The United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) highlights the vital work of female scientists and promotes their equal access to participate in scientific communities.
In 2023, the campaign focuses on a few of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; industry innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; and means of implementation. Female scientists play a key role in developing strategies and applying solutions to help drive progress on these goals.
11 February is a chance to celebrate some of the female scientists among Queen Mary’s students, staff and alumni whose excellent work is making a real difference – not just within their specialist fields but in the wider world.
The inner-east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney are among the most disadvantaged and socially diverse in the UK. In these areas, rates of ill health are among the highest in Western Europe. Professor Rohini Mathur’s research aims to address health inequalities – starting in our local community.
“My work focuses on how to make the best use of routinely connected health data to identify and tackle inequalities,” Professor Mathur told us in a video she recorded for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Professor Rohini Mathur is Professor of Health Data Science in Queen Mary's Wolfson Institute of Population Health, and part of the Clinical Effectiveness Group, a group made up of researchers, GPs and a primary care support team who use data-driven research and tools to improve population health in North East London and beyond. They analyse datasets to reveal insights and inequalities in population health, and use their findings to develop practical tools and guidance to support GPs in the community, as well as inform local and national policy.
Professor Mathur spoke to us about her work and a memorable experience in which she faced gender inequality…live on air.
Elsewhere in Queen Mary’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, we are proud to house three of the top 100 female scientists in the UK. Frances Balkwill, Irene Leigh and Claudia Langenberg were named in Research.com’s first annual ranking of top female scientists in the world in October of last year.
In Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management, Dr Isadora Cruxên is working to understand the impact of politics and business practices on water supply and sanitation access. The UN estimates that 733 million people worldwide live in areas of ‘water stress’, where demand outstrips supply or usage is restricted, and it would cost nearly US$115 billion a year to achieve water-related SDGs globally. When countries can’t afford the investment needed to meet SDGs, partnerships like public and private sector collaboration can be crucial, so Dr Cruxên’s research explores how such partnerships can help improve water governance and prevent crises.
Dr Cruxên explained: “There is currently a big emphasis in the development community on how private investment can support SDGs, such as restoring water-related environmental systems or providing universal access to safe drinking water. While there is a lot of focus on how these partnerships should be set up, there is much less attention on how they develop over time and with what implications for water governance and equity in service provision – which is where my work comes in. I’m interested in what we can learn if we look at these partnerships in the long run, and with a special attention to political relations.”
As part of the Data+Feminism Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr Cruxên also helps to develop tech that supports activism on gender-related violence and feminicide (or femicide). She works in a team of researchers and civil society collaborators who have created a data highlighter and tailored email alert system, not only improving data collection but also reducing the manual and emotional labour of research for activists doing this vital work.
“Official statistics often under-report the scale of the issue – and numbers alone cannot do proper justice to the lives and stories of murdered and missing women and girls,” Dr Cruxên said. “Through research, we can challenge and change the status quo. The tools we’ve developed are currently supporting English and Spanish activists, with a new pilot study in Brazil to test the tech in Portuguese, so we hope these tools will be available to a broader range of activists in the future.”
In the School of Engineering and Materials Science, Ana Sobrido works on developing new materials for energy conversion and storage devices, which will be crucial for the energy transition. She is leading a project to develop manufacturing methods to enable the wide-spread adoption of redox flow batteries (RFBs) - a crucial technology for the transition to renewable energy.
Ana said: “Since sources of renewable energy – like sunlight or wind – are so variable, we need to be able to store the energy they provide for use when there are dips in the supply.”
Faculty colleague Prof Elaine Chew, from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, emphasises the importance of having strong female role models in the scientific community. In an article published by The Conversation, she argues: “If computer pioneer Ada Lovelace had strong women role models almost 200 years ago, we must ensure that women continue to do so today.”
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