to unlock a career in STEM that there is space for them, that they have important contributions to make, and STEM is a field where they can discover their fullest potential,” said Romani.
Dr Georgia Grant
GNS Science, NZ
Finding the balance: post polar ice sheet retreat
Home-schooling through correspondence, on a nature reserve from the age of three, Georgia nurtured a love of learning and nature from a young age. Instructed by her mum, Georgia was always encouraged to ask every and any question, big or small. At the age of eight, Georgia returned to a small town in Northland, where she had to learn to conform to the rules and structure of a more traditional education system.
Leaving school Georgia began an undergraduate degree in Architecture but quickly realised, upon reflection of her childhood, that she was more interested in the world around her, the bigger picture and the future of the planet. Finding a class to study the Earth’s climate history at university was her lightbulb moment and catalyst to move into a field that nurtured her passion for the natural world, and allowed her to question and research theories of climate change. Georgia’s innate curiosity for the world around her and her appetite to continuously learn has led to her to become a leading Geologist.
“Studying Geology at university I was immediately taken by the lesson in Earth’s history and how it came to be the world we know today. I loved the patterns and cycles that are imprinted on the chaos of time and change, particularly in regard to climate and the climate system,” said Dr Grant.
Dr Grant’s Ph.D explored climate cycles that took place between roughly two and three million years ago by analysing marine mud from the Whanganui Basin, to reconstruct the timing and magnitude of sea-level changes in response to ice sheet variability. These changes occurred because atmospheric carbon dioxide was at similar levels to today and the Earth was as warm as it will be in the coming decades.
Dr Grant’s climate research is ongoing in her current role at GNS Science, from sea surface temperature reconstruction three million years ago across the Tasman Sea to analysing sand particle size and distribution in the Hokianga Harbour to understand how the recent evolving landscape changes sediment input to the harbour.
Just recently, Dr. Grant took part in an ocean expedition offshore Greenland with the International Ocean Discovery Program to investigate how the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets act to change sea-level in the past.
Dr Georgia Grant’s ongoing contribution to science, specifically climate cycles, is actively contributing to a healthier future for New Zealand.
For more information visit www.forwomeninscience.com.au or contact:
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