International Women’s Day 2022: Martina Vijver

Martina Vijver

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Martina Vijver is a Professor of Ecotoxicology at Leiden University, where she leads the research line “Chemical stressors and impacts on biodiversity”. She is also Chair of the University’s Permanent Committee for Academic Practice (WeCo) as well as the cofounder and director of the Researchers in Science for Equality network (RISE) and founder of the Living Lab.

Previously, Vijver was a modeller and scientific researcher at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), gaining her PhD in Ecotoxicology (bioaccumulation) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam before joining the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Leiden in 2005. Now she investigates different stressors on biodiversity like chemicals, nanomaterials, electromagnetic fields or light, and is author of 110< peer-reviewed scientific articles. She is particularly passionate about fieldwork, believing in the value of carrying out ecotoxicology research under natural conditions, leading her to found the Living Lab at the University of Leiden in 2016, where she is the principal investigator. The Living Lab is an outdoor facility where professors and students of the University’s Institute of Enviromental Sciences can research the effects of mankind on the environment in the most realistic way possible.

She has been involved  in several different EU–FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects, like PATROLS, and is actively engaged in scientific outreach activities such as speaking in public lectures and giving tours to schoolchildren. In addition, she co-founded and directs RISE, whose mission is to support female scientists by stimulating their personal and professional development, advancing their careers and enhancing their visibility. The network also aims to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality amongst scientific staff “by providing solicited and unsolicited advice to the Faculty Board and Selection and Appointment Committees”. In 2017, she received a World Cultural Council Special Recognition Award for research with an impact on society.

International Women’s Day 2022: Angela Piskernik

Angela Piskernik

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Angela Piskernik, born in 1886, was a botanist, the first Slovenian conservationist and the first Slovenian woman to receive a doctorate in biological sciences. She was internationally renowned for her conservationist work, responsible for the establishment of the Triglav National Park, amongst many more feats.

She studied at the University of Vienna, specialising in biological systematics and graduating with a dissertation entitled “Plasma compounds in mosses”. She went on to teach in secondary schools from 1926 to 1943, when she was imprisoned for two years in the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp. Afterwards, she became director of the Natural History Museum in Ljubljana, where she worked until she retired in 1953. Her retirement, however, marked the beginning of some of her most famous work – becoming the first professional nature conservation officer, noted for her involvement in the restoration and protection of the Julian Alpine Botanical Garden in Trenta and the establishment of the Triglav National Park in 1961. Her lasting achievements as a nature conservation officer also included preparations for the legal protection of several other landscape parks, initiating the protection of the first nature reserves in Slovenia.

In addition, Piskernik proposed the establishment of a mountain guard in 1954, was active in the International Alpine Commission and edited the journal ‘Nature Protection’. She was part of the Slovenian Natural History Society and Association of Society for the Protection of Birds, as well as several international nature conservation associations such as IUCN and VNP. For her long and active involvement in this organisation, she was made an honorary member of the International Commission for the Protection of Alpine Regions (CIPRA) after her death in 1967. Over her lifetime, she published 42 scientific papers on nature conservation. She received the Van Tienhoven International Award for her work, as well as an award from the Friderich-Wilhelm University in Bonn.

Other special honours include the naming of a prize after her by the Natural History Society of Slovenia, which is given to individuals who have shown outstanding services to the protection of natural heritage, as well as the issue of a commemorative stamp with her image in 2019.

International Women’s Day 2022: Montserrat Vilà

Montserrat Vilà

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Montserrat Vilà Planella, born in Figueres (Girona), is a research professor at the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC). She carried out a PhD in Biology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she was a lecturer in Ecology and scientific secretary of CREAF, followed by a post-doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research work mainly focuses on the ecology of biological invasions and their application to ecosystem conservation, for which she was given the most prestigious award in Spain in the field of scientific research, and with which she and her team have developed Impact Risk Assessments for major invaders in Europe.

