2014 UK & Ireland For Women In Science Fellows Announced

  • Winners from the University of Cambridge, University of Manchester, Imperial College London and University of Oxford each granted a £15,000 flexible fellowship to help further their research
  • Half of the final eight shortlisted candidates said grant would be used to pay for childcare

The winners of the highly contested 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO UK & Ireland For Women In Science Fellowships (FWIS) were announced last night at a ceremony at London’s Royal Society.

With women currently making up just 13% of employees involved in STEM careers, the fellowships - now in their eighth year in the UK & Ireland - promote the importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science. The FWIS UK & Ireland fellowships have been designed to provide flexible financial help to four outstanding female postdoctoral scientists to continue research in their chosen fields. The fellowships, worth £15,000 each can be spent on whatever they may need to continue their research. The four winners stated that they will be using their prize money for a range of support such as equipment, field trips, attendance at conferences, childcare and collaborations.

Of the 289 women who applied for the fellowships, one in four said that they would use the fellowship money to fund childcare, highlighting the unique value of the fellowship in providing flexible funding to support women in science.

The winners were selected by a jury of eminent scientists, chaired by Professor Pratibha Gai who was awarded L’Oréal’s prestigious International Laureate in 2013, and included Royal Society Vice President Professor John Pethica; Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission; Dr Beth Taylor, Director of Natural Sciences, UK National Commission for UNESCO; Katriona Methven, Director of Scientific and Technical-Regulatory Affairs at L’Oréal UK & Ireland; Dame Janet Thornton, Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute and Professor John O’Halloran, Head of School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at University College Cork.

The 2014 winners are:

Dr. Clémence Blouet, University of Cambridge, ‘The consequences of high-fat intake on the hypothalamus and the mechanism behind obesity.”

Obesity and its associated conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are major health threats worldwide. Research has failed to develop safe therapeutics to treat obesity as we have been unable to fully characterize the mechanisms underlying eating and weight gain. The brain plays a huge role in the regulation of energy balance. Specialized brain cells in the hypothalamus process information about ingested food and fat stores and directly regulate food intake, energy expenditure or storage. Recent research indicates that a diet high in fat can cause these brain cells to change in type and number, through a process called adult neurogenesis. Clémence’s research will improve our understanding of the consequences of a high-fat diet on the plasticity of these cells in the hypothalamus and how this in turn, affects the body’s energy balance. She hopes that this understanding will lead to the discovery of novel therapeutic targets to treat obesity.

Dr. Tracy Briggs, University of Manchester, ‘Understanding single-gene disorders that lead to systemic lupus’

Lupus is a potentially life-threatening disease that causes the body to attack its own tissue.  In many people, it is likely to be the result of a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. However, in some cases, a change in a single gene can cause the condition. Studies of such single-gene causes of disease are helpful to pinpoint which genes play a role in systemic lupus and help to further our understanding of how the disease occurs. Tracy’s research will determine the genetic basis of a familial form of lupus, which starts in childhood and predominantly affects the skin. By determining the chemical and genetic changes causing disease, Tracy hopes to determine the origins of lupus.

Dr. Eva-Maria Graefe, Imperial College London, ‘Engineering holes in quantum systems’

Progress in technology is often triggered by paradigm shifts in science that open up new and unexpected possibilities. Traditionally, loss, leakage, friction, and dissipation of energy from a quantum system were regarded as undesirable and to be avoided. Recent research however, focuses on the possibility of modifying systems via engineering these losses or holes and using them to our advantage. Eva-Maria’s research concerns these leaky quantum systems, using a formalism known as non-Hermitian quantum mechanics. The systematic application of these ideas relies crucially on a detailed theoretical understanding of the mechanisms and effects of loss, on all scales. There is currently a lot of research interest in this field and many new experimental areas are opening up as a result. Eva-Maria hopes to provide new theoretical tools for the description and prediction of novel experimental applications, building on her own recent conceptual breakthroughs.

Dr. Sneha Malde, University of Oxford, ‘Searching for New Physics through measuring the differences between matter and anti-matter’

The universe began with a bang and energy came together to form equal quantities of matter and antimatter, but as the universe cooled and expanded, its composition changed and antimatter disappeared, leaving matter to form everything around us. The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider was set up to explore what happened after the big bang that allowed matter to survive. Sneha’s research at LHCb investigates why the universe is matter dominated. The Standard Model of the universe cannot be the full picture as it fails to answer this and Sneha hopes that New Physics– the term coined to describe the fundamental theories that go beyond the Standard model – will be discovered in the data collected by the LHC experiments. By fully understanding the differences between matter and anti-matter (commonly referred to as CP-violation) that are allowed within the Standard Model, Sneha anticipates the breakdown of the standard model and the manifestation of New Physics. For the first time, the data from the LHCb experiment allows a precise measurement of this difference, the CP-violation parameter “gamma”. Sneha aims to expand a powerful method of measurement she has developed, to exploit parts of the data that have not yet been analysed. She anticipates a significant step forward in the search for New Physics.

 

Chair of the judging panel, Pratibha Gai, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, Founding Professor of Electron Microscopy and co-director of the York Nanocentre at the University of York commented on the winners: “We had an absolutely outstanding shortlist this year, and these four women – Dr. Clémence Blouet, Dr Tracy Briggs, Dr. Eva-Maria Graefe and Dr. Sneha Malde exemplify perfectly what the For Women in Science Fellowships stand for. They are deeply talented, committed and hard-working scientists, who have huge passion for their research areas. I am excited to see what they all achieve in the coming year, and am confident that the influence and dedication of the female scientific community in the UK is well represented by these remarkable women.”

Katriona said: “Choosing between this shortlist was an exceedingly difficult task, as all the shortlisted women were hugely impressive in their individual fields. However, it was inspiring to see the extraordinary work that is being carried out in diverse scientific disciplines all across the UK. These fellowships are designed to encourage, but also showcase, the amazing contribution female scientists are making, and considering this shortlist, I think we have achieved that this year.”

Earlier this year L’Oréal joined the Government’s ‘Your Life’ campaign, which encourages greater participation at all levels and particularly of young people in science, technology, maths and engineering. With women accounting for only 6% of the UK engineering workforce, from 2015 the For Women In Science programme will encourage applications from the engineering, mathematics and computer science fields and increase the number of fellowships to five worth £15,000 each. In addition, it will dedicate a separate annual fund of £20,000 for the UK & Ireland Fellows community to support their work as STEM ambassadors, engaging the wider population - and particularly young people - in science. 

The awards are run in partnership with the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society.

Contact

For more information please contact Kristen Dodd ([email protected]) and visit