Meet the winners of the 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award
11 February 2022
By Alison Bert, DMA
Award-winning women scientists from Bangladesh, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Yemen will present virtually at AAAS
Pictured above: Winners of the 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World (clockwise from left): Flor de Mayo Gonzáles Miranda, PhD (Guatemala); Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury, PhD (Bangladesh); Heyddy Calderon, PhD (Nicaragua); Myriam Mujawamariya, PhD (Rwanda); Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed, PhD (Yemen); and Ashani Savinda Ranathunga, PhD (Sri Lanka).
As we experience dramatic changes to our ecosystems worldwide, six women from developing countries are being recognized for innovative research that addresses climate change and the environment. They are the recipients of the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.
Through their work — which supports the UN's Sustainable Development Goals(opens in new tab/window), specifically SDG13(opens in new tab/window), SDG14(opens in new tab/window) or SDG15(opens in new tab/window) — they have made a demonstrable impact on research in their region and internationally.
The annual award is given to researchers from five regions:
Here you can read about the winners and their research — and register to watch them on a panel at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed, PhD — Microbiology and Environmental Sciences
Head of Department and Lecturer, Department of Pharmacy, Al-Saeed University, Yemen
Dr Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed(opens in new tab/window) is a biologist investigating several different microbiology- and nanotechnology-based solutions to problems such as carbon emissions, drug-resistant pathogens, and fossil fuel dependence. She has studied the use of microbial inoculants in agricultural land to increase the carbon sequestration effect and improve soil quality for agriculture, as well as the use of microbes to convert lignocellulosic biomass into pharmaceuticals and other chemical products, as a more sustainable alternative to fossil-based products. Dr. Ahmed also works on understanding the effects of differing environmental and nutritional conditions on microbial biological processes. This can lead to novel methods to treat, attenuate, and diagnose multi-drug resistant microorganisms.
Growing up in Yemen, Dr Ahmed was the first woman in her hometown to go to university. She received her undergraduate, master's degrees in Microbiology and Environmental sciences from Taiz University(opens in new tab/window) in 2004 and 2008. Then she was awarded an OWSD PhD Fellowship(opens in new tab/window) to pursue her PhD at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(opens in new tab/window), from which she graduated in 2012.
Despite great personal risk and disruption in Yemen due to the war there, Dr. Ahmed returned home after her PhD because she wanted to contribute to making a difference in her country, especially for young girls and women who might look up to her. Now, as a lecturer and head of the Department of Pharmacy at Al-Saeed University(opens in new tab/window), she supervises many undergraduate and postgraduate students and is involved in improving scientific literacy in her city's schools. She said the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award has inspired her outreach work as well as her research:
This award gave me encouragement and recognition during an important time of my journey as a scientist. This recognition will inspire me to keep going and inspire young people who are looking up to us to light their paths.
Dr. Ahmed has held research fellowships at North-West University, South Africa (2015) and the University of South Africa (2016-2017). She was selected for the BioVision.Nxt fellowship programme in Lyon France in 2013, and for TWAS/BioVisionAlexandria.NXT in Alexandria, Egypt in 2014. She is an active member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA), and an executive member of the Yemen Women Association for Science & Technology (YWAST). In addition, she is a full member of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD).
Her research has been published in several international peer-reviewed journals, conference papers and book chapters.
Central and South Asia
Ashani Savinda Ranathunga, PhD — Geotechnical Engineering
Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Dr Ashani Savinda Ranathunga(opens in new tab/window) is focused on turning industrial and agricultural waste into anthropogenic (man-made) soil for geotechnical engineering-related applications. She is a proponent of the “waste to wealth” concept, which is to produce green and value-added products from waste for sustainable and greener applications. Her research findings enable the effective utilization of locally available waste as secondary raw materials for economical and ecofriendly construction and development projects.
Specifically, she is using industrial waste products like fly ash and calcium carbide residues, and agricultural waste products like paddy husk ash and corn cob ash, to stabilize soft soil that is otherwise too weak for construction, contributing to greater longevity of infrastructure. She is also using the same waste products to rehabilitate degraded land and soil in abandoned mines, reducing environmental pollution and adverse social impacts. In addition, she looks at the effective utilization of shallow geothermal resources for energy production in rural areas of Sri Lanka.
