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Science needs women.forwomeninscience. Carol Milano. Chris Tachibana Editor: Sean Sanders. 24 September 2010 .org/en/fellowships/loreal VIROLOGY From the Invisible to the Global MOLECULAR BIOLOGY Exploring the Basic Units of Life 12 16 20 NEUROSCIENCE The Brain’s Allure MICROBIOLOGY The Universe in a Single Cell IMMUNOLOGY The Powers of Proteins Writers: Virginia Gewin. Young women researchers in the Life Sciences can apply for one of the 15 annual UNESCO-L’ORÉAL For Women in Science International © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.000 each over a two-year period.unesco. Application forms for International Fellowships are available at: www.D.Call for applications UNESCO-L’ORÉAL International Fellowships Contents INTROS On Their Way to the Top–2 By Sean Sanders. in support of research abroad. are worth up to $40. All Rights Reserved. Changing the Face of Science: The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Partnership–3 4 8 The world needs science. The Fellowships. Designer: Amy Hardcastle www. Copy Editor: Robert Buck. Ph.

At the global level.D. Some were inspired by their parents. and represent the key to the future. married with children. has a 35 percent lower chance of being granted tenure than a man with the same family situation. In the United States. Although this list does not cover all areas of research. Each year. Fan us on Blog on Watch us on Follow us on For Women in Science .On Their Way to the Top There is one thing you will find that almost all scientists have in common: a huge passion for their work. Yet the role of women in science still needs to be defended. their interest in science began when they were young. a recent study by the Center for American Progress shows that a woman scientist with a Ph. young and old.D. Paradoxically. Science • • • • For many young researchers. 84 percent of respondents believe that science lies at the heart of their daily life.unesco. and Immunology. They will also give you some insight into their personal triumphs and struggles as these women have strived to build successful and meaningful careers for themselves.forwomeninscience. And that is particularly true of the successful and dedicated women featured in this new Women in Science booklet. Through the For Women in Science program.forwomeninscience. www. as well as more established researchers who have experienced the many ups and downs of a life in biology research.twitter. and some came to it accidentally.. nearly 1. kindly sponsored once again by the L’Oreal Corporate Foundation. Molecular Biology. Sean Sanders. according to a 2009 TNS Sofres survey conducted in 10 countries in partnership with the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO. 5 eminent women scientists are honored by the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards. But all have carried their excitement and interest in doing science through to their adult years. we meet 16 women in five different areas of biology research: Virology. for their outstanding scientific contributions and commitment to research. In this latest Women in Science booklet. often while they were still in elementary www. L’Oréal and UNESCO have taken the initiative in recognizing women whose research contributes to changing the 2 . some by their teachers. but only 30 percent are in the sciences or technology. from women demonstrating their scientific passion and inspiring the same in These top-ranking scientists embrace universal challenges ranging from health and the environment to social actions. All of our featured scientists have an enthusiasm for what they do that is infectious! For many of them. L’Oréal and UNESCO work together to promote the cause of women in science by highlighting scientific excellence and encouraging young women to pursue scientific careers. Fellowships are awarded to promising young women to encourage them to pursue careers in science. the essays about the scientists in these fields will give you an idea of the differences. Over the past twelve www. the program today represents an invaluable source of motivation and inspiration. Each year. and similarities. Neuroscience. We have interviewed young scientists just starting out. Commercial Editor. All of their situations are unique and interesting. www. 864 Fellowships for young women researchers in 93 countries. This booklet will also be made available in print later in the year when we will publish these stories and more. one per continent. women hold over half of university degrees.Official Page agora. We hope that you enjoy their stories and take inspiration from their personal tales. Changing the Face of Science The L’Oréal-UNESCO Partnership For Women in Science F or the past twelve years. as they head for the top.000 women have been recognized: 62 “For Women in Science” Award Laureates from 28 countries. between their jobs.

