Recognizing A Year of Excellence for International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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Last year had its challenges, but women in science continued to excel. Many worked on the COVID-19 vaccines that are now on the market, three were Nobel Prize winners, and several were recognized for their work in highly specialized fields.

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science, February 11, we wanted to highlight some of these scientists.

Three 2020 Nobel Prize winners in STEM

In October 2020, four of the eight Noble Prize winners were women, three of which were in science fields. It’s also the first time that an all-woman team claimed the prize in the chemistry category.

This is huge; the prize distribution is finally more representative of the amount of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer A. Doudna, and CRISPR

Charpentier and Doudna were the two-person team that won the Nobel Prize in chemistry this past year. CRISPR-Cas9, also called “genetic scissors,” is a gene editor that can modify the DNA in just about any living thing. Charpentier and Doudna fatefully met during off time while at a conference in Puerto Rico, and the rest is history.

Together, they discovered something that may help cure inherited diseases.

Andrea Ghez and black holes

Ghez was part of the three-person team that won the Physics Nobel Prize. She was recognized “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”

To learn more about the discovery, check out the video! We thought it would be best if we let the experts talk about black holes. We’ll stick to remittances.

The women behind COVID-19 vaccines

There are countless women behind developing COVID vaccines around the world; whether they’re leaders in their field, in the lab, or even research participants. Here are nine noteworthy women making a difference in fighting the virus:

  1. K Sumathy leads research and development at Bharat Biotech. Bharat is behind India’s first indigenous vaccine for COVID, Covaxin!
  2. Sarah Gilbert, co-founder of Vaccitech and a professor at the University of Oxford, was critical in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine development.
  3. Katalin Karikó is senior vice president of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. She used her expertise in RNA to help develop the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
  4. Katherine Jensen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, worked alongside Kariko in this effort to study and utilize RNA.
  5. Özlem Türeci, also of BioNTech and their chief medical officer, used her decades of knowledge of viruses to expedite the development too.
  6. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Vaccine Research Center immunologist in the US, was instrumental in the Moderna vaccine.
  7. Nita Patel leads an all-female team at Novavax. They’ve been critical in identifying the variant strains, and the vaccine is projected to be on the market by this summer.
  8. Lisa A. Jackson headed the NIH/Moderna phase III trial. She is also credited with giving the first participants their vaccines in the first trial!
  9. Hanneke Schuitmaker is a professor of virology at the University of Amsterdam and a global lead at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Vaccines & Prevention division. She’s not only working on the COVID vaccine, but also one for HIV.

Specialized disciplines and some of the women excelling in them

Beyond the Nobel Prize and COVID vaccine research and development, there’s a lot going on in the world of STEM. Here’s a snapshot of some of those achievements.

Joyce Singano

Singano isn’t just the first woman, but also the first African, to win the Brady Medal Award. This is the most prestigious award for work in micropaleontology, a field Singano is leading in Tanzania. 12 papers and 1,500 citations later, she’s getting recognized for her work.

Mireille Kamariza

Kamariza immigrated from Burundi to the US to study astrology, but she ended up developing a portable diagnostic tool for tuberculosis. Thanks to Kamariza, the more than 10 million people diagnosed with the disease will be able to receive the treatment they need much faster. And, of course, a more efficient handling of tuberculosis will also help us eradicate the disease.

Preeti Jagadev

Jagadev has been recognized by the International Society for Optics and Photonics for her work in infrared thermography. This kind of tech is used for health monitoring, and she’s presented all over the world in this field.

Looking at the numbers of women in science

Although more and more women pursue and excel in STEM, there’s still a long way to go. Last year, we interviewed Isabella Mendoza and Xingyuan “Zazzy” Zhao to learn about their experience, and one thing is clear: women face many more challenges in this field.

A year later, not much has changed. The gender gap persists in these fields (and even beyond them). Women in STEM are paid less, face higher rates of discrimination, are more likely to leave their career if they have have families.

Here’s the current landscape for women in science.

In general, women only make up 30% of employment in research & development. There are regions doing a better job than the average, though, including Central Asia (48.2%), Latin America and the Caribbean (45.1%), the Middle East (41.5%), and Central and Eastern Europe (39.3%).

women and girls in science infographic

When it comes to leadership and management roles at STEM companies, the numbers are even smaller.

So, let’s continue to celebrate women and support girls who want to get into science. Let’s close this gap. After all, taking a leap into something new is something immigrants and migrant workers do every day.

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