Dr Ranathunga completed her undergraduate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Ruhuna (opens in new tab/window)in 2013, graduating at the top of her class. She received her PhD from Monash University(opens in new tab/window), Australia, in 2017, where she won the best PhD thesis award and the postgraduate publication award for her work on enhancing extraction of coal bed methane from deep underground coal seams by injecting CO2. Her findings demonstrated the opportunities of using low-rank coal for CO2-Enhanced Coal Bed Methane (CO2-ECBM).After completing her PhD, she joined the University of Moratuwa(opens in new tab/window) as a Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering.
In addition to her research, Dr Ranathunga supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Inspiring the next generation is important to her:
This award encourages me to follow my passion and inspire young women in developing countries to take the initiative to work for the advancement of science, irrespective of their circumstances.
Dr Ranathunga has won several awards including the Outstanding Research award from her university. In recognition of her contribution to the field of geotechnical engineering, she was awarded the Bright Spark Lecture Award for most promising young geotechnical engineer/academic by the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) in 2020.She has about 40 publications, including book chapters, indexed journal articles and international conference papers to disseminate knowledge in the field of geo-energy and geo-resources.
East and Southeast Asia & the Pacific
Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury, PhD — Aquatic Ecology
Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka
Dr Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury(opens in new tab/window) is committed to conserving the aquatic ecosystems and threatened species of Bangladesh. In particular, she focuses on assessing the extent of and the risks from plastic pollution, which is closely linked to climate change. Microplastics and other plastics enter the waterways in Bangladesh from fishing nets, among other sources, and are harmful to threatened species and habitats. Dr Chowdhury is leading an effort to educate women in poor and marginalized fishing communities about how discarded Nylon-6 fishing nets can be turned into value-added products such as carpets and clothing, creating an alternative income source for the communities while protecting the wetland habitats.
Dr Chowdhury received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Zoology from the University of Dhaka(opens in new tab/window) and joined Noakhali Science and Technology University(opens in new tab/window) in 2006. She was awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship to study for her PhD in Zoology at the University of Cambridge(opens in new tab/window), completing it in 2012. Since 2013 she has worked at the University of Dhaka, teaching animal diversity, wetland ecology and other topics in zoology.
She has received many awards and grants, including a Wildlife Conservation Society Fellowship. She is a board member of the conservation organization WildTeam and member of the Zoological Society of Bangladesh, and has been appointed regional co-chair of the South Asian Invertebrate Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She is also a member of the Commission on Education and Communication and the IUCN Species Survival Commission. She is an alumna of the Aquatic Ecology Group, University of Cambridge.
Dr Chowdhury was the country lead for the National Geographic "Sea to Source: Ganges" expedition(opens in new tab/window) in 2019–2020. She was responsible for assembling a research team and organizing stakeholder meetings and for all national operations and logistics. Following the expedition, she led a World Bank-funded pilot project to turn the research findings from the expedition into a community-based solution involving several international technical partners.Dr Chowdhury aspires to get more women engaged in science education and conservation efforts in Bangladesh, and to make scientific findings understandable to the public:
This award gives me scope to prove what women in science and conservation can achieve while work hard with sincere commitment. I believe this award will inspire my daughter, my students and everyone here in Bangladesh that despite limitations, scientific research can be done and achieved recognition worldwide.
Latin America & the Caribbean
This year, two prizes were awarded in this region because of the extremely high level of the applicants. Recipients are Dr Heyddy Calderon of Nicaragua and Dr Flor de Mayo Gonzáles Miranda of Guatemala.
Heyddy Calderon, PhD — Hydrology
Director, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, Managua
Dr Heyddy Calderon(opens in new tab/window) is working to provide secure and sustainable water sources for vulnerable populations in a region of Central America known as the Dry Corridor, spanning Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. About 3.5 million people out of 10.5 million in the region need humanitarian assistance, and 1.6 million suffer food insecurity. Precipitation can be scarce for long periods, exacerbated by climate change. To better understand climate threats and vulnerability in the region, Dr Calderon and colleagues formed a network of Central American water, social, and economic scientists who are committed to improving the population's capacity to cope with climate variability and climate change, and to providing information that can help decision-makers and local stakeholders plan and prepare for the future.
