By Dana Al Emam – Jan 24,2016

AMMAN — Despite their relatively modest contributions to scientific research locally and internationally, women have what it takes to excel, according to award-winning Jordanian scientist Ramia Al Bakain.

Women constitute only 30 per cent of scientists worldwide, she said, adding that out of 575 Nobel Prizes in the fields of medicine, chemistry and physics, so far only 16 were won by women.

“Women are perfectly capable of conducting academic research in all fields,” Al Bakain said, adding that married researchers with children can balance their responsibilities if they manage their time well.

In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, Al Bakain, an assistant professor at the chemistry department of the University of Jordan’s faculty of science since 2012, highlighted internal and external motivations as a key starting point for female scientists.

“Female scientists and researchers must look for motivation and support, whether psychological or financial,” she said, adding that awards like the L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship are a “significant boost” for female researchers.

Al Bakain is one of five recipients of the annual L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Levant and Egypt regional fellowship, which is part of an international award that celebrates women scientists and highlights their achievements.

Al Bakain said winning the fellowship boosted her self-esteem as a woman scientist as she felt that her efforts were “appreciated”, adding that the fellowship allowed her to communicate and cooperate with some 2,000 female scientists worldwide.

Her project proposes new methods in chemical separation of environmental contaminants in water, including soil and drug residues, in order to enable the reuse of purified water for irrigation purposes.

“The project utilises materials taken from crustaceans, such as caridean shrimp or prawn, to develop a substance that can be used in chemical separation poles,” she said, noting that positive results of the preliminary tests qualified her to win the 10,000-euro award.

The chemist and her team, consisting of two other professors, have so far accomplished 35 per cent of the work on the project, which addresses a “critical” issue for Jordan — water scarcity.

All scientists, Al Bakain said, should be part of “comprehensive teams” that seek practical solutions to pressing issues in their countries, as opposed to only conducting research for research’s sake.

She reports back to L’Oreal-UNESCO women on the progress of work, in addition to delivering a final report at the end of the fellowship year that will discuss the achievements and costs.

The researcher and the four awarded scientists from Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt, who were selected from 62 applicants, have the opportunity to cooperate in a comprehensive project, the Jordanian researcher said.

In October 2015, Al Bakain started a one-year postdoctoral scholarship through the Scientific Research Support Fund to conduct research in analytical and biochemistry labs at the University Pierre et Marie Curie in France, where she currently performs her experiments.

Studying science is a long and tiring journey, but it is worthy and rewarding, according to the professor, who advises emerging female researchers to “be patient, like the challenge, go ahead and never ever give up”.

The partnership between L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO for a better representation of women in science dates back to 1998.

Each year, the programme recognises five leading women scientists, from each world region, who have made extraordinary discoveries in their fields, and grants fellowships to 236 researchers.
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