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Winners of 2014 L’Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellowships Announced

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News, November 19, 2014 LOreal Awards Full
From left, Sabrina Stierwalt, Livia Eberlin, Lauren O'Connell, Jennifer Laaser, Katie Brenner | AAAS/Kat Zambon

When the five winners of the 2014 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellowships aren't studying new ways to diagnose neonatal infections, Amazonian dart frogs, or galaxy formation, they can be found teaching middle school girls about chemistry, mentoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and volunteering with an after-school program for rural students.

The 2014 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows were honored at a 13 November awards ceremony at the National Museum of Women in the Arts for their achievements in science. Each fellow will receive a $60,000 grant for post-doctoral research.

"From an astrophysicist to a chemist, a physical chemist, an evolutionary biologist, and a bio-engineer — those are impressive fields of study — this year's L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows are conducting innovative research with the potential to impact people's lives and of course, our world," said Alex Wagner, host of Now with Alex Wagner on MSNBC and master of ceremonies for the event.

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News, November 19, 2014 Shirley Malcolm Third
Shirley Malcom | AAAS/Kat Zambon

"For 11 years, we have been pleased to partner with L'Oréal USA as managers of these awards, sharing as we do a commitment to women in science and to recognizing and honoring outstanding women scientists as they move to assume leadership roles in their fields of study," said Shirley Malcom, AAAS Education and Human Resources Programs director.

AAAS managed the fellows' application process. Experienced scientists in the candidates' respective fields evaluated the applications based on their intellectual merit, research potential, scientific excellence, and their dedication to supporting women and girls in science. Unlike previous years, the 2014 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows were also required to demonstrate their commitment to serving as role models for girls and women in science.

"In the heart and soul of this program, in the DNA of this program, has been the desire to inspire the next generation at a very young age to pursue a career and be successful in science," said Carol Hamilton, L'Oréal USA Luxe Division president.

To help inspire the next generation of women in science, 25 local young women who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) attended the awards ceremony through a partnership with L'Oréal USA, TeenVogue, and the National Girls Collaborative Project. The special guests, ages 13 to 18 years old, wrote essays explaining what they love about science.

The 13 November event was the culmination of a week of programming that included a White House roundtable with women scientists serving in the executive branch, visits with members of Congress, a mentoring session with local high school students at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and a tour of the L'Oréal research and innovation labs in Clark, New Jersey.

Since 1998, the L'Oréal For Women In Science program has recognized and rewarded more than 2,000 women from over 100 countries. Fifty-five post-doctoral women in research have earned more than $2 million in grants since the L'Oréal USA For Women In Science program launched in 2003.

"L'Oréal created the For Women In Science program out of a very simple belief — the world needs science and science needs women," said Frederic Roze, L'Oréal Americas president and chief executive officer. "Therefore, we are proud to continue our strong support for the next generation of women in STEM."

The 2014 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellows are:

Katie Brenner, a post-doctoral scientist in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Inspired by the pre-term birth and subsequent hospitalization of her first child, Brenner developed a technique to enable early diagnosis of neonatal infections. "My hope for this project is that it's going to enable us to develop point-of-care diagnostic tools which will allow us to diagnose babies and send them home if they are healthy or to keep them and treat them early if they are not," she said in a video. As former president of the Society of Women Engineers at Stanford University, Brenner mentors several undergraduate students and works with a local high school teacher to develop laboratory experiments that will demonstrate cutting-edge science for students in a rural area.

Livia S. Eberlin, a post-doctoral scientist in chemistry at Stanford University. After learning about the limits of current cancer diagnosis techniques, Eberlin started using mass spectrometry imaging to diagnose cancers more efficiently and effectively. While still in the early stages, pilot programs to diagnose gastric cancers using Eberlin's methods have yielded promising results. "In ten years, I see a smaller version of this instrument in every hospital" to enable surgeons to accurately and rapidly say they've removed all of the cancer, she said in a video. "This is really groundbreaking research." Eberlin mentors a female scientist through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, which gives summer research opportunities to undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jennifer Laaser, a postdoctoral scientist in polymer physics at the University of Minnesota. Laaser is currently investigating how DNA interacts with charged polymers and particles, which she hopes will ultimately inform efforts to design better materials for gene therapy. "Getting genes into cells is difficult for a lot of reasons so there has been a lot of interest in polymers, and these polymers can join up with DNA and mask the characteristics that make it hard to get DNA into a cell," she said in a video. "We're really trying to understand the physics of that interaction so that we understand what knobs to tweak. It is really exciting new knowledge that we're developing every day in the lab." Laaser is active in her university's Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) group where she helps lead "Cool Chemistry," which brings middle-school age girls to campus for chemistry demonstrations and activities. When Laaser was preparing a talk for "Cool Chemistry," she found that there were few videos online showing women scientists in the lab, a problem she plans to use her fellowship to rectify.

Lauren O'Connell, a postdoctoral Bauer Fellow studying chemical ecology at the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University. Initially interested in the behavior of poison dart frogs, O'Connell turned her attention towards studying the biomedical potential of the chemicals on the frogs' skin. "The chemicals that we find on frog skin are a treasure trove of biological information that will hopefully help us create the next generation of antibiotic medicine," she said in a video. O'Connell mentors several undergraduate women researchers as well as high school students and volunteers with the Science Club for Girls. She also worked with K-12 teachers in New England to start the "Little Froggers School Program" to bring engaging science to public school classrooms.

Sabrina Stierwalt, a postdoctoral scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Virginia. To better understand the formation and evolution of galaxies, Stierwalt is leading a multi-university team examining interactions between pairs of dwarf galaxies, the building blocks of more massive galaxies. "I think I have the best job in the world," she said in a video. "I get to explore the universe. I'm exploring beyond our galaxy and looking at other galaxies, reaching further and further into the unknown." Stierwalt is also a volunteer teacher for Dark Skies, Bright Kids, an afterschool program for rural students.