Dr Calderon's first became interested in sustainable water management as an undergraduate in chemical engineering. After graduating in 2001, she received a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to pursue a master's degree in hydrogeology at the University of Calgary(opens in new tab/window), where she focused on groundwater flow modeling. After graduating in 2004, she worked for 5 years as adjunct professor at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, Managua(opens in new tab/window) (UNAN-Managua), where she realized the need for an integrative and collaborative approach to tackle the impact of climate change in water resources. This led her to the UNESCO Institute for Water Education, now the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education(opens in new tab/window) in the Netherlands, where she completed a PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources in 2014.In 2018, she was appointed the first female and youngest director of the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at UNAN-Managua, where she has worked since 2016.Dr. Calderon has received an International Science Foundation grant (2012) and the prestigious Faculty for the Future Grant from the Schlumberger Foundation (2012–2014). She has been invited as guest lecturer in water resources and climate change at various Central American universities and the University of Denver. She has supervised several PhD, master's and undergrad theses and has collaborated with the National Water Authority of Nicaragua.
She aspires to continue to contribute to science in Central America and to generate a fluent dialogue between academia and policymakers. She hopes this award will help her encourage other women:
This award is an inspiration to me; I am joyful and honored by the recognition of my work. But also, I feel the responsibility to keep pushing boundaries for the women who come behind us.
Flor de Mayo Gonzáles Miranda, PhD — Environmental Engineering
Lecturer and researcher, Faculty of Engineering, San Carlos University, Guatemala
Dr Flor de Mayo González Miranda(opens in new tab/window) is trying to engineer better landslide prevention for vulnerable areas in Guatemala. Climate change is causing increasingly strong periods of rain in the country, where much of the terrain is rugged. Due to poverty and the lack of governmental and private programs for decent housing, many people live in settlements on the slopes of ravines, where rain and other events make landslides more frequent. Landslides obstruct roads and sometimes bury entire communities.
Dr González Miranda is investigating how a specific grass in the vetiver family, Chrysopogon Zizaniodes, can help to prevent landslides. Through soil tests, X-ray diffraction and other techniques, she has shown how the plants' roots alter the chemical, physical and mechanical behavior of the soil, reducing the speed of soil infiltration as well as soil plasticity. In addition to this work, Dr. González Miranda has also studied the flow of fresh water into Guatemala's ports, and the thermal behavior of sand sericite as a precursor to mullite material.
Dr González Miranda earned a certification as a production control technician from Rafael Landivar University in 1986, and a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from San Carlos University in 2002. She holds two master's degrees in environmental science: from San Carlos University (2008) and Cadiz University in Spain (2009). She has worked as an engineer in various capacities, including as an environmental adviser for the company Superingenieria. In 2019, she earned her PhD in industrial and environmental engineering from the University of Almería, Spain. She is currently a researcher and Lecturer in the School of Industrial Mechanics at San Carlos University(opens in new tab/window).
Dr González Miranda is very active in public outreach, training and awareness raising. She has collaborated with the National Council of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education of Guatemala on the TIC-STEAM project to provide training in programming, robotics and environmental care to girls in rural areas. She has conducted free trainings for women, youth and community leaders on manufacturing simple products, safety and industrial hygiene, and best practices for manufacturing, among other topics. She has also been interviewed in the newspaper Prensa Libre to provide expert analysis on Guatemala's multi-million dollar Chimaltenango Bypass, which gave rise to a corruption case related to the project.
She believes this award will further strengthen her influence over environmental policy.
This award allows me to express my urgency to strengthen legislation to protect the environment, and make sure that these laws are not dead words.
Dr González Miranda is the author of six books published in Guatemala.
Myriam Mujawamariya, PhD — Tropical forest ecology and Ecophysiology
Lecturer, Department of Biology, University of Rwanda
Dr Myriam Mujawamariya(opens in new tab/window) is helping Rwanda prepare for climate change by studying how various types of indigenous trees respond to different climate scenarios. Erosion is a major environmental concern in Rwanda, and many efforts are being put into landscape restoration and ecosystem-based adaptation. However, greater knowledge is needed about how trees will respond to higher temperatures and other climatic changes, as well as which trees can best support ecosystem services such as soil stabilization, climate regulation, biodiversity and bioenergy.
To simulate different climate change scenarios, Dr Mujawamariya tested the physiological responses of 20 native species grown at three sites along an elevation gradient. Her research is part of the unique Rwanda Tropical Elevation Experiment, Rwanda TREE project(opens in new tab/window). The project will contribute to understanding how climate change will influence tropical forest cover, carbon sequestration and biodiversity not only in Rwanda but in all of Africa's Western Rift Valley region and beyond.
