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L’Oreal USA and AAAS Honor Five Exceptional Postdoctoral Researchers

Christina Agapakis is inspired by lichen, the fungi and algae combination that thrives everywhere from tundra to toxic waste dumps. The synthetic biologist wants to learn more about this intriguing pair and the possibilities for designing similarly successful biological partnerships.

She joins four other postdoctoral researchers working at the frontiers of their fields as winners of the 2012 L’Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science. The program is a national initiative that annually recognizes and rewards five U.S.-based women researchers early in their careers. Recipients each receive up to $60,000 towards their postdoctoral research.

The 2012 fellows were selected from a competitive pool of nearly 300 candidates from 26 scientific disciplines, in a peer-review process led by Yolanda George, deputy director for Education and Human Resources (EHR) at AAAS. The fellows were chosen based on specific criteria including exceptional academic records, intellectual merit, research proposals with the potential for scientific advancement, and outstanding letters of recommendation.

AAAS also provides professional development workshops for the fellows, George said, and helps them build networks with accomplished female leaders in corporate, academic, government, and scientific fields.

“We are proud to partner with L’Oréal USA and its Fellowships for Women in Science Program,” said EHR Director Shirley Malcom. “We, too, strongly believe it is important to raise awareness of the contributions women make in science, technology, engineering, and math, and these fellows represent the next great generation of female researchers.”

The following researchers received their awards on 13 September at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, in a ceremony that included remarks from City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.

Christina Agapakis is a University of California, Los Angeles, synthetic biologist. The L’Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science award will help her focus on engineering new relationships between microorganisms usually not found together in nature. Her research includes attention to how bacteria can work together in natural ecosystems and how those relationships can be useful in biotechnology, which typically uses only isolated organisms.


Lilian Childress is a Yale University physicist working in quantum optics. The fellowship will allow Childress to develop a new device that combines quantum states of light and mechanical motion, using superfluid helium. Research on the device’s unique properties could lead to new discoveries in ultrasensitive sensor and quantum computing technology.


Joanna Lynne Kelley is a Stanford University geneticist interested in biological diversity. The award will provide her with an opportunity to explore the genomic basis of adaptation to environments containing high levels of hydrogen sulfide. She will use sulfide spring populations of the fish Poecilia from three river drainages to study differences in adaptive traits, gene sequences, and gene expression patterns.


Erin Marie Williams is a George Washington University paleoanthropologist with a focus in biomechanics. The fellowship will help Williams investigate the decision-making processes and abilities of our early human ancestors as evidenced through their selection of raw materials for the production and use of Early Stone Age technologies.


Jaclyn Winter is a University of California, Los Angeles biochemist interested in the chemical diversity of biologically active natural products. The award will enable her to examine the biosynthetic strategies that nature uses for assembling small molecules in fungi and investigate how their biosynthetic systems can be engineered to generate novel molecules for biological testing.


Since its launch in 2003, the L’Oreal fellowship program has awarded grants to 45 postdoctoral women scientists in the life and physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. The awards are part of the global L’Oreal’-UNESCO for Women in Science program, whose honorees include Nobel laureates Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Bonnie Bassler, a Princeton University microbiologist and member of the AAAS Board, was the winner of the 2012 L’Oreal-UNESCO Award in Life Sciences for North America.

[Adapted from a L’Oreal USA news release]