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Meet the winners of the 2021 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award

4 de marzo de 2021

Por Alison Bert, DMA

OWSD Elsevier Foundation winners collage

Five award-winning women scientists from the developing world will present virtually at AAAS

Caption: Winners of the 2021 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World (clockwise from left): María Eugenia Cabrera Catalán, PhD (Guatemala); Ghada Dushaq, PhD (Palestine); Marian Asantewah Nkansah, PhD (Ghana); Khongorzul Dorjgotov, PhD (Mongolia); and Imalka Munaweera, PhD (Sri Lanka)

They come from developing countries around the world, and their research is transforming the world we live in. They are the winners of the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World. This year's researchers are in the physical sciences, and they represent the following regions:

Here you can read about the winners and their research — and register to watch them in the award ceremony at AAAS.

The winners

Arab Region

Researcher stories

“My teacher said I asked too many questions”: from curious to award-winning researcher

Palestinian photonics researcher honored with OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Women Scientists in the Developing World

Alison Bert, DMA | February 8, 2021

Ghada Dushaq in Lab

Ghada Dushaq, PhD — Physics

Postdoctoral Associate, NYU Abu Dhabi

Dr Ghada Dushaq(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Photonics Research lab of NYU Abu Dhabi(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana). As a researcher in applied physics, she investigates new and innovative materials, structures and process technologies to improve the performance of high-speed optoelectronics, nanoelectronics and photonics devices. Her research on the use of silicon, germanium, III-V compound semiconductors, and other 2D materials is intended to improve the efficiency of current technologies and address their limitations.

Ghada received her bachelor's degree in Physics and Mathematics from Birzeit University(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), Palestine, with distinction in 2009. She went on to graduate with an MSc in Physics from the University of Jordan(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in 2012, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). She then pursued a PhD in Microsystems Engineering at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Khalifa University, in Abu Dhabi under a cooperative program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), graduating in 2017.

Ghada has received several awards for her research, including the International Association of Advanced Materials (IAAM) Scientist Medal for 2018, the Post-Doctoral Conference and Travel Award from New York University Abu Dhabi in 2018, and the Falling Walls Lab prize in 2020, for her work on "Breaking the Wall of High-Speed Optical Communication," awarded at the World Science Summit in Berlin, 2020.

She has published over 35 papers in international peer-reviewed scientific journals and conference proceedings. She is also a reviewer for several scientific journals including Optics Express, Advanced Optical Materials, Scientific Reports, Applied Optics, Optical Materials Express, Journal of Applied Physics, Photovoltaic Specialist Conferences (IEEE PVSC) and the Journal of Materials Science.

Read a selection of her research papers.

Central and South Asia

Researcher stories

Harnessing nanotechnology for cancer drug delivery and ecofriendly fertilizers

Deep family loyalty led this Sri Lankan researcher to invent innovative treatments for cancer

Liana Cafolla | February 11, 2021

Imalka Munawee quote card

Imalka Munaweera, PhD — Synthetic Chemistry

Senior Lecturer, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

Dr Imalka Munaweera(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Sri Lanka. Her research focuses on using synthetic chemistry techniques to produce nanoparticles and nanofibre composites that can be applied in a range of functions, from drug delivery to water filtration to minimizing post-harvest losses of fruits and vegetables. She has made particular advances in using nanotechnology to produce environmentally-friendly and cost-effective crop fertilizers, and in developing chemoradiotherapeutic formulations and radiotherapeutic bandages for use in lung and skin cancer treatment.

Imalka first became interested in functional and applied materials as an undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), Sri Lanka, where she worked on applications of iron oxide nanoparticles. As a master's student at the University of Moratuwa(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), Sri Lanka, she gravitated towards nanofertilizer research, for which she received the National Science and Technology Award in 2010 and holds two US patents. She went on to do a PhD at the University of Texas at Dallas(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), where she developed an innovative approach that could ultimately enable clinicians to target and aggressively reduce tumor burden in cancer patients. She also holds two US patents as well as a Sri Lankan patent and an international patent for this technology.

Following three years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), Imalka worked as an Assistant Professor at Prairie View A&M University(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Texas before returning to Sri Lanka, where she has worked since 2019.

Imalka received a Sri Lankan National Research Council Private-Public Partnership(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) grant in 2019 and a research grant from TWAS, the World Academy of Sciences(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), in 2020. She has won several awards and has published many papers in prestigious journals including Nature Scientific Reports(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana)Biomaterials(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) and ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana)In addition, she has more than 10 years of experience mentoring high school, undergraduate and graduate student

East and Southeast Asia & the Pacific

Researcher stories

Using mathematics to solve practical problems? It’s elementary.

Math sleuth Khongorzul Dorjgotov honed her problem-solving skills on Sherlock Holmes

Liana Cafolla | February 25, 2021

Khongorzul Darojgotov quote card

Khongorzul Dorjgotov, PhD — Mathematics

Senior Lecturer, National University of Mongolia

Dr Khongorzul Dorjgotov(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) is a mathematician whose research focuses on fractional differential equations (FDEs), an emerging field in applied and theoretical mathematics with many applications in science and engineering. FDEs have been recognized as an excellent tool for describing complex systems and processes in many applied sciences, including physics, chemistry, biology and economics. The study of these types of equations is becoming increasingly popular as they can more accurately model a given physical system or process than conventional differential equations.

Khongorzul began studying applied mathematics as an undergraduate student at the National University of Mongolia (NUM)(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), where she won an award for best research in a student competition. She went on to do her master's degree in the same subject, before winning a MEXT scholarship(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) from the Japanese government for doctoral study at Kyushu University(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Japan. It was there that she first started her research on FDEs, focusing on Lie theory and the symmetry approach. During the final year of her PhD, she out-competed many international students  to win Best Poster at the Forum "Math-for-Industry" 2017(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana). After completing her PhD, she returned to Mongolia, becoming one of the few women with a mathematics PhD in the country. She began working as a lecturer at NUM in 2018.

