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2015 L’Oréal USA Fellowship Winners to Help Change the Face of Science

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The 2015 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows received their awards at a 22 October ceremony. From left: Julie Meyer, Sarah Richardson, Sarah Ballard, Claire Robertson, Ming Yi | L'Oréal USA For Women in Science

When people imagine a scientist, do they see a physicist, who is also a mom? Do they think of a minority woman working on biofuels?

"It's good to tell children who look like me — that they can be me," said Sarah Richardson, a synthetic biologist and one of five women postdoctoral scientists awarded with the 2015 L'Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship on 22 October.

The awards ceremony at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. sought to help change the face of science by hailing the contributions of women scientists and propelling the next generation forward with five individual research grants of $60,000 each.

Fellowship recipients included an exoplanet astrophysicist, marine microbiologist, synthetic biologist, cancer bioengineer, and a condensed matter physicist.

"It is incredibly exciting to see these women doing meaningful, cutting edge research while also being deeply committed to engage with the next generation of scientists. We are excited to partner with L'Oréal in helping give visibility to these extraordinary scientists and engineers," said Shirley Malcolm, head of Education and Human Resources programs at AAAS.

Women are still underrepresented in science and engineering fields. In the science end engineering workforce, women made up 37% of the group holding the most advanced academic degrees, according to National Science Foundation data from 2010. 

AAAS administers the L'Oréal USA Women For Science Fellowship, an annual program that has thus far awarded a total of $3 million in grants to 60 women scientists in the United States.

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The L'Oréal Fellows and AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows visited with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) | AAAS

In Washington, the L'Oréal Fellows and AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows attended a Capitol Hill Briefing on issues impacting women in STEM with Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Fellows also met with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

"We're pleased to join in L'Oréal to work in the removal of the barriers that women face and the full recognition of women in science and engineering," said Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. "It is important that we actually provide support, not just words, for women in science and engineering, especially early in their careers."

Receiving stable and sufficient funding early on is critical for women scientists to establish themselves, said Yolanda George, program director for Education and Human Resources programs at AAAS.

"Postdocs play a critical role in the U.S. research and development enterprise, including conducting cutting-edge research, and mentoring and supervising undergraduate and graduate students," George said. "The research funds provided by L'Oréal USA will help these young women scientists to launch independent research and get the data and papers that they need to be more competitive for faculty and other positions or for federal and other research grants."

The 2015 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows:

Sarah Ballard is a Torres Fellow in exoplanetary astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ballard's research focuses on the rapidly evolving field of exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars other than the sun and may resemble Earth. Ballard has discovered four exoplanets and was previously awarded the prestigious NASA Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship. The L'Oreal USA For Women in Science award will enable Ballard to form and lead her first research team. Ballard has been dedicated throughout her career to increasing the participation of women in science. In addition to mentoring several students, she currently co­ hosts a podcast addressing the issues women face in science and leads workshops for female graduate students across the country about confidence. Ballard, 31, received a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics at Harvard University and a B.A. in Astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley. Raised in Northern California, Ballard now lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Julie Meyer is a postdoctoral scientist in marine microbiology at the University of Florida. Meyer's research focuses on the role of microbial interactions in the health and stability of coral reefs and is performed in collaboration with the Smithsonian Marine Station. Specifically, Meyer is researching how shifts in coral microbiota are associated with Black Band Disease, a disease that kills healthy tissue in many different species of reef­building corals. The L'Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship will support the further development of Meyer's research including the sequencing of whole genomes. Building on her strong commitment to mentoring, Meyer will also use the fellowship to produce a short documentary film highlighting the work of women in coral reef research. The documentary will be shared online and presented to girls in the Gainesville area as part of Meyer's effort to expose girls to the diversity of scientific careers. Meyer, 39, received a Ph.D. in Marine Biosciences at the University of Delaware, an M.S. in Biology from West Chester University, a B.S. in Biology from Salisbury University and a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Sciences at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. After growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Meyer now lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband and young daughter.

Sarah Richardson is a postdoctoral fellow in synthetic biology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and at the University of California, Berkeley. Richardson focuses on harnessing bacteria to make molecules that could lead to the development of new biofuels and medicines. Specifically, Richardson's research on CRISPR and other bacterially derived tools for genome editing will make it easier for other scientists to implement biomanufacturing. The L'Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship will enable Richardson to conduct independent research that will further her career. Since getting her start interning in a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine laboratory when she was in high school, Richardson has performed, and been awarded for, her extensive community outreach focused on minority and economically disadvantaged students including her current work with the Oakland Unified School District's "Dinner with a Scientist" program. Richardson, 32, received a Ph.D. in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a B.S. in Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland. Raised in Baltimore, Richardson currently lives in Oakland with her husband.

Claire Robertson is a postdoctoral scientist in cancer bioengineering at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Robertson is using her background in imaging and biomechanics to better understand how the normal environment in the breast acts to suppress tumor formation through biophysical mechanisms. This research has the potential to rapidly reduce breast cancer mortality by mimicking these mechanisms with new drugs and improving prediction of when cancerous cells will grow or metastasize. The L'Oreal USA For Women in Science fellowship will provide Robertson with the resources to focus exclusively on developing new research techniques and performing complex experiments. In addition to mentoring several women researchers, Robertson has been active in outreach throughout her career including helping to expand Rocket Science Tutors, an afterschool science program for disadvantaged middle school students. Robertson, 30, received a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at University of California, Irvine and a B.S. in Bioengineering/B.A. in Applied Mathematics at University of California, San Diego. Originally from Encinitas, California, Robertson now lives in Alameda with her husband and two cats.

Ming Yi is a postdoctoral scientist in condensed matter physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Yi's work focuses on high­temperature superconductivity, a phenomenon in which electrons coherently pair up to travel without resistance in a material at a relatively high temperature. This research is already being applied in the development of high­efficiency power transmission lines and high­speed Maglev trains. The L'Oreal USA For Women in Science fellowship will enable Yi to purchase raw materials and travel to other world­class facilities to perform her experiments. As a new mother adjusting to the challenges of being a woman in STEM, Yi will also use her fellowship to create a support group that encourages STEM mothers to stay and succeed in the field. Yi, 30, received her Ph.D. in Physics at Stanford University and a B.S. in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Having immigrated with her family to the United States from China when she was twelve years old, Yi now lives in Albany, California with her husband and young daughter.

Author

Gavin Stern

Director of News and Information