5 powerful breakthroughs by Sydney Science women

10 February 2020
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
In the quest for gender equality, United Nations has declared 11 February the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We take a look at Sydney Science women making headlines with their scientific discoveries and research.

A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in STEM. According to a study conducted by the United Nations, the probability of female students graduating with a Bachelor, Master or PhD in a science related field is 18 percent, 8 percent and 2 percent respectively, while the percentages for male students is 37 percent, 18 percent and 6 percent.

1. Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef

PhD candidate Kelsey Sanborn has shown how the Great Barrier Reef has dealt with environmental stresses in the recent past in order to understand how it might react to climate change in the future. Using unprecedented analysis of 12 new drilled reef cores with data going back more than 8000 years, Kelsey's study shows that there have been three distinct phases of reef growth since the end of the Pleistocene era about 11,000 years ago.

2. Nanorobots for healthcare

Dr Shelley Wickham and Dr Anna Waterhouse are leading on a Sydney Nano Grand Challenge multidisciplinary team of researchers, surgeons and engineers to build autonomous, programable nanorobots to navigate through the body detecting and treating early disease. The molecular level changes in early heart disease occur in the nano scale. To detect these changes, the team is building nanoscale robots smaller than cells.

3. Computational materials discovery

Dr Lamiae Azizi is leading the Sydney Nano Grand Challenge team that envisions a world where it’s possible to accurately simulate any material from single atoms to functioning devices. This would revolutionise materials discovery both by better explaining properties of existing materials and by proposing new materials for particular applications. Accurate computer simulations underpin mature technologies such as airplanes, bridges and smartphones.

4. Saving Australia's sea lions

Every sea lion pup in Australia contracts hook worm and it's responsible for up to 40 percent of pup deaths in the first two months of life. Veterinary scientist Dr Rachael Gray and her team are conducting a trial at Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island, with a topical treatment that could help the endangered species' population recover. Dr Gray's critical research was the featured cover story in the Australian Geographic December issue, 2019.

5. Neuropsychological honours

Associate Professor Muireann Irish explores memory and imagination, and how these processes are disrupted in clinical populations such as dementia. Muireann has recently been honoured for outstanding work in neuropsychology, being awarded 2019 Elizabeth Warrington Prize and the Australian Academy of Science STEM Women Changemakers.


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