Now, Khongorzul is working to establish the study of fractional calculus in Mongolia. In addition to serving as senior lecturer and supervising graduate students, she is working to increase collaboration between the industrial and academic sectors. To this end, she recently organized, with fellow researchers, the first Mongolian "Study Group" workshops, an internationally recognized method of technology and knowledge transfer between academic mathematicians and industrial sectors. Khongorzul hopes that not only the industrial representatives but other decision-makers will be able to apply the results of mathematical research to do their jobs more effectively.

Read a selection of her research papers.

Latin America & the Caribbean

Researcher stories

Seeking the secrets of the universe in the particle

An award-winning particle physicist in Guatemala hopes to convince society that basic science matters too

Alison Bert, DMA | February 19, 2021

Maria Cabrera at the black board

María Eugenia Cabrera Catalán, PhD — Physics

Junior Professor, University of San Carlos of Guatemala

As a Junior Professor in the School of Physical Sciences and Mathematics at University of San Carlos of Guatemala(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) (USAC), Dr María Eugenia Cabrera’s Catalán(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) researches the phenomenology of physics. Her work(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) builds on the discovery of the Higgs boson(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) particle in 2012, expanding the knowledge of what we know about the Standard Model of particle physics and the fundamental forces of nature.

María studies dark matter, the most abundant component of matter in our universe, known only by its gravitational interactions and key to developing a more fundamental theory of nature. She focuses on the interaction between newly discovered particles such as the Higgs boson; understanding these dynamics can help scientists understand the interactions that could be expected between massive weakly coupled dark matter particles in particle collider experiments, or seen by underground detectors that attempt to measure how dark matter interacts with the Earth.

María first became interested in physics in secondary school, thanks to the inspiration of her physics teacher. She majored in physics at USAC, then received a scholarship to pursue a postgraduate diploma at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theo­retical Physics (ICTP)(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Italy. There, she became fascinat­ed by high energy physics and made this the focus of her PhD research at the Institute for Theo­retical Physics(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Madrid. She graduated Cum Laude in 2011 with the distinction of Doctor Europeus.

Following a postdoctoral position at the GRAPPA Institute at the University of Amsterdam(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), during a second postdoc at the Institute of Physics at the University of Sao Paolo(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in 2016, María learned that her alma mater USAC was opening permanent research positions in Physics and Mathematics for the first time, with 75 percent of the time available for research. Six months later she accepted one of these positions. Now, she is working to put her country and region on the world physics map, having helped to organize the first Central American Meeting of High Energy Physics, Cosmology and High Energy Astrophysics in 2020, and dedicating much of her time to supervising and tutoring undergraduate students in particle physics.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Researcher stories

Ghanaian chemist is finding toxic substances in unusual places

Through her research and science diplomacy, an environmental chemist is changing the narrative in her native Ghana

Alison Bert, DMA | March 3, 2021

Marian Nkansah quote card

Marian Asantewah Nkansah, PhD — Environmental Chemistry

Associate Professor, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Ghana

Dr Marian Asantewah Nkansah(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in Kumasi, Ghana, where she teaches Practical Chemistry, Nuclear/Radiochemistry, Chemistry and Society, and Petroleum Chemistry. In her research, she focuses on identifying and characterizing the presence of both inorganic and organic contaminants in water, food, soil, the atmosphere and other environmental matrices, and on developing strategies for environmental remediation. By preparing and analyzing samples from different environments, she can determine the levels and effects of contaminants such as heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are generated by urbanization, industrial activities, artisanal activities and mining. She is striving to make the public aware of the risks of heavy metals, which she has found in unexpected places such as spices, lipstick, edible clay and classroom dust

Growing up as one of six children in Ghana during a period when the economy was in a state of collapse, Marian had a desire to help society from an early age. After completing her bachelor's and master's degrees in Chemistry at KNUST, she went to Norway to pursue her PhD in Environmental Chemistry at the University of Bergen(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana). After completing it in 2012, she returned to KNUST where she worked as Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer before being promoted to Associate Professor in 2019, making her the youngest woman at the university to hold this position.

In addition to her research and teaching, Marian has undertaken training in science diplomacy. She is involved in advocacy and initiatives of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), and she mentors school children and younger peers. Her many achievements have brought her international recognition, including the TWAS FM Al-Kharafi Prize(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) in 2016, a feature in the book Women in Science: An Inspiring Story from Africa(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) and a slot on the commemorative Periodic Table of Younger Chemists(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

Marian has 33 peer-reviewed articles and books chapters.

Read a selection of her research papers.

Selected research by the awardees

These are selections of the award winners' research papers published in Elsevier's journals.

Khongorzul Dorjgotov, PhD

Ghada Dushaq, PhD

Imalka Munaweera, PhD

Marian Asantewah Nkansah, PhD

About the award

2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award winners

The 2020 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award winners at the AAAS Meeting in Seattle (Photo by Alison Ber

Since 2012, the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) 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)(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) (OWSD) and the Elsevier Foundation(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana).

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)(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana), 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. 

In the media

We will continue to post articles about the awardees as they are published.

The award

María Eugenia Cabrera Catalán, PhD

Khongorzul Dorjgotov, PhD

Ghada Dushaq, PhD

Imalka Munaweera, PhD

  • Dr. Imalka Munaweera awarded for research in nanotechnology, (Feb 2021)

Marian Asentewah Nkansah, PhD

Information for this page was provided by OWSD(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana) and the Elsevier Foundation(se abre en una nueva pestaña/ventana).