Vilà is a member of the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group, chair of NEOBIOTA, and member of the Scientific Forum on the European Regulation of Invasive Alien Species. With more than 200 publications in SCI scientific journals and more than 40 book chapters, in the last 8 years she has been highlighted by Thomson-Reuters as among the top 1% of the world’s most cited researchers in the field of Ecology and Environment. She is associate editor of the journals Biological Invasions, NeoBiota, Ecology Letters and Bioscience, serving on several project evaluation panels. She was previously deputy director at EBD-CSIC, and has coordinated proposal evaluations in the area of Plant Biology, Animal Biology and Ecology at the AEI. She is also a lead author on the Impacts chapter of the IPBES Invasive Alien Species Assessment.

More recently, during the pandemic, she has reflected on the evolution of COVID-19 and found out that the epidemiology of human pathogens and the biology of invasions by plants and animals share many mechanisms, phenomena and challenges, but also potential solutions. She has brought her ideas to a synthesis study published in BioScience, arguing for an interdisciplinary perspective to bring together research on infectious diseases and non-native species invasion, in order to better understand current and future threats in biosecurity, and to improve prevention and response measures.

International Women’s Day 2022: Rita Covas

Rita Covas

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

A principal researcher at BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO and an Honorary Research Associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rita Covas has dedicated her career to the study of biodiversity. She focuses her research on birds and especially social behaviour, with relevant implications for our understanding of the evolutionary concepts of solidarity and cooperation. She has a passion for fieldwork and has authored or co-authored 27 scientific publications.

Covas completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal, which included a graduation dissertation on the biogeography of Mediterranean birds conducted at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Montpellier. After graduating, she was given a BP Conservation Award, to work on the poorly-known seabird community of São Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. In 1998, she moved to Cape Town to start a PhD at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute studying cooperative breeding behaviour in the Sociable Weaver, and afterwards she moved to the University of Edinburgh and started work on the birds from the Gulf of Guinea islands. 

The quality of her work led her to obtain a Marie Curie fellowship to expand her research at the CEFE-CNRS in Montpellier, France. At the end of 2008, she returned to South Africa to re-launch the sociable weaver study, and in 2019 she was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant to lead her research in the African savannah, with the goal of studying the relationships between species and the way they cooperate.

Covas’ research demonstrates the intrigue of cooperation from an evolutionary perspective; cooperation is beneficial to the group, but has costs for each individual. Despite this, cooperation is prevalent in nature, from microorganisms to human societies. Understanding what enables evolution and maintains cooperation is a fundamental issue in evolutionary biology.

International Women’s Day 2022: Despoina Vokou 

Despoina Vokou

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Despoina Vokou is a Professor of Ecology in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, where she previously held the roles of Head of the School of Biology and Deputy Dean of the School of Science. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from School of Pharmacy, National and Kapodistrian of the University of Athens, followed by a PhD from the School of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Her research interests include aerobiology, mycology and plant ecology, Mediterranean ecosystems, biodiversity conservation and management of protected areas. She has published over 110 scientific publications with an h-index of 36. 

Vokou’s expertise in her field has received much recognition, having also been heavily involved in the direction of WWF Greece over the last 30 years; she was invited to represent Greece at the 10th Μeeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 10) in Japan, and was president of the Natura 2000 national Committee, as well as being called up as an expert on international environmental issues/WPIEI-Biodiversity for the 2014 Greek Presidency of the EU Council.

The National Bank of Greece invited her to review its report on ‘The environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change in Greece’, and the 5th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) invited her to review chapters of its famous report  ‘Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. In addition to being a Member of the Council of European Ecological Federation (EEF) for nearly a decade, Vokou is also a founding member of the Hellenic Ecological Society (HELECOS), which she presided over for several years.

International Women’s Day 2022: Emilia Chiancone

Emilia Chiancone

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Born in Bari in 1938, the late Emilia Chiancone was Professor Emeritus of Molecular Biology at the “Sapienza” University of Rome and the first woman to become President of the Italian Academy of Sciences. Looking back at Chiancone’s life, we are inspired by the story of a prominent Italian scientist who, throughout her life, continuously broke barriers in terms of gender, and knocked down boundaries between disciplines.