and even tried to do research when I was in school. but she trained as a veterinarian. your school might have a program to connect you with professors at a nearby university. and says she has been interested in science since high school. “I always wanted to be in the lab. and keep at it.PAMELA BJÖRKMAN A VETERINARIAN LEARNS MOLECULAR BIOLOGY FROM A VIRUS Margarita Marqués Martinez. The important thing. She was awarded a UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellowship to work in virus research at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. This is how farm animals like sheep can be made to secrete medically useful proteins into their milk. she uses MARTINEZ what she learned from virus research in her work on animals. says Pamela. like how they take over an entire cell using just a few proteins. who is finding ways to use the designer antibodies for possible gene therapy against HIV and AIDS. she starts with a few rare antibodies that are good at preventing HIV from infecting host cells. or for vaccines. a L’Oréal-UNESCO laureate in 2006. but I didn’t know anyone who could help me find a lab. known as Margot. They predict patterns of infection and plan public health strategies for when a viral disease spreads around the world during a pandemic. She and the scientists in her lab examine how these antibodies work. has also been interested in science since she was a young student. the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The best of the engineered antibodies are sent to another scientist who collaborates with Pamela’s lab.” When Margot was a postgraduate student in Spain. RNA or DNA. She says. like how to engineer genes. wrapped in protein. and maybe for healthier animals.” she says.” Virology: From the Invisible to the Global Pamela Björkman is a designer.” In her laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. so they work even better. Since milk is so easy to collect. and used therapeutically. though. “I really enjoyed high school chemistry. She designs proteins to attack HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). She doesn’t design clothes or buildings or anything that we can see. “We’re trying to design a better anti-HIV antibody.” If visiting or working in a research laboratory sounds interesting to you. “I’ve always liked looking at cells under the microscope and observing things that you are not able to see with just your eyes. or get a vaccine. Now. Now. her supervisors wanted her to learn molecular biology techniques. and introduce them into cells. Pamela. “The reward is that you are doing something in the laboratory that can translate into a benefit for people. then tweak them or combine them with parts of other proteins. These simple structures pose complicated puzzles. though. is a biology professor. where she learned how to clone MARGOT and manipulate genes. is to “try doing research as soon as you can. 4 5 .” says Pamela. Virologists study how viruses force their way into our cells and how our bodies fight back. I sometimes have high school students working in my own lab. the proteins can be quickly purified from the milk proteins.” ? W h at is V i r o l o g y? In their most basic form. or AIDS. back in Spain. “But people don’t make very effective antibodies against HIV. Viruses can’t multiply unless they infect a host cell. or you could do research as an undergraduate in college. our immune system makes antibodies that stick to the virus so it can’t infect our cells. finding ways to put new genes into sheep cells. and how they evade our immune system’s efforts to eliminate them. When we are infected with a virus. Margot’s work could improve the amount of these proteins that sheep produce in their milk. too. she says. viruses are just genetic material.

” UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellowship work—and now to Princeton University in the United States. “I love their enthusiasm!” Don’t lose that energy. just like a virus. “so collaborations are very important. and I look forward to teaching. especially math and biology. They went out to beaches to find where seals were dying.” 7 PETRA KLEPAC . but if you are willing to take on challenges.” All these scientists are very dedicated. “When people find what they love to do. The project used her training in math and biology.” If you are interested in virus research as a career. discovery. and at conferences and seminars. “I work in a small institute.” Since then. and entertained her with stories of unusual experiments and science problems. “Your best years in science are also your reproductive years. and find good people to mentor and train you. Finding a balance between work and family is a challenge for any scientist. Since viruses infect all types of cells. and the best way to get vaccines and treatments to people around the world during a disease outbreak. Margot says she’s grateful to her mentors. Like Margot.” she says. “Once a year.” as long as you have a love of science. “Right now.” Margot was educated in Spain. says Petra. especially math and biology.” THE BIG PICTURE Petra Klepac has a passion for science. says Margot. who taught her to ask good scientific questions. not all virus research projects involve humans. They may travel around the world. and I found an area where I could combine the two. She also stresses that biology is not a 9-to-5 job. “In science.” she says. and to be creative and rigorous about answering them. both as a teacher. because she worked with scientists and veterinarians from several other countries. She studies how viruses can spread through a population. “Your family must understand and support your passion for your work. Petra says it is “very doable.” she says. perhaps for women in particular. Another aspect of being a scientist that students might not expect is public speaking. Petra is encouraging. “I’ve always liked science. She says this taught her that “science can be fun. because you need a lot of education to get to the place you want to be. Petra uses computer modeling to see how factors like time. But it is easy to talk about something you love doing.” she says. and her enthusiasm is clear as she describes her work on the big picture of viral infection— the really big picture. and technology. Petra says scientists must learn to juggle many time-consuming interests. she advises. Spain.” says Margot. she says former students of her school came back to talk about what they were learning in college. students come and spend a day with us and see what we are doing. Germany. saying. not geeky! And it can be cool when you solve a problem. routine does not exist! If you like every day of the week to be the same. Margot says. This global approach is common among scientists. Her advice is “follow your curiosity and go where your interests lie. in León. before they start at the university. they are naturally good at it. which is a consideration for women going into any scientific field. her pursuit of science has taken her from Croatia to universities in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania—where she carried out her “I’ve always liked science. In science.Just as she was taught new skills as a student. She wants to improve how health officials control infectious diseases. Margot now encourages new students at her university. then used computer modeling to figure out how the virus was transmitted through the seal population in northern Europe. they acquire and transmit knowledge.” She notes that she already has many women on her research teams. or planning the strategy against viral pandemics. and the Roslin Institute in the United King- dom (where Dolly the sheep was cloned). When Petra was a student in Croatia. don’t go into science. “where I work.” whether that is studying the details of a single virus. I think there are at least three women for every man. or medical research to improve the way doctors treat viral infections. and the cost of a drug or vaccine. “I enjoy talking about my work. For this reason. and her people skills. The virus causes a disease that is like the canine distemper that people vaccinate their dogs against. “There’s nothing that girls and young women can’t do. but instead of spreading disease. it’s completely worth it. and still travels often. and I found an area where I could combine the two. and spend many hours working and thinking about their research. But if you love doing it. Petra now uses what she learned from that project to follow the transmission of human viruses. Another of Petra’s projects was tracing transmission of a virus in harbor seals. affect how quickly nations respond to a disease epidemic. though. then science could be for you.” she says. maybe you have to be a little more persistent and self-motivated.

