Trailblazing Women In Science

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to five women scientists from Asia who are breaking barriers and leading their fields. They also have a message for younger women researchers.

AsianScientist (Mar. 08, 2023) – From pioneering infectious disease research to studying blue whales and from utilizing waste to ensuring clean water supply to communities, women scientists in Asia continue to be at the forefront of their fields. While doing so, they are also overcoming challenges such as funding gaps, discrimination and archaic societal norms.

This International Women’s Day, Asian Scientist Magazine presents you five incredible women scientists from Asia who are an inspiration to many younger researchers, especially women, in the region.

Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Fighting To End AIDS

Photo credit: University of Malaysia

An acclaimed infectious disease expert in the field of HIV and AIDS research and response, Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman from the University of Malaya in Malaysia, has dedicated her career to protecting vulnerable communities in Southeast Asia and beyond.

In her fight against discrimination faced by marginalized populations, Adeeba has been a vocal advocate for a public health approach that prioritizes the diversion of drug users towards treatment and support, rather than their criminalization. Her efforts in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS in Malaysia earned her the prestigious 2022 Merdeka Award for Health, Science and Technology.

In 2022, Adeeba also became the first Malaysian to be appointed as commissioner of the Global Commission on Drug Policy following her influence on Malaysia’s drug policy reform.

This international women’s day, Adeeba asks young women in science to pursue their passion with perseverance and courage. “Life, as described by Dr. Phil Stutz, is ‘A String of pearls’; each motion, however imperfect, moves you forward,” she said.


Gagandeep Kang, Reimagining Our Health Systems

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, CMC Vellore

A public health champion and professor at Vellore’s Christian Medical College in India, Gagandeep Kang has been pivotal to improving child health in low- and middle-income countries with her comprehensive research on enteric infections and vaccinology.

By establishing strong training programs for students and young faculty, Kang wants to continue to improve the management of infectious diseases and address health inequities in India. Kang made history as the first Indian woman to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in London–joining eminent scientists like Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton in the oldest existing scientific body.

Women in science tend to not only carry the expectations of themselves and their work environments but also of their families and societies, Kang told Asian Scientist Magazine.

“Making sure that they do not neglect themselves for others can be a hard ask but is essential for women scientists to survive and thrive,” said Kang.


Asha de Vos, Guardian Of The Blue Whales

Photo credit: Suhada Azmy

Asha de Vos is a marine biologist and an ocean educator who loves unraveling the mysteries of Sri Lanka’s unique, non-migratory population of blue whales.

Being the first Sri Lankan to receive a Ph.D. in marine mammal conservation and the first National Geographic Explorer from her homeland, de Vos advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in scientific research. A TED fellow, she founded Oceanswell, a marine conservation and education organization that aims to empower local communities to protect their coastlines.

Currently bobbing off the southern coast of Sri Lanka doing fieldwork, de Vos said that she encourages young women scientists to strive to be defined by their capability, not by their gender.

“But use your gender to empower others by letting them see themselves in you,” said de Vos, “Your strength becomes their inspiration.”


Rong Wang, Singapore’s Clean Water Warrior

Photo credit: Rong Wang

Surrounded by seawater, Singapore relies heavily on desalination plants to supply clean water to its residents. Rong Wang, director of the Singapore Membrane Technology Centre (SMTC), has been instrumental to that endeavor. Among her many contributions to the field is the advancement of membrane technology to tame energy consumption in water reclamation.

Wang’s work has been acknowledged with prestigious accolades including the 2022 President’s Technology Award and the “Alternative Water Prize” of Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) from Saudi Arabia in 2016.

Having supervised many female research staff and Ph.D. students at SMTC, Wang told Asian Scientist Magazine that women are equally capable to excel in the STEM field as men, as long as they are not the ones to limit themselves.

“Believe in yourself and do not be afraid,” said Wang, “Take the lead confidently, particularly if you are a pioneer in a new field of research.”


Phung Kim Le, Turning Waste Into Sustainable Solutions

Photo credit: Phung Anh Tam Le

Phung Kim Le, associate professor at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in Vietnam insists that there is no such thing as waste. After graduating from the same university, Phung went on to pioneer research that utilizes Vietnam’s abundant biomass to produce biofuels and bio-based materials.

Phung’s innovative and cost-effective green technologies transform crop waste into high-performance cellulose aerogels for wastewater treatment. Her contribution earned her the 2022 Hitachi Global Foundation Best Innovation Award, which has helped her to take her work to an industrial scale.

Driven to combat environmental issues and climate change, Phung hopes that she can raise awareness about valuing local waste and inspire others to harness its potential.

“As long as your work aims to solve pressing societal problems, it should never go out-of-date,” said Phung.

Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Cover image: Jorgina Tan/ Asian Scientist Magazine

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Nishat is a science journalist. She graduated with an MSc in Biomedical Science from Monash University where she worked with a cellular model of Parkinson’s Disease. Nishat loves lending her voice to bring science closer to society.

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