Having graduated in Milan in Biological sciences, she moved to Rome which became the centre of her career. Together with the Nobel laureate Rita Levi Montalcini, Cecilia Saccone and Virginia Volterra, Emilia Chiancone was one of the first women to lead an Institute of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), the Centre of Investigation on Molecular Biology, which under her guidance developed into the Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology, which she chaired from 2002 to 2008. In 2007 she received the Antonio Feltrinelli Award for Biological Sciences from the Accademia dei Lincei, and in 2015, the Italian Society of Science History gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award for her commitment to the dissemination of science, once again the only woman recognised with this honour. Altogether, she authored over 200 publications in international journals, several monographs and two patents, gaining recognition for her studies on the evolution of the allosteric regulatory mechanisms of enzymes.

From 2011 until her passing, Chiancone was the first female President of the Italian Academy of Sciences, characterising her mandates with a series of initiatives which were positively welcomed by both the scientific community and wider society. She put a special emphasis on scientific dissemination, a pertinent example being  the organisation alongside the CNR of “Wheats&Women international conference – Carlotta Award 2018”. Despite a career in biochemistry, it was under her presidency that the National Academy of Sciences joined LifeWatch Italy in 2012; her commitment was valuable and unwavering, and permanently marked the story of this infrastructure. In her final years, she worked tirelessly to foster the connection between science and society, the participation of students in research projects and a focus on science in schools. Together with CNR and LifeWatch Italy, she was the promoter and organiser of a number of citizen science initiatives, among which the TrovaPiante di Villa Torlonia (an interactive multimedia guide to identify local flora), a complete guide to the rich flora of the metropolitan area of Rome (including over 1600 infrageneric taxa), and the first Italian Citizen Science Conference,  “Biodiversity, Networks, Open Science and Platforms”, as part of a prolonged effort to make science more inclusive. An excellent scientist and resolute woman, Emilia Chiancone distinguished herself for her expertise, dedication and commitment – a true role model and inspiration for all those who want to pursue a career in research, particularly young women.

International Women’s Day 2022: Tatyana Bileva

Tatyana Bileva

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Born in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, Tatyana Bileva is an Associate Professor of Ecology at the city’s Agricultural University, where she has previously held the crucial role of Quality Manager. She is a bright researcher with long-term experience of a wide range of plant parasitic nematodes and soil ecology, and has published over 60 scientific publications and 2 books in the fields of Biodiversity, Taxonomy and Zoology.

Bileva has been involved in several multidisciplinary research works regarding the mapping of multiple nematode pests through GIS applications, and other themes in her research include biodiversity, environmental conflicts, ecosystem services and sustainable management. Her expertise allows for the development of high-level research work, and has worked on many  local and international projects. Her enthusiasm and gentle personality is not only conducive to establishing positive professional links, but makes her an inspiration for students wishing to pursue scientific work and career.

She was recently involved in STACCATO, Sustaining Agricultural Change through Ecological Engineering and Optimal use of Natural Resources, a BiodivERsA-funded EU project which focused on the analysis and evaluation of Ecosystem Services (ESS), and their sensitivity to land use patterns in agriculturally dominated landscapes. According to Eurostat, Bileva lives in one of just the four EU countries where the number of female scientists outweighs male scientists (52%).

International Women’s Day 2022: Marie-Anne Libert

Marie-Anne Libert

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Marie-Anne Libert was born in 1782 to a large family in Malmedy, now Belgium. She was a prolific author of fungal taxa, becoming the second woman formally to name a fungal taxon in the modern scientific era, and describing over 200 novel taxa during her lifetime.

While women were not admitted to Belgian universities for a hundred years after her birth, Libert’s father recognised his daughter’s academic potential and made sure she received an education. Upon return, Libert taught herself Latin so that she could read the many books about plants written in this language, inspired by the flora of her native town. Libert’s first new fungal taxon—Asteroma rosae—was a leaf spot (Libert 1827c) and she was the first to name to species the fungal cause of potato murrain, commonly known as potato blight. In a letter to the Journal de Liège, Libert ascribed the cause of the devastating potato blight recently observed in Belgium to a fungus, providing details of hyphae and spores as observed under the microscope. Her naming of pathogenic fungi contributed to a growing awareness among botanists that fungi were a major cause of plant diseases, and to the beginnings of the new discipline that became known as plant pathology.

