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Two Imperial women awarded Rising Talents fellowships from UNESCO and L’Oreal

Dr Claudia Contini and Dr Jess Wade have won their categories in the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science UK and Ireland Rising Talents programme.

The UK and Ireland Rising Talents Programme is designed to provide flexible and practical financial support, alongside tools and support, for early-career women scientists to pursue their research.

In a ceremony at Parliament on 15 September 2021, Dr Claudia Contini was announced as the winner of the Engineering category and Dr Jess Wade was announced as the winner of the Physical Science category.

They will both receive flexible Fellowships, each worth £15,000 to support a 12-month period of research. The researchers are shortlisted based on remarkable research and excellent academic records, and on how the Rising Talents grant will enhance their careers.

Dr Paz (Upasana) Tayal, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial, was also Highly Commended in the Life Sciences category.

Dr Contini is a Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Her research aims to set inanimate matter in motion at the nano and microscale, with a focus on the design of synthetic life-like systems that mimic biological properties and functions for biotechnological and biomedical applications, such a drug delivery in the body.

On her win, she said: “Receiving the L’Oréal and UNESCO UK Women in Science Engineering Fellowship is an overwhelming experience and being among the great scientists selected for this prestigious award is a true honour.

“Science is fundamental to our society, and even if we continuously hear about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion, women are still underrepresented in the scientific community. As a woman, it is great to see an initiative like this award that supports women’s carrier progression in the scientific community.

Dr Contini said the L’Oréal and UNESCO UK Fellowship will allow her to translate her research ideas into reality. “Natural cells convert chemical signals into mechanical motion. Taking inspiration from Nature, my research aims to create minimal model systems of artificial cells capable of self-propelling in physiological environments following chemical signals.

“This will have a significant impact in biomedical sectors for the creation of the next generation of nanomedicine. Having a system capable of navigating in specific directions into the body will increase the efficiency of our current therapies and remove the consequences of side effects.”

Dr Wade is an Imperial College Research Fellow in the Department of Materials. Her research concerns new materials for optoelectronic devices, such as the LEDs used in TV and phone screens, with a focus on chiral organic semiconductors. Outside of the lab, Dr Wade is involved with several science communication and outreach initiatives. She is committed to improving diversity in science, both online and offline.

On her win, she said: “It is a real privilege to be recognised by the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science programme. I would love to become a professor someday, and lead an exciting, diverse and well-equipped research lab. This award feels like an important step in making that happen.

“I should say, there is truly no way I would be where I am today without Imperial. Specifically, the support of phenomenal professors like Sandrine Heutz, Matt Fuchter and Lesley Cohen. Honestly, I sometimes just have to pinch myself – every single day I get to wake up and be a scientist. How awesome is that!”

Outstanding women

Thierry Cheval, L’Oréal UK and Ireland, Managing Director said: “Science is essential in order for the world to rise to the challenges that we are currently facing and addressing the current under-representation of women in the scientific community can positively impact the research that will help tackle these challenges.

“The outstanding women we recognise today through the For Women in Science UK and Ireland Rising Talent programme are exceptional in their respective fields and are shaping the future of more inclusive research.”

James Bridge, UK National Commission for UNESCO, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary-General, said: “Congratulations from the UK National Commission for UNESCO to the 2021 Rising Talents, whose exceptional research is vital in helping to solve the great scientific challenges of our time.

“We are proud to work with L’Oréal to empower more women scientists to progress their research careers, recognise their incredible contributions and push for a more inclusive sector. We hope that these remarkable researchers will encourage more girls and women to pursue a STEM career in the future.”

The programme, a partnership between L’Oréal UK & Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society, offers grants to promote, enhance and encourage the contribution of women pursuing their research careers in the UK or Ireland.

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