gratefully. and you forget everything else. “You had to work with what you had. her research focus. that helps regulate how and when cells divide. has two atoms of hydrogen and one oxygen atom. or how.” In basic science. it’s amazing! You can’t imagine until you’re in this field. she was a cellular biologist specializing in cell biology and parasitology at Central Universidad de Venezuela in Caracas. That’s very WATCHING CELLS MOVE Like Rocio. Rocio was able to spend seven months in Seattle at the University of Washington. hours before some of her five colleagues.PAMELA BJÖRKMAN ELIZABETHBLACKBURN ELIZABETH BLACKBURN far away. “but the basic science that I do is the first step in this process. it’s the carrier of all the genetic information) is made up of many millions of carbon. ROCIO DIAZ-BENJUMEA BENAVIDES ? W h at is M o l e c u l a r B i o l o g y? A molecule is a tiny particle made up of at least one atom.. doing key experiments that allowed her to complete her Ph. which are common there. phosphorus. “We work with cells growing in Petri dishes. It’s much less dangerous than working with parasites. the delight can now come from someone else’s work.D. Rocio appreciated being able to take three months of maternity leave. RhoA.” Rocio admits. Antonina Roll-Mecak is elated at seeing great data emerge on a project after lengthy hard work. and her family situation. for instance. But the work is just as difficult—these cells take longer to grow. “My boss is really nice. as well as her own. A water molecule. we could discover a way to help control cancer. Rocio doesn’t want to get discouraged after a lot of hard work on a project shows no results. In Venezuela. her research had more limitations. and get contaminated very easily. nitrogen.” At the lab. Her applications for a full time scientific position led her to a postdoctoral fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in 2005. while DNA (found in the nucleus of every cell. Molecular biology is still a young science and is closely related to biochemistry and genetics. In her case. and hydrogen atoms. and keep your eye on the big picture. 8 9 . she starts at 8:15 a. “Then something works. When her son was born in early 2009. she’s shifted her location.” Rather than face the difficulty of studying a completely unfamiliar parasite.” she explains. We must find out what goes on in the cell before we can plan to cure someone. You have to be very patient. why am I doing this?—nothing’s happening. “No one worked with the same parasites I had studied in Venezuela. In January. These include DNA and RNA (which guides the way the body synthesizes protein. and always try.m. try again. Rocio quickly discovered that she had unique research expertise.” Molecular Biology: Exploring the Basic Units of Life When Rocio Diaz-Benjumea Benavides won her UNESCO-L’Oreal Fellowship in 2003. in 2004.m. Antonina became the head of her own lab—a big career advancement—at the U. Molecular biologists study the functions and interactions of biological molecules inside a cell.S.” she says. Sometimes you ask yourself. National Institutes of Health (NIH). “If we find out how RhoA is controlled. Rocio decided to switch her research to study a small protein. She’s the head of the new Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “you constantly ask why. If I can ever get a result that could lead to a vaccine. Seven years later. The work is so interesting. which also study cells on a molecular level. I can get whatever I need. but very rare here. “You just try to approach your goal in other ways. and leaves by 5 p. a major component of all plant and animal cells).” she acknowledges. it would be awesome. It’s fascinating how things work in a cell—everything is so tiny!” Rocio loves studying the RhoA protein because it regulates some of the processes that are altered when a cell becomes cancerous. oxygen. Here. which carry serious diseases. With her L’Oreal fellowship.

After you decide how to renovate the space and what equipment to order. “That’s the reality of biological and clinical research. Little organelles move on tracks. During Ph. “Science sometimes brings a moment when everything clicks into place. Many degenerative diseases are linked to mutations in proteins that form the cell’s microtubular skeleton. you will never work a single day in your life. It’s great to see someone so happy. Over lunch one day. If we can understand the features of a healthy cell’s microtubulular structure. she was eager to understand molecules. and possibly how to prevent or treat it. She has one biochemist and one physicist in her lab. I still feel that in science. and international universities. we could learn what changes them in a disease. “I think science is generally long hours. It’s very exciting that my first postdoc got a fellowship on his first try! That feeling validates his work. She’s elated that the word is in Webster’s Dictionary. molecularmovies.” The prestige of becoming an Investigator brings major demands.” Antonina recounts. it doesn’t feel like a job.D. When DNA doesn’t have enough protection at its tips.S.” Elizabeth Blackburn’s calling showed in her childhood love of animals.” It was an ‘aha!’ moment when Elizabeth first saw the pattern of the enzyme that repairs DNA ends. but an even rarer reward: the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine. “You walk into the new lab. what new directions we’re working on. was about to become Molecular Biology. For the first few months. Her scientific contributions have brought not only a new dictionary word. it doesn’t feel like a job. It’s intriguing how those play off against each other. ANTONINA ROLL-MECAK A 2006 UNESCO-L’Oreal Fellow. Curious about chemical activity inside cells. To encourage her 16-yearold intern’s increasing scientific interest. she became fascinated with the long strips of DNA that form chromosomes. It just feels like your calling. At 10 years old. it can’t renew itself. She and her lab team named their 1985 discovery “telomerase” because it protects the telomeres. A cell’s tracks. Telomerase levels are very high in cancer cells.m. and interactions with people. still part of biochemistry in the 1960s.” Antonina reports.” Antonina says happily.” Elizabeth remembers. They’re being constantly taken apart and rebuilt. Antonina recommended a website (www. and the cell stops dividing and replenishing tis- ELIZABETH BLACKBURN 11 . She often talks with them about “the big picture—where their own projects are going.” Elizabeth reflects. If you love it. It just feels like your calling.” says the Morris Herztstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California. that’s part of the fascination. She got hooked seeing visuals of proteins because they look cool. You really have to like the process. she worked from 9 a. you can never stop. and may also be related to heart disease. and nothing’s there. Elizabeth always knew she’d be a scientist. to 11p. San Francisco. “Her mom said Rachel watched it for days. creative thinking time. To me. Our lab tries to understand what modulates the dynamic behavior of the microtubules. the train tracks are stable. This weakens the immune system. ‘Aha! I can see it—this is really something new. and our lab’s project.’ That’s why. whose research achievements recently led to her being named as a Searle Scholar. Years of observation convinced her that as telomeres wear down and are rebuilt. because it’s all-consuming. keep adapting. some kind of enzyme is probably causing that renewal activity. and 2008 L’Oréal-UNESCO laureate.” Antonina enjoys mentoring younger scientists. Antonina researches the cell’s ability to move and respond to external signals.” she explains. The fascination is mutual. Elizabeth studies telomerase’s role in various diseases.m. called microtubules. You suddenly say. I wanted to sequence the DNA at the end of each chromosome. a cell is the image of a bustling city. Elizabeth finds frequent collaboration “a very exciting. She appreciates the scientist’s combination of solitary. 10 and told her friends what molecules can do. studies at Cambridge University. chose NIH because she’s allowed to spend 80 percent of her time doing her own lab work. she’d imagine “the glamorous life of a scientist—probably not a realistic view. so Elizabeth hopes this research can someday be applied to treating cancer. You’re always learning more about what makes us tick. “There’s such beauty to creatures and with scientific animations of important cellular processes. sues. I wake up every day and think about what’s going on in our lab. Rachel shared a favorite quote: “If you love what you do. “In a city. That specialty. once you become a scientist. Things are very exciting in research now. She appreciates NIH’s graduate programs with U.” Antonina. “They’re like shoelaces with a cap (telomere) at the end that protects all their genetic information.” Having done much of her earlier work alone.THE “AHA!” MOMENT “If you love it. knowing how to get to the right place at the right time. and especially its year-round program for high school and undergraduate students. you have to train your people so some knowledge transfers from you to them and they can become selfsufficient in the lab.” she reflects. enjoyable new part of where our science is. “Through a microscope. She’s not complaining.

advances in genetics enable researchers to pinpoint the genes and proteins that will lead to new drug targets for neurodegenerative disorders. she develops software that helps doctors implant electrodes deep inside the brain more accurately and effectively. neuroscience is about studying what makes us human. Once she completed her Ph. That experience helped convince Sridevi to ? W h at is N e u r o s c i e N c e? Neuroscience—one of the most diverse. imaging. she says creativity is needed to find the answers. She now leads the department of molecular genetics within the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB). and genetic approaches to study brain development. spinal cord and billions of specialized nerve cells. Christine’s research has identified genes and proteins that sabotage brain cells and lead to dementia. behavior. and move.” she adds. Christine’s experience is just one example of how the brain’s marvelous complexity brings together the variety of scientific backgrounds necessary to unlock its mysteries. also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was so impressed that hundreds of people had donated their most sacred and complex organ to scientific exploration that she decided to use her training to search for the genes responsible for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.CHRISTINE VAN BROECKHOVEN (center) and her lab members use her training in mathematical modeling to study the most complex system possible—the brain. feel. Sridevi pursued a postdoctoral appointment in computational neuroscience where she learned to model the activity of neuron clusters. So she took classes to explore her growing interest in neuroscience and conducted a case study of her aunt. Since then. interdisciplinary branches of biology—is the study of the brain. are among those who have helped shed light on how the brain works—often by searching for the causes of its malfunction. There. “What’s lacking is the ability to put all these pieces of the puzzle together. At the same time. As a Ph. 12 The human element ultimately lured Sridevi Sarma to neuroscience. and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. diseases—until the Belgian scientist toured the brain collection of the Institute Born-Bunge at the University of Antwerp in 1983. Today she is a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Computational Medicine in Baltimore. Maryland. “The reality is that we live in a technology savvy world where we can now probe the brain in three dimensions. who was diagnosed with a rare case of early onset Parkinson’s disease. new imaging capabilities. Neuroscientists often focus their research efforts on brain abnormalities or diseases in order to find potential treatments. at its essence.D. Geneticists. molecular biologists. student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Alzheimer’s disease. but also as a way to find out how brains normally function. The electrodes deliver an electric current which stimulates nearby neurons and alters how they communicate information—and they ultimately help patients with conditions like Parkinson’s disease to control their movements. in electrical engineering. This growing field of research combines chemical. and record electrical activity from single neurons in every different part of the brain. 13 . but they ultimately weren’t complex enough for her. biological. even electrical engineers. a nonprofit research institute housed across four Flemish universities. and cognition. For example. that transmit the electrical impulses necessary to think. New technologies are allowing researchers to glimpse the brain’s inner workings. called neurons. including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). Neuroscience: The Brain’s Allure Christine Van Broeckhoven intended to study the molecular genetics of metabolic SRIDEVI SARMA RIPE FOR DISCOVERY Neuroscience is on the cusp of big breakthroughs that will help unlock the brain’s mysteries and deliver therapies to patients. But while technology provides the tools.” says Christine. allow researchers to monitor which specific cells are active inside the brain while a task is being performed. identify every structure down to the micron.” says Sridevi. “Researchers are drawn to the brain because.D. Sridevi could have used her engineering background to design passenger airplanes.

