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Jordanian Women Shine in Science!

February 11 marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to advocate for their full and equal access and participation in science. Globally, although more girls are in schools than ever before, women represent only 30 per cent of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields in higher education.  The situation in Jordan presents, in this respect, a more encouraging picture; available data suggests that more than 60% of students in the natural sciences, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy are female; the figure for engineering lies around 28 per cent and that for computer science around 45 per cent.

This year, Dr. Heba Alzaben, a young Jordanian scientist, will be recognized along with five other women scientists from the Levant region as winners of the 2021 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Levant Young Talents Program. She joins previous laureates from Jordan, Dr. Lina Dahabiyeh and Dr. Nouf Mahmoud, who received the awards in 2020 and in 2019 respectively.   

From a young age Dr. Heba wanted to be a scientist. “By grade 10, I decided that I wanted to get into science; my dad holds a PhD in civil engineering and has published many books,” she said , “and it was him, who encouraged me to get into mechanical engineering, and pursue graduate studies while conducting scientific research.”

With excellent Tawjihi grades she was accepted at the University of Jordan, studying Mechanical Engineering at undergraduate and graduate level. Successfully winning a scholarship, she completed her PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, researching the use of thermal remote sensing to detect crop stress. Returning to Jordan with the PhD in her pocket, she worked in academia, continuing the research project she had started as part of her PhD.

In February 2021, by then, an assistant professor at Al-Hussein Technical University, she heard about the 2021 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Levant Young Talents Program. She applied with her ongoing research project and received the good news of her selection in late 2021. “I was overjoyed,” Dr. Heba recalled, ‘I was very happy that my work is going to be acknowledged internationally.’ This recognition encouraged her to work even harder and to apply for other opportunities. She plans to use the grant from L’Oréal-UNESCO for a fellowship program to continue the data collection under her research work.

My research has the potential not only to help farmers save costs, but also to enable them to do agricultural work in a more environmentally friendly way
explained Dr Heba

Her research is detecting crop stress at an early stage by measuring temperature as well as emissivity, which could eventually help farmers to decrease the use of chemicals in agriculture, thus reducing water and air pollution. Dr. Heba’s research is linked to this year’s global theme for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which is “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Water Unites Us”, a subject, particularly relevant for Jordan, which is the second most water scarce country in the world.

Dr. Heba Alzaben, serves as an example of how hard work and perseverance result in great achievements. She also advises women and girls interested in science to   “believe in yourselves, work harder and go after your dreams; enroll in science camps during the summer, search for scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and do not stop your studies after your bachelor’s degree”. 

The L’Oréal-UNESCO: For Women in Science program, which was initiated in 1998 benefits every year dozens of women and girls from all over the world, who aspire to work in science. It is fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 4 “Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning" and Sustainable Development Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.