International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Feb 11th 2022. Engineering, Robotics, Climate Science & Vaccinology
As we recognise the 2022 International Day of Women & Girls in Science, we consider some of the challenges women in STEM still face. Women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates & 40% of graduates in computer science & informatics, according to a UNESCO Science Report (1)
“Even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being sidelined in science-related fields due to their gender. Women need to know that they have a place in science, technology, engineering & mathematics, & that they have a right to share in scientific progress.” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General (1)
Despite the gender bias faced by women in STEM, there are still hundreds of thousands of women & girls who have made & continue to make an enormous impact on communities around the world through their scientific expertise & knowledge.
For the 2022 International Day of Women and Girls in Science we are focusing on four pioneers from robotics, engineering, climate science & vaccinology.
Afghan Girls Robotic Team
The Afghan Girls Robotic Team known as the Afghan Dreamers, was founded in 2017 by Roya Mahboob & made up of girls between ages 12 & 18 and their mentors. Roya Mahboob founded the Digital Citizen Fund (DCF) which enabled 6 of the girls to travel to the USA to take part in the FIRST international Global Challenge robotics competition.
Over the years, the Afghan Girls Robotic Team have built a variety of devices to serve others & solve problems in their communities. These include a wheelchair controlled by eye movement, a drone & a metal detector robot.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the team quickly set to work building a ventilator out of car parts, then a robot that could sanitize surfaces using UVC light. (2)
In August 2021 when the US withdrew from Afghanistan, millions of women & girls feared that their freedoms would be removed & this included girls & women’s rights to education & to work in Science & Engineering.
The Afghan Dreamers made the difficult decision to leave their home country, families, friends, & previous robotics work all behind. They struggled for several days to make it out of Afghanistan, until they were finally able to do so with the help of the Qatari government. (2)
“I believe strongly that as a key to our future is the children we are teaching today,” By allowing these young women the opportunity, we actually give them a chance to change the lives of themselves, and their children, and women throughout Afghanistan. And they are proving that they can be the master of their own destiny and the future.” (2) Roya Mahboob, founder & organizer of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team
Edith Clarke – First women in history to gain an Engineering degree
Edith Clarke was the first women in history to gain an Engineering degree. Like so very many women before & after her; trying to gain a place at a University in a male dominated world, was almost impossible.
Having been born to a farming family in 1883 & an expectation upon her to marry & become a mother; Edith went against the traditional grain & went on to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College & graduated in 1908. After her graduation, Edith taught Mathematics until she realised her real passion was in engineering.
She spent some time studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and but left it and proceeded to earn an electrical engineering degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), becoming the first woman to do so.
Being a woman, she was unable to find work as an engineer, but she persevered and eventually became an electrical engineer in the Central Station Engineering Department of General Electric. (3)
Through her work at GE, Edith filed a patent in 1921 for a “graphical calculator” to be employed in solving electric power transmission line problems. (5) In 1947 Clarke left GE after 26 years to teach electrical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, where she became the first female EE professor in the US and worked there until retirement in 1956. (4)
Dr Kate Marvel – Climate Scientist, University Lecturer, Associate Research Scientist.
‘Dr Kate Marvel is an associate research scientist at Columbia University & the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. She received a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Cambridge in 2008 & has worked at the Carnegie Institution, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory & Stanford University.
Her research focuses on climate modelling & clouds. Through her studies at Columbia University & NASA GISS, Dr Marvel has continued to develop the study of climate forcings (things that affect the planet’s energy balance) & feedbacks (processes that speed up or slow down warming).
The work undertaken has proven that observed estimates of planet Earth’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases as biased low. Furthermore, the studies have shown that anthropogenic climate changes are already exhibiting changes in global drought patterns, cloud cover & in the timing and amount of regional rainfall. (5)
Dr Marvel explores the damage the industrial revolution has caused to the natural environment in her article ‘Our Climate’s Excellent Adventure’ & points directly at the correlation between the Industrial Revolution & the advancing climate changes we are seeing today. (6)
Professor Sarah Gilbert – Saïd Professorship of Vaccinology, Jenner Institute & Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine
Professor Sarah Gilbert has been making and testing vaccines designed to induce T cell responses for over twelve years, chiefly using antigens from malaria and influenza. (7)
Having completed her doctorate, Professor Gilbert got a job with a brewing research centre, looking at how to manipulate brewing yeast, before moving on to work in human health. Professor Gilbert had never meant to be a vaccine specialist. Yet by the mid-1990s, she was in an academic job at the University of Oxford, looking at the genetics of malaria. And that led to work on malaria vaccines. (8)
In 2020 Professor Sarah Gilbert & her team at Oxford University were tasked with developing a vaccine for Covid19. With there never having been a human vaccine developed against any member of the coronavirus family, Professor Gilbert knew this would be a considerable challenge.
As Professor Gilbert rose through the ranks at Oxford University, she set up her own research group in a bid to create a universal flu vaccine.
In 2014, Professor Gilbert led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine & when the Mers – Middle East respiratory syndrome – virus struck, she travelled to Saudi Arabia to try to develop a vaccine for this form of coronavirus. The second trial of that vaccine was just beginning when, in early 2020, Covid-19 emerged in China & Professor Gilbert realised she might be able to use the same approach. (8)
It took a few weeks to create a vaccine which worked against Covid in the lab. Then the first batch went into manufacture by early April & the rigorous testing regime expanded.
By 2021, the now commonly known Oxford Astrazeneca Covid19 vaccine was a considerable part of the UK vaccine roll out & was approved & recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)
Written & cited by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2