L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science: The Winners of 2020 Working Towards a Greener Tomorrow

by | Jun 1, 2022 | Spotlight | 0 comments

The world has certainly made excellent progress over the past several years when it comes to women in science. However, with women representing just 33.3% of researchers globally, there’s still a way to go yet in giving them their rightful recognition. Of all the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in science, only 4% have been women and figures for Europe show that only 11% of senior research positions are held by women.

It is for these reasons that The Fondation L’Oréal and UNESCO have formed a tireless alliance, working together for over two decades now to empower women scientists everywhere to step up and make a difference. Top 10 of Asia recently had the good fortune to sit down with, and uncover the stories of, the 2020 winners of the L’Oréal – UNESCO Fellowship for Women in Science – Young Talent Program. These brilliant women were each endowed with a RM30,000 grant to fund their ongoing projects in the battle against climate change. In an illuminating sit-down, they furnished us with some insight into their work, how they’ve utilised their grants, and the hidden obstacles to research largely unknown outside the halls of academia.

These women are:

Datin Dr Rozzeta Dolah, a Certified Engineer and a senior lecturer at Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia UTM, who is currently heading innovative nanotechnology research in biomass renewable energy and the production of an anti-pollution nano patch for fuel tanks.

Dr Goh Pei Sean, an Associate Professor in the School of Chemical and Energy Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) whose project revolves around an integration of membrane filtration and microalgae photoreactors to separate CO2 gas from its source.

IR Dr Umi Fazara Md. Ali, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Chemical Engineering Technology, University Malaysia Perlis. Her innovative research revolves around a completely novel absorbent from agricultural waste for CO2 capture and utilization (CCU).

The first topic of the day touched on what they felt were the most important challenges to overcome in their research. The women were in unanimous agreement on a crucial undertaking – the importance of reaching the public with their findings and continuously finding ways to make the technical aspects of their research more palatable for the common man. “People nowadays, they don’t want to hear jargon. What sparks their interest is if they can understand things in a simple way.” said Dr Umi.

Datin Dr Rozzeta chooses to enlighten the public on her research through the manual that comes with her company’s product. “In marketing my product, I had personally put together the manual in the box that explains how it works, the science behind it. That’s one of the ways my company educates society in such a way that they can understand what nanotechnology is.”

Echoing the sentiments of her colleagues, Dr Goh added that it was important to inculcate an interest in the sciences in students at an early age. Speaking candidly, she reminisced on how she had come to personally develop the fascinations that would go on to shape her career. “My interest in science, particularly chemistry, was actually inspired by my teacher. She taught science in a lively manner, showing us the kind of experiments you wouldn’t find in a textbook. These experiments wowed us and made us want to discover more.” Now, as an educator herself, she carries with her the same inspirational spirit in disseminating information. On her occasional visits to schools, Dr Goh makes an effort to bring the technology from the lab along and uses it to prepare engaging visual demonstrations for the students.

Asked how they planned to use their grants, the women were all in agreement again that it would be of immense help with the minute details that often go into funding a research project – things like purchasing consumables, raw materials, patents, and hiring research assistants – the less glamorous aspects in the pursuit of innovation that are nonetheless imperative to its success. Dr Goh also mentioned how she had used some of her grant to fund the final year projects of her undergraduate students – a group typically constrained with regards to resources.

When the topic turned to the developments they were most excited about in their research, the enthusiasm was palpable. Dr Umi spoke about her excitement to dive further into the world of more sustainable forms of energy. “Right now, we’re really reliant on fossil fuels, I’m excited to know more about and expose myself to renewable energy – especially solar cells and microalgae.” For Datin Dr Rozzeta, she was most excited about the mushrooming startup culture the world over, “More startups! The more the better!” she said. Dr Goh for her part was excited about being able to fine-tune the fundamentals of her research saying “I will try to develop better and more functional material to improve the performance of existing products.”

Having had the opportunity to sit down with and pick the brilliant brains of these inspirational women, it is clear that the future of sustainable technology finds itself in good hands. Being exposed to some of the challenges these women face and the motivations they have to meet them head-on, one can’t help but feel encouraged – and to perhaps take a closer look at the little girl in the corner, with her eyes keenly studious and her nose pressed firmly in pages that speak of moles, molecules, and the machinations of the living world.

Applications for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2022 have been extended to the 15th of June.