15th Annual L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science - 2013

© Fondation L’Oréal.
Laureates, fellows and Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, during the 2013 Annual L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.

Each year, five outstanding women scientists – one per continent – are honoured for the contributions of their research, the strength of their commitments and their impact on society. The Awards jury was chaired by Professor Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology.

The research of the 2013 Laureates demonstrates exceptionally original approaches to fundamental research in the Physical Sciences, from contributing to better understanding climate change to advancing research on neurodegenerative diseases and potentially uncovering new energy sources.  

“These five outstanding women scientists have given the world a better understanding of how nature works,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Their pioneering research and discoveries have changed the way we think in various areas of the physical sciences and opened new frontiers in science and technology. Such key developments have the potential to transform our society.”

On 28 March 2013, the five Laureates will be honoured at an Awards ceremony in Paris and will each receive US$100,000 in recognition of their accomplishments.


© L’Oréal Corporation Foundation, Professor Francisca Nneka OKEKE


Professor Francisca Nneka OKEKE
University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Nigeria)
For her significant contributions to the understanding of daily variations of the ion currents in the upper atmosphere which may further our understanding of climate change.

High above the Earth’s surface - between 50km to 1,000km - is the ionosphere, the subject of Professor Francisca Okeke’s lifetime of study. A very thick layer of charged particles, the ionosphere produces changes in the magnetic field on Earth’s surface that affect the planet in a host of ways. Her research could lead to a better understanding of climate change and help pinpoint sources of dramatic phenomena like tsunamis and earthquakes.

© L’Oréal Corporation Foundation, Professor Reiko KURODA


Professor Reiko KURODA
Tokyo University of Science (Japan)
For discovering the functional importance of the difference between left handed and right handed molecules which has wide applications including research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

All living and non-living things, even the smallest components of our bodies, exhibit either right-handedness or left-handedness. Professor Reiko Kuroda invented several novel instruments for studying the effects of such handedness on a variety of physical and biological systems. Her basic research at the molecular level, whether biological or non-biological, has important implications for manufacturing drugs and agricultural chemicals, as well as for the study of gene-determining animal body asymmetry, such as snail coiling.

© L’Oréal Corporation Foundation, Professor Pratibha GAI


Professor Pratibha GAI
University of York (United Kingdom)
For ingeniously modifying her electron microscope so that she was able to observe chemical reactions occurring at surface atoms of catalysts which will help scientists in their development of new medicines or new energy sources.

Some of the most groundbreaking achievements in the annals of science have been made by people who invented ways to see what cannot be seen with the naked eye. Pratibha Gai is among the relatively few scientists in history who can lay claim to such a key advancement. Her truly ingenious modifications to electron microscopes enable us to actually see chemical processes at the atomic level that were once completely mysterious. Her fundamental research promises a plethora of potential applications for an immense range of scientific, technological and economic solutions.

© L’Oréal Corporation Foundation, Professor Marcia BARBOSA


Professor Marcia BARBOSA
Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre (Brazil)
For discovering one of the peculiarities of water which may lead to better understanding of how earthquakes occur and how proteins fold which is important for the treatment of diseases.

Water can behave in unusual and unexpected ways. Since it covers nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and makes up over half of the human body, pinpointing exactly how water acts, and why, when it does the unexpected is key to advancing knowledge in nearly every field of science. Professor Marcia Barbosa’s years of research into the anomalous behavior of water could have an enormous impact on our understanding of a host of natural phenomena, ranging from earthquakes to human proteins.

© L’Oréal Corporation Foundation, Professor Deborah JIN


Professor Deborah JIN
National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Colorado, Boulder (USA)
For having been the first to cool down molecules so much that she can observe chemical reactions in slow motion which may help further understanding of molecular processes which are important for medicine or new energy sources.

Professor Deborah Jin and her team invented an ingenious method of cooling molecules down to near absolute zero, the lowest possible temperature – which has the effect of slowing them down. In fact, they slow down enough for researchers to actually see what goes on during chemical reactions. The study of ultra-cold molecules could lead to new precision-measurement tools, new methods for quantum computing and help us better understand materials that are essential to technology.

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