a neuroscientist’s reach extends beyond the laboratory. As godmother of the Flemish Alzheimer’s Association. curiosity is a “disease” for which conducting research is the only cure. you can anticipate having an extremely interesting life!” she says. says Christine. the fellowship came at a time when they needed something to bolster their resolve for this career path. Christine says. but these renamic organ that is alsearchers want to see ways evolving. besuits are exciting cause the brain is a dyenough. identify six genes responsible for neuromuscular diseases. there was an investment in research that helped give patients and families hope for the future. rather than eschew. mately turn those targets into therapies. As these award laureates and fellowship winners prove. I needed to know that my work mattered. Researchtheir findings change AG ers are just beginning to A the lives of patients. but neuroscience has endless career opporThe intellectual purtunities—in part. In a field as intense and competitive as neuroscience. Working with patients. and not part of the aging process. Passion may be a prerequisite. Christine’s research environmental forces shaping the uncovers the potential targets for brain.” she says. and therefore not had the chance to join Dotti’s lab. known as TAU. which became legal in 2008. While they are all driven to find and deliver new therapies. “Finding out that I won the L’Oreal fellowship couldn’t have come at a better time.” says Christine. Belgium. 15 “If you have a passion for research. motivates her to keep finding ways to improve their quality of life. “If I hadn’t gotten the fellowship. She used the money to build a strong collaboration with a clinical neuroscientist at a nearby hospital. “I’m lucky because I’m doing discovery-based science that has a direct application to treating disease. From adipose tissue to umbilical cord to fallopian tubes.Finding treatments for are all pioneers because brain disorders drives everything is still so new. “Once dementia was recognized as a disease. the fellowship enabled her to join Carlos Dotti’s lab at VIB. so she pursued a career at Janssen Pharmaceutica in Beerse. the nerve junctions needed to store memories and learn. With so much yet to be learned. I do not know if I would have continued in science. torn by the demands of raising young children and conducting ambitious research. researchers can easily leave their mark in the field. which provides her with access to data from human patients. “We Agnieszka wanted her research to have a direct impact on treating disease. to offer physical therapy and psychological support to those with muscular dystrophy and their families. the first center of its type in Latin America. PAIRING PASSION WITH COMPASSION The award helped these women get their careers established. Mayana credits the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award with giving her the visibility to communicate the importance of stem cell research to the public. For Mayana. they have also had an impact on society through the variety of ways they’ve found to work with patients. and pursue her interests in conducting stem cell research. She says it was those donations that allowed her to begin identifying the genetic underpinnings of dementia. she almost wanted to give up. she has worked with thousands of affected families and pioneered the molecular techniques necessary to. whose research has been recognized around the world. For Agnieszka. the next therapeutic frontier involves the use of stem cells to treat neuromuscular disorders. “The brain we have at the end of our drug development. Mayana has spent over 25 years teasing apart the molecular genetics of neuromuscular diseases. you can anticipate having an extremely interesting life! ” A NEEDED BOOST For Mayana Zatz. 14 MAYANA ZATZ . For NI SK E SZ tease apart the biological and K A SADOW example. disrupts the ability of neurons to form synapses. a company exclusively devoted to developing treatments for mental disorders. she works with academics to determine how the accumulation of a protein. so far. she is grateful that the award allows women to celebrate both the compassion for patients that draws them to this field as well as their passion for research. Today the center offers care to 300 patients. But she never forgets how important it is to honor the patients who have donated their brains to research. For Sridevi and Agnieszka. she played a major role in convincing the Brazilian government to authorize research with embryonic stem cells. Sridevi hit a low point in her career when. Mayana founded the Brazilian Association of Muscular Dystrophy. but it is Agnieszka lives is not the same as the one we are born Sadowska’s work in industry that will ultiwith. their femininity.” she says. As a result. the UNESCO-L’Oreal Fellowship provides the recognition necessary to keep careers thriving. Mayana is exploring new sources of stem cells that would bypass the controversial use of embryos.” she says. As a result. For Christine.” says Christine. “If you have a passion for research.” many research efforts. but it sometimes must be stoked to stay alive. director of the Human Genome Research Center at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. She hopes that studying TAU will lead to the development of a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There. L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards are special for two reasons: they honor womens’ achievements in often male-dominated fields and they encourage women scientists to embrace.

