UNESCO, L'Oréal and ABC announce the seven laureates of the 2021 "For Women in Science" Programme in Brazil

This Programme recognizes and encourages the participation of women in Science in Brazil, granting R$ 50 thousand for each laureate

Last year, Science played a leading role in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it has gained even more recognition and has played a crucial role in solving different challenges in the world. In addition, women and gender equality are in evidence right now. Therefore, they have increasingly stood out in various areas of Science. For this reason, L'Oréal Brasil, in partnership with UNESCO in Brazil and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), has promoted the "For Women in Science" programme for 16 years. Its objective is to transform the scientific scenario, contributing to gender parity in the field. Statistical models to monitor the new coronavirus pandemic, studies on climate change, restoration of the biome, and the connection of the health conditions between environments, animals, and human beings, are some of the objectives of the awarded works of the 2021 edition of this programme.

"For Women in Science" programme supports the young women scientists to continue their studies. Thus, this programme grants R$ 50 thousand reais to seven young researchers in Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Chemical Sciences and Mathematics. So, it is the case of Lílian Silva Catenacci, a Professor at the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI). In her fieldwork, she has travelled to different regions of Brazil to research a unique health approach. Her premise is simple and accurate: thinking about the health of humans, animals, and environments in a connected way. "You can't separate one thing from the other," declares Lilian.

Also awarded in the Life Sciences category, the Biologist and Professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS), Letícia Couto Garcia, has studied how to restore the Pantanal biome, considering its environmental and economic importance. The scientist's speciality is to balance the needs of society and the conservation of ecosystems. She works with the recovery of the Pantanal and its surroundings. "The Pantanal is, by definition, well adapted to fire. But in recent years, we have seen a dangerous intensification of fires. About 43% of the burnt areas in Pantanal in 2020 had not had fires for 20 years", explains Letícia, mentioning the result of a study recently published with her collaborators.

Surveillance of viruses that cause diseases such as dengue, zika, chikungunya and yellow fever is the motto of the laureate Marta Giovanetti, also in the Life Sciences category. According to Marta, it is essential to understand the dissemination dynamics of the viruses that cause these diseases to improve public health care. Genomic surveillance is a critical tool in this task, which is the research focus of the Virologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz). “Genomic surveillance and monitoring of circulating pathogens are also fundamental for predicting future outbreaks and epidemics that are still at an early stage and, thus, can also help in the control of emerging infectious diseases,” emphasizes Marta.

Ecologist Thaísa Sala Michelan, a Professor at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), was recognized in the Life Sciences category for her study of aquatic plants in the Amazon, especially those present in Pará state. She has studied local biodiversity since 2017. Now, she is preparing for the challenge of travel along streams, swamps, and lakes in Pará to identify the present species in each region and understand how human activities, such as agriculture and livestock, impact the occurrence of these plants, which are fundamental for the environment they occupy. “Aquatic plants provide structure and shelter for different species. For example, they serve as a nursery for fry (baby fish), including some that we use in our diet,” she explains.

In the Chemical Sciences category, Ana Cecília Albergaria-Barbosa, a Professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), investigates the presence of pollutants in Antarctica. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she travelled to Antarctica for about two months to collect samples of sediments and suspended materials on the water surface. Back at her laboratory in Salvador, she will analyse the samples for three different types of pollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, persistent organic pollutants, and emerging contaminants. “All these substances can reach Antarctica through different paths,” explains Ana Cecília. “One possibility is to arrive by air. Volatile compounds used in tropical hot climate regions reach very high layers of the atmosphere. So, they travel around the planet and later are deposited in colder places like Antarctica. Another way for spreading pollutants is through marine animals, such as whales and birds, which migrate from tropical regions to the poles. And, in the case of hydrocarbons, pollution can happen locally, with the use of fossil fuels on ships that go to Antarctica and research stations that use diesel to generate energy,” she adds.

Laureate in the Mathematical Sciences category, Fernanda De Bastiani, a Professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), has concentrated part of her research in Mathematics and Statistics applied to public health emergencies in the world and particularly in her Brazilian state. Its objective is to help understand the spatial variability of COVID-19 in Pernambuco, observing the number of cases, deaths, incidence rate and other variables in each location. "For example, we can assess the fatality rate of the disease and try to associate it with socioeconomic indicators. Or we may even find that the most populated municipalities don't necessarily have a higher incidence of COVID-19. Then, we will investigate why some regions have more cases than others," she speculates.

At the National Centre for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), located in Campinas-SP, Physicist Ingrid David Barcelos was acknowledged in the Physical Sciences category for her research on soapstone. Her interest is to study the light inside microscopic structures, only a few nanometres (one nanometre is equivalent to one-millionth of a millimetre). Despite the small size, the possibilities are enormous. Based on this knowledge, in the future, it will be possible to develop new technologies to improve the efficiency of optoelectronic devices, such as computer chips and cell phones, as well as telecommunication applications. "The materials' properties – for example, the way they conduct heat or electricity – can drastically change at the nanoscale," explains the scientist.

As a black woman researcher, Ingrid says that at times she has felt intimidated by being in a predominantly white male environment.  Still, she has been lucky to be accompanied by fellow female scientists: "we have held each other's hands and walked this path together". Because of everything she has been through, including prejudiced jokes from those who did not believe she belonged to Science, Ingrid knows the importance of representing women and blacks in the academic environment.

Laureates of L'Oréal-UNESCO-ABC “Para Mulheres na Ciência” 2021


Life Sciences:

Letícia Couto

Lilian Catenacci

Marta Giovanetti

Thaísa Michelan



Ana Cecília Rizzatti



Ingrid Barcelos



Fernanda De Bastiane


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