Women Wunderkinds

To celebrate this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we take a look at eight shining examples of scientific excellence in Asia.

AsianScientist (Feb. 11, 2022) – From accessible healthcare to sustainable farming, scientific breakthroughs have been more useful when they came from diverse and equitable research teams. This year, at the 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly, the United Nations will stress the role of women and girls as agents of change to address the world’s greatest challenges.

While obstacles like greater family responsibilities, marginalization and funding gaps continue to poke holes in an already leaky research pipeline in Asian STEM, it is important to recognize the part women researchers are already playing to make science and its outcomes more equitable.

To mark the occasion, Asian Scientist Magazine brings you eight women researchers from the region who are breaking the glass ceilings in their fields.


Ho Ghim Wei

Photo credit: Ho Ghim Wei.

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ho Ghim Wei integrates an impressive range of disciplines to design sustainable solar systems that will help Singapore meet its renewable energy goals.

A L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science National Fellowship winner and ASEAN-US Science Prize for Women finalist, Ho is currently working on using functional nanomaterials to produce renewable energy.


Varisa Pongrakhananon

Photo credit: Varisa Pongrakhananon.

Like a detective untangling the mysteries of the molecular world, Associate Professor Varisa Pongrakhananon’s work aims to understand the underlying mechanisms of lung cancer metastasis. By zooming into the processes leading to tumor growth, Pongrakhananon’s research contributes to effective diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Since receiving the 2018 L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science National Fellowship for her microtubule research, her current work has progressed to explore signalling pathways of metastasis as well as potential therapies developed from Thai orchids.


Sharifah Rafidah Wan Alwi

Photo credit: Sharifah Rafidah Wan Alwi.

From helping mosques save water to developing green fuels, Professor Sharifah Rafidah Wan Alwi’s research is building a more sustainable tomorrow.

At the University of Technology, Malaysia’s Process System Engineering Centre, Sharifah uses her experience in process engineering to solve a range of industrial problems. She optimizes various industrial processes to maximize profit while reducing waste and resource usage.


Loh Huanqian

Photo credit: Loh Huanqian

Using single atoms as building blocks to model complex phenomena at the National University of Singapore, Assistant Professor Loh Huanqian furthers our understanding of quantum physics. Loh and her team have successfully developed models that can potentially help build scalable quantum computers.

In 2019, Loh was named one of the brightest young scientist minds in the world by the World Economic Forum.


Erika Legara

Photo credit: Erika Legara.

Fascinated by complex systems, Professor Erika Legara is a data science nerd. In 2016, Legara and her team at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), made sense of a wealth of commuter behavior data like overcrowding to inform future strategic transport planning and urban design in Singapore.

Currently the Aboitiz Chair of the Philippines’ first data science graduate program at the Asian Institute of Management, Legara continues her research in complexity science while nurturing aspiring data scientists.


Sham Mai Har

Photo credit: Sham Mai Har.

A woman of many talents, Dr. Sham Mai Har does it all. Currently the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), she also serves as a member of the World Conference on Research Integrity Foundation and is a strong proponent of gender diversity in higher education.

On top of her leadership roles, Sham continues to pursue her passions as a developmental biologist—seeking to understand the molecular events taking place within a single cell.


Maoi Arroyo

Photo credit: Maoi Arroyo.

Founder of the first biotechnology consulting firm in the Philippines, Hybridigm, Maoi Arroyo flips the script on what it means to be a scientist by stepping out of the lab and into the role of an entrepreneur.

From launching impact investment funds to training researchers, Arroyo’s achievements earned her a spot as the only Philippines representative at the World Economic Forum in 2020.


Hu Hailan

Photo credit: L’Oréal.

Laying the foundation for better mental health treatment, Professor Hu Hailan from China’s Zhejiang University was honored with the 2022 For Women In Science International Award for her research on the neurobiology behind mental health disorders.

In particular, Hu’s work dives into a brain region called the lateral habenula—mapping the cellular components that control depressive effects and studying the results of ketamine for relieving symptoms.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Oikeat Lam/Asian Scientist.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist