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Home > Press > L'oréal-Unesco Awards honor female MIT nanotech pioneer

First tenured woman professor in the MIT School of Engineering is among five leading researchers awarded in Paris; 15 rising stars in the life sciences also receive honors

L'oréal-Unesco Awards honor female MIT nanotech pioneer

Paris | Posted on February 21st, 2007

Carbon nanotubes. Bio-medical applications of plants. Medicinal chemistry. The properties of polymers in solution. The self-organizing properties of large molecules. These are the fields of study in which five women scientists have distinguished themselves—women from five continents who today received the prestigious 2007 L'ORÉAL-UNESCO Award For Women in Science at UNESCO House in Paris, France. The 2007 L'ORÉAL-UNESCO Laureates are leaders in their fields and have nearly two centuries of combined research experience among them.

Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, Chairman of L'ORÉAL, and Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, presented each Laureate with her $100,000 award. Nobel Laureate Professor Pierre-Gilles de Gennes of the Collège de France in Paris presided over the ceremony. Baroness Susan Greenfield of Oxford University and the Royal Institution of Great Britain -- a world-renowned and thought-provoking advocate of women in science -- delivered the keynote address.

This year's North American Laureate is Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, Institute Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Dresselhaus was selected for conceptualizing the creation of carbon nanotubes. Due to their small size, high strength and electrical conductivity, carbon nanotubes are ideal for new materials used in objects such as lightweight bicycles and flat-panel screens. Dr. Dresselhaus has conducted scientific research for more than four decades and was the first tenured woman professor at MIT's School of Engineering and one of the first women to receive a Fulbright Fellowship. Dr. Dresselhaus, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., wrote the paper that defined - and continues to define - this field of study.

Along with Dr. Dresselhaus, the other Laureates include:

* Professor Ligia GARGALLO (Chile), Professor, Department of Physical Chemistry, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Santiago, Chile. Laureate for Latin America. "For her contributions to understanding properties of polymers in solution that have applications to plastics and biology." Data published as a result of Professor Gargallo's studies helps drug designers visualize how new compounds will interact with enzymes in the body and opens the door to the rational design of synthetic enzymes.


Professor Ameenah GURIB-FAKIM (Mauritius), Professor of Organic Chemistry and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius, Mauritius. Laureate for Africa. "For her exploration and analysis of plants from Mauritius and their bio-medical applications." Analysis of the antibacterial and antifungal properties of plants from Mauritius is paving the way for their use as safe and effective alternatives to commercial medicines, including potential diabetes therapies. Professor Gurib-Fakim created the first-ever full inventory of the medicinal and aromatic plants on Mauritius and neighboring island Rodriguez.


Professor Tatiana BIRSHTEIN (Russia), Professor, Institute of Macromolecular Compounds, Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg, Russia. Laureate for Europe. "For her contribution to the understanding of the shapes, sizes and motions of large molecules (polymers)." Professor Birshtein's work has shed new light on the self-organizing properties of many remarkable polymeric systems essential to plastics used in soft-drink bottles, plastic bags and other familiar materials such as nylon, rayon, Styrofoam, Plexiglas and Teflon.


Professor Professor Margaret BRIMBLE (New Zealand), Professor, Chair of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Auckland, New Zealand. Laureate for Asia/Pacific. "For her contribution to the synthesis of complex natural products, especially shellfish toxins." Professor Brimble has focused on the synthesis of shellfish toxins that are useful for the design and development of drugs for clinical conditions including Alzheimer's, epilepsy, hypertension, stroke, and cancer.

Now in its ninth year, the L'ORÉAL-UNESCO Award For Women in Science is the only one of its kind to honor eminent women scientists at the international level. The five Laureates are nominated by respected scientists from around the world and a jury of 14 distinguished international scientists selects the final recipients. This year's jury is presided over by Nobel Laureates Christian de Duve of the Institute of Cellular Pathology in Belgium and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes of the Collège de France in Paris.

Also honored at the Paris ceremony were 15 UNESCO-L'ORÉAL International Fellows, promising young women scientists at the doctorate or post-doctorate level in the life sciences. The Fellows each receive a maximum of $40,000 over two years to pursue independent research projects at a host institution outside of their home countries. This year's International Fellows include Petra Klepac from Croatia, who will study population dynamics and optimal control of infectious diseases at Pennsylvania State University, and Venetia Briggs from Belize, who will research multisensory communication and sexual selection in red-eyed tree-frogs at Boston University.


The For Women in Science program is designed to recognize, reward and advance the role of women in scientific research. Since the For Women in Science program's inception in 1998, 362 women from 76 countries have been recognized as Laureates or Fellows.

For Women in Science was created to raise global awareness of the under-representation of women in science and engineering. By giving women in science a public face, the program seeks to provide the next generation of women scientists with inspirational role models. The L'ORÉAL-UNESCO For Women in Science program is composed of three parts:

* The L'ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards: prestigious annual distinctions, awarded to five leading women researchers (one per continent) that identify exceptional women as role models for the generations to come.

*The UNESCO-L'ORÉAL International Fellowships: granted annually since 2000 to 15 promising young women scientists, permits them to enhance their expertise in renowned institutions around the world.

* The L'ORÉAL National Fellowships with the support of the UNESCO National Commissions: granted annually to young women, all on the cutting-edge of scientific advances, to carry out independent research projects.

The For Women in Science program also offers an online community, AGORA ( ), for scientists to discuss issues and commonalities and to debate the challenges women must overcome to gain recognition in their fields. AGORA not only connects researchers from around the world, but it also provides opportunities to communicate with some of the top scientists in the world, including Nobel Laureates.


A worldwide leader in the cosmetics industry, L'ORÉAL develops innovative products to meet the diverse needs of customers in 130 countries worldwide. Over 3,000 people work in the Group's 14 research centers, located in France, Asia and America. Their findings are responsible for the registration of hundreds of patents annually. Women represent 55% of the research workforce – a percentage unmatched anywhere else in the industry.


Since its creation in 1945, UNESCO has been dedicated to eliminating all forms of discrimination and promoting equality between men and women. While designing scientific education programs intended especially for young women, UNESCO has created several academic chairs that connect women of science around the world. With 191 Member States, UNESCO functions as a laboratory of ideas and a standard-setter to forge universal agreements on emerging ethical issues. UNESCO works to create the conditions for true dialogue, based upon respect for commonly shared values and the dignity of each culture.

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Jennifer S. James
Mob: +1-917-608-7038
Tel: +1-212-984-4414


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