Dr Mujawamariya received her bachelor's degree in biology at the former National University of Rwanda(opens in new tab/window) in 2007 and a master's degree in plant sciences, specializing in natural resources management, from Wageningen University(opens in new tab/window) in the Netherlands in 2012. She received her PhD in natural sciences, specializing in environmental science, from the University of Gothenburg(opens in new tab/window), Sweden, in 2021. She began working at the University of Rwanda(opens in new tab/window) in 2007 as as a Tutorial Assistant and then Assistant Lecturer since 2013. Last year, she was promoted to Lecturer.
Dr Mujawamariya is a member of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation(opens in new tab/window) and is a Research Associate at the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management (CoEB)(opens in new tab/window). She has won numerous grants for her work, including the Belgian ARES grant, and grants from the Rwanda National Council of Science and Technology and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). She has participated in many community outreach activities through the University of Rwanda and CoEB to raise awareness for biodiversity conservation, including educating school children about environmental protection.
She said the award will help her expand her research and outreach:
This prestigious award is a great recognition and driving force to expand my research. It is also an inspiration for young girls to ensure equity in climate action and the environment in developing world.
Research by the awardees
These are selections of the award winners' research papers published in Elsevier's journals.
Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed, PhD
Hierarchical-structured bacterial cellulose/potato starch tubes as potential small-diameter vascular grafts(opens in new tab/window), Carbohydrate Polymers (April 2022)
Prevention and treatment of COVID-19: Focus on interferons, chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and vaccine(opens in new tab/window), Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy (January 2021) Open Access
The impact of oxidative stress damage induced by the environmental stressors on COVID-19(opens in new tab/window), Life Sciences (January 2021)
Mutations at the putative active cavity of styrene monooxygenase: Enhanced activity and reversed enantioselectivity(opens in new tab/window), Journal of Biotechnology (October 2012)
Biocatalysis as an alternative for the production of chiral epoxides: A comparative review,(opens in new tab/window) Journal of Molecular Catalysis B: Enzymatic (November 2011)
Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury, PhD
The abundance and characteristics of microplastics in surface water in the transboundary Ganges River(opens in new tab/window), Environmental Pollution (April 2021)
The Conservation Status of the Aquatic Macroinvertebrates of Bangladesh(opens in new tab/window), Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (2021)
Riverine plastic pollution from fisheries: Insights from the Ganges River system(opens in new tab/window), Science of the Total Environment (February 2021) Open Access
Plastic pollution in aquatic systems in Bangladesh: A review of current knowledge(opens in new tab/window), Science of the Total Environment (March 2021)
Heyddy Calderon, PhD
Stable isotopes evidence of recycled subduction fluids in the hydrothermal/volcanic activity across Nicaragua and Costa Rica(opens in new tab/window), Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (October 2017)
Ashani Savinda Ranathunga, PhD
Experimental investigation of the influence of CO2 and water adsorption on mechanics of coal under confining pressure(opens in new tab/window), International Journal of Coal Geology (May 2019)
Variation of mechanical properties of bituminous coal under CO2 and H2O saturation(opens in new tab/window), Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering (January 2019)
CO2 enhanced flow characteristics of naturally-fractured bituminous coals with N2 injection at different reservoir depths(opens in new tab/window), Journal of CO2 Utilization (December 2018)
Journal of CO2 Utilization (July 2017)
Investigation of relative flow characteristics of brine-saturated reservoir formation: A numerical study of the Hawkesbury formation(opens in new tab/window), Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering (September 2017)
Influence of CO2 adsorption on the strength and elastic modulus of low rank Australian coal under confining pressure(opens in new tab/window), International Journal of Coal Geology (October 2016)
Super-critical CO2 saturation-induced mechanical property alterations in low rank coal: An experimental study(opens in new tab/window), The Journal of Supercritical Fluids (March 2016)
About the award
Since 2012, the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World(opens in new tab/window) have recognized the achievements of researchers who have made significant contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge. The program represents a longstanding partnership between the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)(opens in new tab/window) (OWSD) and the Elsevier Foundation(opens in new tab/window).
Each year, five winners are selected from the following regions: Latin America and the Caribbean; East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific; Central and South Asia; the Arab region; Sub-Saharan Africa. Prizes are awarded annually on a rotating basis among the disciplines of Biological Sciences, Engineering Sciences and Physical Sciences.
Each winner is sponsored to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)(opens in new tab/window), where they present their research at a special networking ceremony. There, they have the opportunity to attend workshops, meet experts in their field and visit local laboratories and institutions, establishing contacts and collaboration networks with colleagues from around the world.
With the 2021 winners, the program has awarded 45 scientists from 20 countries.