She was well-regarded by her scientific peers, and in recognition of her contributions to mycology, Libert was elected an associate member of the Linnean Society of Paris in 1820, and awarded a gold medal of merit by Emperor Friedrich-Wilhelm III. At a scientific congress in Liège in 1836, she was unanimously elected president of the natural sciences section, and special note was made of the fact that she had ‘carried out her work without benefit of being close to any large scientific centre or even to a large library’. In 1862, she became the first woman invited to join the Royal Botanic Society of Belgium. Four genera were named after Libert during her lifetime, as well as three after her death, and she was also honoured in the name of a street in Malmedy in 1925.

This text was largely adapted from Naming names: the first women taxonomists in mycology, by Sara Maroske and Tom W. May.

LifeWatch ERIC at the African Union – European Union Summit

African Union - European Union Summit

Over the course of last week, LifeWatch ERIC participated in several interesting side events of the African Union – European Union Summit, organised by the AERAP Africa-Europe Science Collaboration Platform. The purpose of the Summit was to promote awareness of the contribution of collaborative research and development as a critical aspect of EU-Africa relations and collaborations, in particular in addressing global challenges together.

LifeWatch ERIC Chief Technology Officer, Juan Miguel González-Aranda, presented in two sessions on 15 February: “Making the Green Deal a Reality in the Tropical World” – convened by The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF); along with “Green Medicines in Africa: Plant Molecular Pharming to fight the COVID-19 pandemic” – convened by Cape Biologix Technologies.

The first session was about finding what tools and insights are available to investors and policymakers who seek to make societies and business more sustainable and resilient, and how research can help bridge the gap between the accepting the challenge and implementing solutions. Dr González-Aranda spoke about understanding cutting-edge high tech and how it can enhance some of the oldest human technologies and agriculture, stepping up to the plate to manage the challenges of the Anthropocene, and how LifeWatch ERIC can support tropical ecosystems under the umbrella of the EU Green Deal.

The second session covered a drug to be developed by M4F to block SARS-CoV-2 infections. M4F’s first partnership to be signed is with Cape Bio Pharms, located in South Africa, and foresees mutual technology exchange for GMP production capacity building. This agreement was signed in the context of the EU-Africa Summit in February 2022. It should serve as a shining example to further develop the relations and exchange between Europe and Africa, in order to join forces fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. In his presentation, Dr González-Aranda brought attention to the ways LifeWatch ERIC supports knowledge enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services to provide green medicines.

Collaborations with the European Topic Centre on Spatial Analysis and Synthesis

ETC-UMA

On 18 February 2022, shortly after attending the Transfiere Forum, LifeWatch ERIC CTO Dr Juan Miguel González-Aranda remained in Malaga for a meeting with The European Topic Center on Spatial Analysis and Synthesis (ETC-UMA). The discussion centred around the definition of cooperation areas with LifeWatch ERIC, specifically for the integration of the “Mediterranean Biodiversity Protection Knowledge Platform” (MBPKP) as a LifeWatch ERIC VRE. All of this is based on the EnBIC-Lab2, Indalo, LifeWatch Alboran and other projects, in an area of cooperation within Horizon Europe where biodiversity is a key topic.

Information about ETC-UMA:

The European Topic Centre on Spatial Analysis and Synthesis (ETC-UMA) is an international research centre within the University of Malaga, which since 2011 has supported the development of knowledge to support evidence-based policy. The team has a wide expertise in a range of environmental and socio-economic domains, and its main areas of expertise include land management, ecosystem services, coastal and marine studies, environmental conservation, territorial development, resource efficiency, and soil mapping.

Information about MBPKP:

The MBPKP is an initiative of the Mediterranean Biodiversity Protection Community (MBPC), which brings together researchers, managers, public authorities and environmental institutions in 15 thematic projects under the umbrella of one horizontal initiative for the Mediterranean. Until 2019 this was known as PANACeA until 2019, with renewed support as MBPC until 2022.

The objective of this community is to foster an ecosystem based approach to nature conservation. This overarching coordinating initiative aims to provide: scientific syntheses with clear messages and recommendations for use in management and to inform and influence current policy in the form of factsheets, technical and policy papers, and media materials; spatial tools and databases to generate new knowledge and better integrate past and current datasets from related projects; and enhanced communication and learning through networking and showcasing the outputs of the whole community of projects in key events and fora.