Eminent women in science awarded L’Oréal–UNESCO Fellowships

L'Oréal UNESCO FWIS 2016 winners L-R Louisa Messenger, Sam Giles, Tanya Hutter, Maria Bruna, Sophie Acton. Photo: L'Oreal UK & Ireland

Five of the UK’s most promising female scientists were awarded L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women in Science Fellowships last night (22 June), in recognition of their scientific achievements in areas as diverse as gene mutation and evolutionary change; molecular changes in the brains of acute head injury patients; and Chagas disease.

UKNC’s Natural Sciences Director, Dr Beth Taylor and the coordinator of the UNESCO UNITWIN Network in Humanitarian Engineering (Coventry University) Dr Liz Miles joined the judging panel which was Chaired by Professor Dame Carol Robinson of Oxford University who is a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Laureate.

The winning scientists, selected from nearly 400 applicants, were announced at a prestigious ceremony hosted at the Royal Society. They are:

  • Dr Sophie Acton, University College London, Immunology/Cell Biology
  • Dr Maria Bruna, University of Oxford, Mathematics
  • Dr Sam Giles, University of Oxford, Palaeobiology
  • Dr Tanya Hutter, University of Cambridge, Physical Chemistry
  • Dr Louisa Messenger, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Public Health

Read more about the Fellows’ research here

The UK & Ireland Fellowships have been designed to provide flexible financial help to 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 UKNC explores the impact of the prize in its recent research on the Wider Value of UNESCO to the UK.

This year, four of the five winners, who are mothers of young children, plan to use part of their prize money to help with childcare costs, ensuring that they can continue their research whilst also raising young families. In addition, the money will help fund expensive equipment and travel to international conferences.

The L’Oréal- UNESCO For Women in Science programme aims to support and help increase the number of women working in sciences. In the UK, women are still underrepresented in the science community, with only 15% of STEM roles taken by women.

Further, the sector still suffers a perception problem which is even more acute in the UK than elsewhere in Europe; research has shown that when asked to think of a scientist, just 31% of people in the UK picture a woman (compared with 41% across Europe), while 71% think men are more suited to being high level scientists, than women (60% in Europe.)

In response to these issues, L’Oréal has launched a manifesto in association with UNESCO, encouraging people to show their support for increasing gender equality in science careers.