but science chose me. multicelled arrangements. “if you are honest with yourself and follow your heart—it sounds corny—but you will know what you want to do. who received a UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellowship in 2001. Silvija and her coworkers are figuring out the structure of the complicated little protein gates that control how information and molecules go in and out of the nucleus. she says her education required determination. picking up things. who study if life is possible on planets like Mars. but microbes are found everywhere—from deep-sea vents to Antarctica—so microbiologists can work anywhere.” says Miroslava. and now Boston. where the temperatures are near boiling. “I’ve been interested in biology since my teenage years. Astrobiology. to a university department that specializes in “extremophilic” bacteria.” GLOBETROTTING MICROBIOLOGISTS Miroslava Atanassova is also a global microbiologist. Then. she plans to return to Bulgaria. To her. Scientists need “dedication. From her home country of Croatia. They also thrive at the North and South poles.” When she was a student. or low amounts of water. and looking at them with a simple microscope I had at home. you just have to try to get there. Silvija takes a few minutes to think about why she chose a career in microbiology. and I grew up in a family of scientists. microbiology is learning about “the universe of microorganisms. Eventually.” Getting there might mean seeing the world along the way. and enthusiastic teachers. however. “I liked going out to the forest or the mountains. In the middle of the chaos. “I have always been in love with nature. “It is not well understood. I read a lot of books about nature and animals.SILVIJA BILOKAPIC where conditions might include high amounts of acid or salt. 17 . From her home country of Bulgaria.” she says. and says it was “quite a good investment. These microbes live in harsh environments like hot springs and deep sea vents. All of this—my natural interest and curiosity. “I did not choose science. and the benefits of being in a family of researchers—led me into a career in natural sciences. known and unknown. Silvija has worked in Zurich. exploring life on other planets. the laboratory buzzes with students. who are very important to opening and motivating young minds. and every little piece of the global picture that we get about the structure is very exciting and motivating. Silvija says. and they need to seek out training from the best specialists in the field. in a lab that works on communication systems inside cells. For young women considering a career in biology. and is now doing postdoctoral research in Spain. Microbiologists in the food industries grow and engineer bacteria and yeast to help produce everything from vitamins to wine. Miroslava made a choice between a career in biochemistry or in microbiology.” she says. MIROSLAVA ATANASSOVA Microbiology: The Universe in a Single Cell Silvija Bilokapic is in the middle of a big experiment. These are the microorganisms that interest astrobiologists. or 16 ? W h at is MicroBiology Microbiologists study organisms that live as single cells or in simple. Her mother was a chemistry professor who let her spend time in the laboratory.” She laughs and says for her 15th birthday. patience. Massachusetts. It sounds like it means just working in a laboratory with microscopes. because she has always been drawn to biology. she asked for a book on genetics. and Miroslava always had access to a computer and a parent who was ready and able to explain how to use the software. but the pathogenic ones can cause serious diseases.” Now Silvija is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I was also lucky to have good. Switzerland (on a UNESCOL’Oréal Fellowship). Like Silvija. She says an encouraging microbiology teacher made all the difference.” Now Miroslava studies microorganisms that live in unusual environments. like bacteria that happily grow in water that is as hot as scalding tap water.” Her parents encouraged her interests. and visitors. while all around her. since humans live peacefully with billions of microbes. scientists. innovative. Miroslava has always been interested in science. Microbiologists might do medical research. she has studied and worked in France and Belgium. Besides good teachers. so a microbiologist might study how microbes thrive in harsh environments. starts with understanding microbial diversity on Earth.

but technically complex. and opens doors. Then. where children are still dying of diarrhea. for her work studying a single bacterial protein that senses the cell’s environment. learning something new all the time.D. you can link it to anything. It’s not restricted. and creativity. and be prepared to do a large part of the learning and training without supervision or help. photography. when experiments don’t turn out as planned. Cindy has worked in science communication and outreach. “In some places. “Science is everywhere. Cindy talked about a communication system inside cells. because bacteria cause a lot of harm in the third world. She once connected traditional Spanish dancing to microbiology. People think science is boring. and the exchange of students between labs can help promote development. foreign labs. Most scientists enjoy the unpredictability of their work. and how pathogenic microbes can take over that system. through joint projects in health development in Third World countries. and even peace. Miroslava says you have to be ready to “assimilate large amounts of information and keep up-to-date in a rapidly developing field.” CINDY QUEZADA but it’s not. and there are many ways of incorporating other subjects and interests of your life into science.” as part of their training.” says Cindy.” Specifically. Cindy trained some Rwandan women in the techniques. which has let her combine her microbiology background with her interests in journalism. Cindy is also working on strengthening the science and technology relationship between the United States and Brazil. and a deep understanding of biological processes and phenomena. “If you are really interested in a scientific career. Silvija notes that “scientists are known to move from place to place every four or five years. for a program in New York City that brings scientists and artists together for a monthly public performance. “Science. and who want to go wherever new discoveries are waiting. Cindy Quezada was an international relations major in college.. She also advises having fun. but this can make for long hours. If you can link science to flamenco.S. I basically had to build my work environment from scratch.” 19 18 . you must have a strong will and motivation. mobility.” she says. MOBILITY AND CREATIVIITY The path to a career in microbiology isn’t always easy. though. and creativeness in your everyday existence which do not exist in many other fields. she investigated whether a fast. Microbiology can keep you on the move. include a unique point of view on the environment and society. which is a normal part of any scientific career. You have to learn an entire. passion. “But I was fascinated by science. “working on incorporating science into U.” Cindy also says science means having drive. and was interested in how to eliminate poverty and raise the standard of living for people throughout the world. There. It may not be an ideal field for homebodies. but it’s great for women who are interested in working in different parts of the world. “It opens your mind.” Starting with a chemistry class. I got interested in microbiology.” PATIENCE AND MOTIVATION. a flamenco dancer and musicians demonstrated intricate and interdependent signaling and communication between artists.” she says. be prepared for a long period of studying and training. “Just because you’re a scientist doesn’t mean that is all you do.” she says.” As an example. D. foreign policy. and mixing in your other interests. “And since I was interested in how to improve conditions in developing countries.MICROBIOLOGY AS DIPLOMACY Not all microbiologists grow up in a family of scientists.” says Miroslava. She was still interested in global health. she says. Back in the United States. prosperity. Cindy took more science classes. “Just do what really excites you and what doesn’t seem like work. and eventually earned a Ph. and even dance. specific way of thinking and it takes a lot of patience. Many diseases of the poor are caused by microorganisms. It opens your mind. she says. and opens doors. which President Obama outlined as part of a speech he gave in Egypt in June 2009. Miroslava also says microbiology offers “freedom. test for the bacterial disease tuberculosis could be used in areas with few modern resources.C.” she says. “can be a great diplomacy tool—collaborations between governments. The creative side is finding out new details about how life is organized. The rewards. Cindy is no longer in the laboratory. specifically host-pathogen interactions. but is at the State Department in Washington. “Science is everywhere. and together they wrote a clinical research paper about using the diagnostic test in resource-poor settings.” Her work is part of a broad effort to encourage cooperation between the United States and the Muslim world on science and technology. or even start out studying science in school. and a UNESCO-L’Oreal Fellowship allowed her to work in Rwanda in Africa.

she approached professor Steve Mayo. Immunologists look at physical. I have a lot of flexibility. Now. The earliest written mention of immunology was during the Plague of Athens in 430 BCE. Irene feels pressure to get things done. “I’m in contact with people from all over the world. You’re sharing the joy with them. After recognizing her growing interest in how proteins interact. You can often plan experiments so you don’t have to be there on Sunday night.” exclaims the Yale University Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. thymus gland. “I like to go into structures and learn more about how they interact. and asked if she could join his lab to learn more about their techniques. When the immune system functions incorrectly.” she enthuses. She says she loved teaching undergraduate biochemistry at the University of Vienna. “A wonderful thing about a university. and advise the patient to stay away from whichever food was causing all those symptoms. “I want to get it done! If I don’t know how it works. chemical. Irene’s enthusiasm persists. Even when the work is difficult. an expert in protein design at Caltech. An allergy is caused by an overactive immune system. a doctor could identify the cause of a food allergy. and skin—are designed to protect our bodies from potentially harmful infections.” she explains. “If all the work isn’t done between Monday and Friday.” Immunology: The Powers of Proteins Irene Maier’s first big project in immunology brought her a Ph. Irene appreciates the flexible hours. Funded in part through a UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellowship. and physiological components of the immune system. is that they get excited about discoveries.” she notes. but with continuous experiments. “It’s a creative job. Its main organs—including bone marrow. 21 . It’s up to me to decide how I want to reach the goal. she worked on developing a biochip that could help diagnose food allergies. or I just want to finish something. studies all aspects of the immune system and how it functions. I want to find out. If a person has an allergy to something that’s usually harmless—like peanuts—the immune system will overreact and quickly attack that substance. with students to teach or work with in your lab.D.” Managing all that flexibility is a challenge. in both illness and health.PHILIPPA MARRACK She loves the challenge of trying to master a new technique. using computers to predict how the function of a protein might be altered when you change the sequence of its constituent amino acids. I come in on a weekend. As long as it fits in with the current project. It’s really neat!” she says. In trying to put my ideas into the real world. on top of the frustration when experiments don’t work. a delighted Irene moved from Austria to southern California in 2009.” Scientists can use the lab whenever they want. and I’m often most productive late at night. tonsils. Irene enjoys human interactions as much as structural ones. 20 IRENE MAIER ? W h at is i M M u N o l o g y? Immunology. ”Science is all about discovery. as well as collaborating with other scientists in different fields and getting great input. “I specialize in computational protein design. a wide range of problems. By using Irene’s diagnostic chip. can result. from arthritis to chronic infections. This is what causes the itchy eyes and runny nose of an allergic reaction. When Professor Mayo agreed to sponsor her. she has become a structural biologist on a postdoctoral fellowship at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Her experiments are testing whether redesigning a protein’s structure in the lab can help control the way the immune system responds to a foreign substance. in biochemistry at the University of Vienna. you sometimes need to visit the lab for an hour.” SOLVING ONE OF LIFE’S PUZZLES Joan Steitz concurs. a large branch of medical science. “You have to stay motivated when you’re repeating an experiment again and again—eventually it will work. we’re allowed to do a lot of things.

