Three medical researchers and a quantum physicist have won this year’s L’Oréal Australia fellowships for women in science – the nation’s only STEM awards specifically for women.
Each winner will receive $25,000 under a program run jointly by L’Oréal and UNESCO.
Stephanie Simonds from Monash University in Victoria wins one of the fellowships for her work in studying the link between cardiovascular disease and obesity. Dr Simonds and her team recently identified the role of leptin – the so-called ‘satiety hormone’ produced by fat cells – in increasing blood pressure.
Her team discovered that when leptin receptors are blocked, chronically elevated blood pressure reduces.
Her research has also focussed on the role of hormones before and after menopause in affecting the onset of cardiovascular disease in obese women.
Two of this year’s winners work at Melbourne’s Doherty Institute.
Microbiologist Jaclyn Pearson began her career as a drummer in a band called Lash, but, despite achieving a measure of international success, opted to step away from the stage and concentrate on researching the role of gut bacteria in the pathology of irritable bowel diseases.
Her work focuses on the use of microbial models to characterise the relationship between microorganisms and immune response in the progress of IBD, and in particular the influence of bacteria in altering responses to inflammation and cell death.
Also at the Doherty is Deborah Williamson, whose research into antibiotic resistance puts her directly at the intersection of microbiology and public health.
Her award-winning research involves a very deep dive into the common bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, better known as “golden staph”, one of the leading causes of antibiotic-resistant hospital-acquired infections. She and her team are making progress unravelling the mechanisms by which the bacteria develop simultaneous resistance to multiple to multiple treatments.
Bacteria are small, but the final winner of a L’Oréal fellowship, Jacq Romero, works with things that even smaller – by many orders of magnitude.
An experimental quantum physicist, she works at the University of Queensland and creates quantum “alphabets” using the orbital angular momentum of light. The research has potential applications in many fields, including encryption and next-gen computing.
The fellowships will be officially presented to the four winners on October 31, in an event hosted by satirist Charlie Pickering.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.