L'Oréal USA Fellowships For Women In Science

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of attending L'Oréal USA's Fellowships for Women in Science awards ceremony at the Museum of Natural History. Prior to the event I had no idea that this award, let alone L'Oréal's support of the academic field even existed. So, it was an incredibly great surprise to have the opportunity take part in an event honoring such inspiring and powerful females, working to change the planet. Accompanied by my lovely friend, Elizabeth Nerich, I was lead through the museum into a massive space, with high ceilings, and surrounded by animal displays from all different natural environments. The largest figure in the room was a massive whale, which hung from the ceiling directly above the event. Just looking in, we were excited for the festivities to come. With smiles on our faces we sat down and joined the other guests in honoring the award recipients. 

This event marked L’Oréal USA's tenth year honoring five post-doctoral female scientists as the recipients of the 2013 L’Oréal USA Fellowships For Women in Science. This national award program supports the advancement of women in the sciences, with grants up to $60,000 to further their scientific research. The program also offers each Fellow professional development workshops facilitated by the program's partner, AAAS. The evening program welcomed honorary guests including: Keynote Speaker FCC Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel.

This year's awards recognized and supported the following female scientists and their work:

Arpita Bose, Harvard University, Microbiologist. Dr. Bose studies unusual microbes that respire iron while using light to grow in nature. Her work suggests that these organisms harbor pathways to potentially generate biologically derived fuels. The L'Oreal USA Fellowships For Women in Science award will allow the continuation of research that can potentially provide solutions to the ever-growing energy crisis while also expanding the understanding of how microbes affect global geocycles.

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Princeton University, Chemical and Biological Engineering. Dr. Whittaker-Brooks and her team have been able to revolutionize the materials science field by synthesizing nanoscaled materials for use in electronics, window coatings, sensing devices, and photovoltaics. The L'Oreal USA Fellowships for Women in Science award will support the rational design and implementation of thermoelectric materials to be used as solar-thermal generators in photovoltaics that are more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. The thermoelectric materials Dr. Whittaker-Brooks synthesizes could be a boon for several applications ranging from power generation to microprocessor cooling which would potentially solve energy issues in the world.

Anisa Salim Ismail, Princeton University, Molecular Biology. Mammals have coevolved with vast populations of commensal (friendly) bacteria, the majority of which are found in the intestine. Even though maintaining friendly relationships with commensal bacteria is critical to human health, the exact mechanisms that regulate this relationship are still not fully understood. Dr. Ismail will use the L'Oreal USA Fellowships For Women in Science award to establish mouse models to study the possibility that commensals and mammalian cells "talk" to each other, through a process called quorum sensing, to establish the beneficial relationships shared in the intestine.

L'Oréal USA Fellowships For Women In Science Winners (from left to right): Anisa Salim Ismael,
Mary Caswell Stoddard, Arpita Bose, Robin Evans Stanley, and Louisa Whittaker-Brooks 
Robin Evans Stanley, National Institutes of Health, Biochemistry. Dr. Stanley's research goal is to understand the regulation of autophagy. Autophagy is a cellular pathway involved in the recycling of cytosolic components such as proteins and organelles. Dysfunction of this pathway has been linked to many human diseases including cancer and neurodegeneration. The L'Oreal USA Fellowships for Women in Science award will provide essential support for the continuation of research at the NIH, where Dr. Stanley will focus on characterizing the structures of complexes involved in the early stages of autophagy.

Mary Caswell Stoddard, Harvard University, Evolutionary Biologist and Ornithologist. Dr. Stoddard's multidisciplinary research program explores key questions in avian evolution and behavior, with projects ranging from avian vision and feather coloration to egg mimicry by common cuckoos. The L'Oreal USA Fellowships For Women In Science award will enable Dr. Stoddard to pursue innovative research on the evolution and engineering of avian eggs. Dr. Stoddard will combine techniques from computer science, genomics and biomineralization to investigate how birds evolved eggshells with diverse structures and special mechanical properties, with the goal of contributing to new tools and advanced materials inspired by eggs.

After hearing each of these women speak on their achievements, their passions for science, and their hopes that this reward would potentially help them in fulfilling, I was incredibly touched and inspired. Towards the end of the speeches Elizabeth looked over at me and joked, "well, what are we doing with our lives?" These women are working to find cures to deadly diseases, aid in environmental healing, and find alternative resources for those humankind is so dependent on. It was easy to feel intimidated while speaking to them, which I definitely did in a dinner conversation with Arpita Bose. However, speaking to her and seeing her eyes gleam in excitement over science and her future in it reminded me of why I was there in the first place. If I can't help the world in the way that these scientists are, I can assist by informing the world of what these women, AAAS, and L'Oreal are aiming to accomplish. And for that, I am grateful.

Photography Credit: L'Oreal + my iphone

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