On the 1st of January 2019 I woke with a great sense of foreboding. This is unusual as I’m a perennial optimist. I lay digesting this unfamiliar feeling and trying to tease out the root cause for some time, the words ‘go big or go home’ kept infiltrating my thoughts like an incessant GDPR privacy popup. It wasn’t until later, when I was walking along a windswept Devonian cliff, that it hit me. 2019 is crunch time; it’s the year where stuff has to change. Big stuff like carbon emissions, national decision making, concepts of people and place and education. It feels like a massive pimple that has been brewing and 2019 is the year we won’t be able to resist, we’ll have to pop it.
With this fresh awareness, my optimism kicked back in and I set to work doing the thing I know always puts things in perspective for me: I wrote a list! This time last year I was actually on the receiving end of a list that made my 2018. I was mentioned by Melinda Gates as one of six women in science to watch, so I know first-hand the impact of a good list. So, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the following is my list of six science superstars set to change our world.
Vanessa Woods is a young scientist, developing next generation stem cell medicines. Through her research at Hannover Medical School, Vanessa is working to better understand how stem cells work and how they can be used to make new treatments. Having started life in Jamaica, Vanessa’s drive to help people has set her on an adventure not just in some of the finest labs across the world but also into the community. She is now playing a role in one of the most promising fields of medical research.
Suzie Sheehy is interested in the little things in life… the really little things, like subatomic particles. As one of the UK’s emerging leaders in particle physics, Suzie heads up a research group here in Oxford as a coveted Royal Society University Research Fellow. Suzie’s work on proton and muon beams – subatomic particles that she sends whizzing around a particle accelerator to smash into things and see what happens – will help advance a wide range of disciplines from medical research to clean energy. Suzie is also a prominent science communicator, regularly featuring on the telly and in live shows.
Remember when your mum said “you can be anything you want to be”? Well Merritt Moore really took that seriously, and this bendy brainbox has fused a career in science with one in the arts. Otherwise known as the Quantum Ballerina, Merritt somehow manages to perform around the world as a professional ballerina, whilst also pursuing a career in quantum physics. Merritt has dabbled in astronaut training and has exciting things in the pipeline from virtual reality to robots. In 2018, Merritt was featured in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, did a TED talk and danced her way into the hearts of millions of children who aspire to be everything they want to be.
If you or a loved one found yourself bedridden in a world of snot and pain this winter then Lynda Coughlan is going to be someone you love. Lynda is working on a vaccine that will use the common cold virus to prevent influenza. FULL STOP. Forget about a new, tweaked vaccine each year, only available to those most at risk. Lynda’s vaccine will be a universal preventative treatment that could eradicate influenza all together.
When it comes to global impact, Sophie Adjalley has gone straight for the big cheese. Malaria is still one of the biggest killers in the world and the treatments that have traditionally given us the best hope are decreasingly effective as resistance increases. Sophie spends her time with the parasite that infects red blood cells and causes severe disease. Using cutting edge genetic technology, Sophie is finding ways to make our existing drugs effective again as well as gaining a better understanding of how the parasite works so that we might find new, more effective treatments.
I don’t know about you, but the latest data on climate change got me pretty terrified. It’s really clear that we need to act now or our planet will be here spinning, sans humans, in a frighteningly short amount of time. Clean, cost-effective and efficient energy is at the core of the climate change puzzle and Nicky Chambers might just have the piece we need. Nicky is working with the team at Origen Power to save two birds with one solution – a combo fuel cell and CO2 rubbish bin. Utilising waste products like lime, Nicky has shown that they can produce electricity and take CO2 out of the atmosphere in the same process. Talk about the jackpot!