Dr. Adriana Serquis was awarded for her contribution to the rational use of electric energy

"Materials Sciences” was the subject matter of this edition of the L’Oréal UNESCO Award “For Women in Science”.

The ceremony of the 2014 Edition of the National L’Oréal-UNESCO Award “For Women in Science”, in collaboration with the CONICET, was led by the minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation of Argentina, Dr. Lino Barañao; the president of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Dr. Roberto Salvarezza; the National Senator for the province of La Pampa, María de los Ángeles Higonet and Marcelo Zimet, General Director of L´Oréal Argentina.

During the ceremony, minister Barañao remarked that “years ago, emotion was not a frequent component in science, it was something more rational, abstract and far from the feeling. Nowadays, with all the obvious changes in Argentine science and in the world, women’s affection plays an ‘ethical review’ role that is vital for the development of the role of science in society”.

For his part, Salvarezza indicated that the awarded scientists, selected from more than 50 projects, are “women who take science as a way of living and they devote themselves to advanced research in order to provide solutions for things that matter to society”. Regarding this, he highlighted the work of the awarded, Adriana Serquis, who had already received an honourable mention in 2010 and “it is within the bound of a priority area for the country such as the energy sector. Her research points the way towards a rational use of our resources and promotes something very important for the current world: the development of clean and non-polluting technologies”.

The president of the CONICET also remarked the important role women play in Argentine science and specifically within the CONICET. “In our Council, women have a leading role and currently are majority: 60% of the fellowships were granted to women (5,774 female fellows and 3,827 male fellows), the 52% of the total number of researchers are women (4,403 research women and 4,108 men), half of the technicians and support staff are women (1,100 women and 1,100 men) and 62% of the administrative personnel (837 women are part of the administrative sector of the CONICET together with 517 men). These numbers clearly show the place women have at the CONICET, which is increasingly important and we can proudly say that nowadays women and men have the same opportunities in the scientific field”.

First award: clean technologies to reduce energy consumption and preserve the environment

Adriana Serquis graduated from the Balseiro Institute, where she teaches several academic and extension courses. She is a CONICET independent researcher, and her workplace is at the Management for Applied Research, at the Atomic Center Bariloche (CAB) of the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). Her project “Advanced techniques for the Characterization of Materials for Clean Energies” was awarded with the first prize.

Her research aims at optimizing the materials used in clean (non-polluting) technologies to reduce energy costs and preserve the environment. The project seeks to enhance the development of capacities for the characterization, which would enable researchers “to find the ideal combination of compounds to optimize the performance and stability in the long term” to generate electric power.

“I am part of a research team that seeks to develop characterization and optimization methods of materials used in the generation of sustainable energy. I have always been interested in this area and I think that, in the long term, this approach will be the most efficient to adopt for a rational use of our resources”, Dr. Serquis indicated. She finished her studies at the University of Buenos Aires but then moved to Patagonia to raise her family, conduct her investigations and teach.

In the long term, Serquis hopes that these developments achieve national and worldwide interest. She explains that throughout the worlds different prototypes have been developed but only very small companies use them. “Its application will depend more on the socio-political conditions than on the interest of industries per se”, she adds.

“It took me a couple of hours to internalise the news (on receiving the award). I am very shy; therefore I find it difficult to deal with the interviews and its significance. However, at the same time it is really gratifying for me, and at the same time it is a financial aid (the group will receive a grant for ARS $150.000) to improve our resources, supplies, and also the promotion of our scientific contribution, something that is usually forgotten and still very important”.

Finally, the awarded researcher thanked her whole team – 60% of them are women, an honour for her – because she thinks that “within the field of experimental sciences, it is important to dismiss the idea of the lone scientist for there is always a team working together to achieve results”.

Honourable mentions: scientific advances for health

Silvia Ceré, who holds a PhD in Materials Science, is a CONICET independent researcher at the Research Institute of Materials Science and Technology (INTEMA, CONICET-UNMDP). She received an honourable mention for her project “Modification in the micro- and nano-scale of metal surfaces for biomedical purposes: osseointegrable materials”.

The aim of her research is to develop in Argentina biomaterials to minimize the number of failures of orthopaedic and dental prostheses, and to favour its integration to the adjacent bone tissue. It is noteworthy that joint problems affect more than 50% of the population over 50 years-old, a number that projections show will increase by 2020.

“In the future, our work could have a great social impact”, the researcher commented. “The prostheses are high value added products in the market. It would be very interesting to have a national industry to escalate these products”, she added.

Ceré and her team work side-by-side with professionals in areas such as orthopaedics and dentistry. Also, from over a decade they have been working with the Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology of the Hospital Interzonal General de Agudos (HIGA) of Mar del Plata. “They inform us about the problems they encounter in their practice. We attended surgical procedures to learn how prostheses are inserted, in order to gather information to develop a material to be used in a surgical procedure. They are part of another phase of the study, a very important one”, Ceré indicated.

Another honourable mention was awarded to María Luján Ferreira, who has a PhD in Chemistry and is a CONICET principal researcher at the Chemical Engineering Pilot Plant (PLAPIQUI, CONICET-UNS).

Her project, “Combination of nano and biotechnology in the use of magnetic materials as support or adsorbents”, aims to achieve nanometric particles of magnetite able to immobilize enzymes, adsorb pollutants from watery solutions and help to direct drugs via the application of a magnetic field. The latest may be used as part of a sophisticated drug dosage system.

As the scientist explained, the team works on nanoscale with very small particles. “At that size, particles tend to group so we try to divide them and control their size and shape. We have a dream, in the long term, with these particles: in ten or twenty years’ time we want our research to be used to solve a social problems, such as its application in drugs for cancer patients, as adsorbents for heavy metals or in other issues of daily life”.

With the money of the mention – ARS 15,000- the group of Dr. Ferreira will finance the acquisition of new supplies for her laboratory, as well as travel grants for courses and conferences for the fellows. “It was something very useful for me at that time and I think it will be very significant for the training of all who aim to have a scientific career”, the awarded researcher highlighted.

About the award

The National L’Oréal-UNESCO Award “For Women in science”, in collaboration with the CONICET, was launched in 2007 and its objective is to recognize and support the excellence in women’s work in science and to promote the participation of women in science throughout Argentina. The prize is addressed to PhD women under 50 years old conducting a research in Argentina.

This year, the call was addressed to projects focused on “Materials Sciences” including disciplines from Exact and Natural Sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics and Computer Science, Earth, Water and Atmospheric Sciences); Agricultural, Engineering and Materials Sciences (Agricultural Sciences, Habitat, IT, Civil, Electrical, Mechanical and Related Engineering, Process Engineering and Biotechnology).