As we mark this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’re taking a look at four incredible game changers who are using their knowledge and skills in STEM to make the world a better place.
1 | Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Dr. Corbett rose to fame during the pandemic after her team at Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland helped create the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
The 36-year-old viral immunologist and research fellow discovered her passion for science during high school, when she began working in a chemistry lab at the University of North Carolina.
“I am true to who I am, but I understand that there is a level of professionalism that is attached to essentially what is my newfound status as a scientific lead of this coronavirus vaccine,” Dr. Corbett told MSNBC last year.
During her studies, she was paired with fellow Black PhD student and future mentor, Albert Russell who she credits as inspiring her to make an impact in science through representation.
“’Each one teach one’ is an African-American proverb, birthed out of slavery, suggesting it is one’s duty to pass knowledge onward to those who are not as privileged,” she wrote in Nature magazine in October 2020. “ I was one of the first generation in my family to aspire to four-year college degrees.”
“With no previous exposure to what a career as a scientist entailed, it was a mentor/mentee relationship that ignited my lifelong passion for scientific discovery. As I trek through my scientific career, making novel discoveries, climbing what seems to be a never-ending ladder, I am reminded of my other duties… to mentor…to be visible…to represent.”
Last month, the vaccine scientist publicly spoke about rumours of an omicron-specific booster to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
“Every single time a different variant comes along, we pull all of our heads together and we do research to determine whether or not it’s appropriate to change the vaccine to match that specific variant. The data for omicron is showing that we are in the clear for these original vaccines and that they continue to protect people.”
2 | Anjali Sharma
Melbourne based teen climate activist Anjali Sharma had a pretty incredible 2021. Last year, along with seven friends, she took Australia’s environment minister Sussan Ley to court and had won. The court found that the minister did have a duty of care not to harm children.
Sharma’s friends, Isolde Shanti Raj-Seppings, Ambrose Malachy Hayes, Tomas Webster Arbizu, Bella Paige Burgemeister, Laura Fleck Kirwan, Ava Princi and Luca Gwyther Saunders were all under the age of 18, so they had Sister Marie Brigid Arthur of the Brigadine Order of Victoria act as their litigation representative.
17-year-old Sharma was named as a finalist for the International Children’s Climate Prize last year, and told The Guardian that she hopes to “…cut all Australian government ties with mining companies such as Origin and Santos, which have constantly procured grants for new fossil fuel exploration projects and influenced Australia’s climate policy due to their Australian political connections.”
“Instead I’d have our climate policy influenced by our First Nations people and those on the frontlines. These are the people who have a true connection and love for the land.”
3 | Anorah John
After years competing in hackathons focused on tech for social and environmental impact, Anorah John won the WWF-Australia’s Future Cities Hackathon in 2017 and now leads the World Wildlife Fund’s Impactio, a tech platform that encourages collaboration between impact ventures, subject matter experts and support groups around the world.
She is also part of the WWF-Australia’s award-winning innovation program, ‘Panda Labs’ which focuses on accelerating emerging technologies with positive social and environmental impact, including the regeneration of threatened species such as pandas.
“A diversity of being, opinion and voice are what’s going to help us solve the disruptive challenges that we have today,” she said in an interview with WWF. “It’s a nuanced understanding of the complex systemic issues and collaboration that’s going to create the accelerated progress we need. We live in a unique time. Pivotal conversations are being had at scale in different ways around the world. I’d encourage you to jump into the conversations, catch the wave and ride it.”
4 | Aileen Tan Shau Hwai
As the director of the Centre for Marine & Coastal Studies at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Aileen’s job is wide-ranging, taking her from the office into the deepest oceans on our planet.
She is one of just a few ocean scientists changing the way regional ocean coastlines operate, thus improving the planet’s natural water resources and battling climate change.
“The ocean is vast, and there is a lot to be studied and explored,” she told Thai PBS. “Research fields in biodiversity, coastal erosion, sea-level rise and climate change continually offer us new perspectives on nature. Ocean scientists are looking into marine resources for food security, health solutions, and potential new energy sources”.
Climate change is directed related to ocean acidification, overfishing, marine resource depletion and overuse of plastics.
As the world tries to combat a mix of habitat degradation and marine disasters – threatening the health of the ocean, Aileen has actively been trying to increase education and employment opportunities for women in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The Marine Science is not popular in this region,” she said. “Doing ocean research is challenging for both male and female scientists, but perhaps most for the females; being a female marine scientist requires a lot of perseverance and patience. It’s hard work, but it can lead to such a sense of accomplishment when our ocean science research successfully translates into improving the livelihoods of the region’s communities”.
Aileen is actively trying to help other women to follow in her footsteps, participating in programs including UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission which has been advancing and empowering women in the field for several years.