including the intricate changes that occur as the immune system and the brain develop.” Philippa studies survival and function of T cells. That’s what it’s all about!” LOOKING FOR THE “LITTLE THINGS” Philippa Marrack.“Sometimes you’re doing an experiment.” Scientists typically set their own hours. the T cell is alerted and multiplies rapidly to attack the invading germ. People get joy from the things they’re good at. “It’s a mistake to think that scientists lead solitary existences. Joan remembers testing a particular hypothesis. This is especially important for immunology research. with more people sharing discoveries. and then with more people by publishing. “You put them in not because anyone says you have to.’” Joan’s groundbreaking research of that mysterious splicing process has been important for understanding how proteins are formed. For Joan. but “you have to delight in little things along the way.” says Philippa. and depend on our colleagues for ideas. which change with a project’s stage. but believes it’s vital to teach and train the next generation of scientists. We educate. She’s eager to reach her lab each day “to learn what’s new. learn.000 unique protein “receptors” on its surface. jointly run their lab. the only thing that’s always gone smoothly was doing science together. and share the enthusiasm of the people actually producing the results. which retrieve the important genetic information from DNA. trying to find the beginning of the gene that will eventually make the right protein. “I developed the film and could see—for the first time— exactly HOW they do it! I drove home at 2 a. ‘Every cell in my body is doing that right now. Now the world understands better how life’s machinery operates. She has found a way to balance her family needs with those of her lab and career. I’ll do the faster experiments. Most scientists are driven by wanting to unravel mysteries.U N E S C O Award winner. discuss. like receptors and antigens. supervising over 20 people. learn. the fun’s always the excitement of “finding out how things work inside living organisms.” Philippa reflects. “And the more successful you are. because our bodies are made of chemicals—but have different skills in the kind of science we each understand or manage best. 23 . Her initial hypothesis and basic findings took two years. Immunologists interact with people all the time. We educate. confirm. too.” Together they make a great team.” Her biggest challenge was integrating science and family.” she explains. Taking time off can be challenging. “You can hardly wait to share it with others in the lab. since it is this kind of splicing that creates all the different types 22 of antibodies that can recognize and defend the body against the millions of viruses and bacteria out there. and depend on our colleagues for ideas. though. ‘That’s the answer!’ And you’re the only person on Earth who knows that. Any infectious organism also has proteins on its surface—called antigens—some of which may randomly match a particular T cell’s receptor. you reach an equilibrium. John Kappler. Then 10 other labs spent five more years to further explore. you want to get answers more quickly. where it is interspersed with what she calls ‘junk.m. a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholar and L’Oréal-UNESCO Award winner in 2004. “loves finding answers to life’s puzzles. get a new piece of data.’ “snRNPs are the machinery that gets rid of the junk and splices together the useful information. Philippa’s lab discovered what the T cell protein receptors look like. and understand snRNPs. During her research. the more people you’re responsible for. Each T cell has 40. Now. It’s also allowed her to explore other biological processes. who is a 2001 L’ O r é a l . different from every other T cell’s receptors. You’re so curious about what’s going on. “Groups working at different levels in your lab increases the reward level. Don’t let hard work or long hours scare you. advises Joan. Then ribosomes can make proteins without interference from the junky stuff. “In 36 years of marriage. discuss. look at it and say. As a lab manager. so they can be identified and studied. thinking.” She works with seven postdoctoral fellows.” Joan acknowledges. He’s very careful and precise. of which everyone has about a million million. It was really fun to figure that out. and some graduate students. she misses doing handson research. you’re not producing or publishing data. Joan and other scientists JOAN STEITZ are hoping that her research can help lead to new treatments for all sorts of serious immune system disorders. and questions with you. trying to care for two (now grown) children as well as her aging parents. where cells would die quickly.” Philippa and her husband. It does get hectic. “We were both trained as chemists—important for understanding biology. five undergraduates.” she confides. because when you’re not in the lab. When antigen and receptor come together.” “It’s a mistake to think that scientists lead solitary existences.” The University of Colorado immunology Professor is proud that her team solved “one of the ways the immune system knows not to attack the person it lives inside of. who often spends nine hours a day in her lab. several advanced scientists.” Joan. visions. discovered and defined the function of mammalian cells called small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs).” she recounts. but because you want to. “Somehow.

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forwomeninscience. In addition.Science needs women The L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards honor women scientists from five continents. Each year. 62 women from 28 countries have been recognized for the exceptional quality of their research. USA 2008 Laureate for Europe 2006 Ada Yonath. www. Nigeria 2005 Laureate for North America Myriam Sarachik. they are selected by an international jury presided by a Nobel Prize laureate. Mexico . To date. Republic of Korea 2001 Laureate for Africa & Arab States Adeyinka Gladys 1998 Laureate for Asia-Pacific Myeong-Hee Yu. Israel 2010 Laureate for Latin America Alejandra Bravo. which has made them role models for the next generation. Unesco and L’Oréal are convinced that science is the source of progress for society and that women have an essential role to play in that progress. L’Oréal and Unesco have granted more than 860 fellowships to young women researchers in 93 countries.