PARIS: Having lived and conducted research in Saudi Arabia for the past 13 years, Suzanna Nunes, professor of Chemical and Environmental Science and Engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), was made a laureate of the L’Oreal-UNESCO International Award for Women in Science held in Paris.
The event celebrated five women scientists from around the world for their research in the physical sciences, mathematics and computer science.
“It’s a demonstration that we are at the frontier of research and that research and science are not limited to a single country. It doesn’t have borders. It’s a huge honor to represent this country and this region where I have been living for the past 13 years. It’s my home now,” said Nunes in an interview with Arab News en Francais.
As the laureate representing the Middle East and the GCC region, Nunes describes the conditions, facilities and freedom of research at KAUST as important elements to conduct advanced research.
“It would be difficult to find another institution where I would have the same level of support,” she said.
“It’s a very good feeling to be part of a country changing towards sustainability and women’s empowerment under Vision 2030.”
Nunes specializes in integrating membrane technology to enable lower carbon emissions, with applications in high energy consuming sectors (industrial, transportation and residential).
Her research work involves developing membrane-based technology for air dehumidification, distillation, and for more sustainable separations in the chemical and petrochemical industry.
The transition to a fully sustainable economy based on renewables is a multi-step process.
The Kingdom is suitable terrain for her research with its increased investment and efforts toward renewable energy transition and reducing carbon emissions.
The latter is part of the award ceremony, the host country’s decarbonization goals, as well as L’Oreal Group’s strategy.
For Nunes, inspiring and accompanying younger students is essential in improving the numbers of women in STEM. It is a collective responsibility, alongside universities and schools across the Kingdom and around the world to “inspire the young generation to give,” she said.
“They must be exposed, they must have the opportunity to pursue studies and research in chemical, electrical or mechanical engineer, if they were interested in it.”
This year’s ceremony marked the 25th anniversary of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science awards.
The idea that “the world needs science and science needs women” led the Fondation L’Oreal and UNESCO to commit, 25 years ago, to promoting women scientists and shedding light on their achievements.
For Alexandra Palt, chief corporate responsibility officer and executive vice president of the Fondation L’Oreal, said the Women in Science program is an “opportunity to break the cycle of invizibilization of women scientists.
“Women represented 25 percent of scientists 25 years ago. Today we are at 33 percent. It is a relevant evolution but there still is progress to be made.”
Looking across history, “a lot of women scientists who have invented or discovered anything were erased from history or their inventions, their discoveries, were attributed to men,” she added.
Some of the topics that the Fondation L’Oreal is addressing include women’s representation in STEM fields, namely computer science, mathematics, and physics, but also their representation in leadership positions. “Only 15 to 18 percent of institutions are led by women,” Palt said.
“We will continue to give awards to women scientists … we have fields of research that are completely abandoned by young girls including mathematics, computer science and physics. I don’t want to live in a world where computer science and artificial intelligence is solely programmed by men,” Palt added.
“When science is open, it is more effective and more relevant. Closing off science, preventing it from opening to other goals, other methods and other perspectives, impedes scientific innovation. This is the conviction that underpins UNESCO’s Recommendation on Open Science, adopted by our member states in November 2021. It is also the conviction at the heart of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science program,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director-general, during the event’s opening speech.
For Jean-Paul Agon, chairman and former CEO of L’Oreal, “the fight for inclusion overtakes the question of gender.” He added: “the Fondation L’Oreal will continue to be fully active so that they (women scientists) have the opportunity and the capacity, on equal terms, to build a better world, for all women and men.”
The event was attended by laureates’ family, friends, as well as influencers and public figures, among others. Three displaced women scientists from Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria were honored at the ceremony.
To date, the Women in Science program has provided support for 127 laureates and more than 4,100 young talents, doctoral and post-doctoral students, through research grants awarded each year in over 110 countries.
The L’Oreal Foundation has mobilized the necessary resources and is investing in women and scientific research to break the glass ceiling, which is still a present reality.