February 11, 2022
The 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards have gone to six early-career women scientists in the developing world who have demonstrated research excellence in the area of climate action and the environment. The prize recognizes that these scientists have often overcome great challenges to achieve what they have. The prize also acknowledges the scientists' commitment to leading and mentoring young scientists, and to improving lives and livelihoods in their communities and regions. One prize is awarded to a scientist in each of OWSD's four regions, plus one additional prize in any region. In 2022, two additional prizes were given exceptionally.
The six winners of the 2022 Award are:
Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed, of Al-Saeed University; in microbiology (Arab region - Yemen)
Heyddy Calderon, of the Instituto de Geología y Geofísica; in hydrology (Latin America & the Caribbean - Nicaragua)
Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury, of the University of Dhaka; in aquatic ecology (Asia and the Pacific - Bangladesh)
Flor de Mayo González Miranda, of San Carlos University; in environmental engineering (Latin America & the Caribbean - Guatemala)
Myriam Mujawamariya, of the University of Rwanda; in tropical forest ecology and ecophysiology (Africa - Rwanda)
Ashani Savinda Ranathunga, of University of Moratuwa; in geotechnical engineering (Asia and the Pacific - Sri Lanka)
“What our 2022 winners are doing is absolutely outstanding,” said OWSD President Jennifer Thomson. “Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, and these women are finding innovative and effective ways to address it in their local contexts. We hope this award is the first of many for them.”
Past OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award winners have been received by their country’s presidents and celebrated by local, national and international media. They have received other prestigious awards and fellowships including the L'OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships and the British Council Award.
Read on to learn more about each Award winner; their biographies are also available for download below.
For information on previous award winners, see: https://owsd.net/awards/past-awardees
A full press release on this year's awardees is available here.
The 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awardees
Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed
Department of Pharmacy,
Dr. Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed is a biologist investigating several different microbiology- and nanotechnology-based solutions to pressing problems such as carbon emissions, drug-resistant pathogens, and fossil fuel dependence. She has studied the use of microbial inoculants in agricultural land to increase the carbon sequestration effect and improve soil quality for agriculture, as well as the use of microbes to convert lignocellulosic biomass into pharmaceuticals and other chemical products, as a more sustainable alternative to fossil-based products. Dr. Ahmed also works on understanding the effects of differing environmental and nutritional conditions on microbial biological processes. This can lead to novel methods to treat, attenuate, and diagnose multi-drug resistant microorganisms.
Growing up in Yemen, Dr. Ahmed was the first woman in her hometown to go to university. She received her undergraduate and Master's degrees in microbiology from Taiz University in 2004 and 2008, respectively. She received an OWSD PhD fellowship to pursue her PhD at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, from which she graduated in 2012. Despite great personal risk and disruption in Yemen due to the war there, Dr. Ahmed returned home after her PhD because she wanted to contribute to making a difference in her country, especially to young girls and women who might look up to her. Now, as a lecturer and head of the Department of Pharmacy at Al-Saeed University, she supervises many undergraduate and postgraduate students and is involved in improving scientific literacy in her city's schools.
Dr. Ahmed has held research fellowships at North-West University, South Africa (2015) and the University of South Africa (2016-2017). She was selected for the BioVision.Nxt fellowship programme in Lyon France in 2013, and for TWAS/BioVisionAlexandria.NXT in Alexandria, Egypt in 2014. She is an active member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA), and an executive member of the Yemen Women Association for Science & Technology (YWAST). She is a full member of OWSD. Her research has been published in several international peer-reviewed journals, conference papers, and book chapters.
Institute of Geology and Geophysics
Natl. Autonomous University of Nicaragua-Managua
Department of Zoology
University of Dhaka
Dr. Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury is committed to conserving the aquatic ecosystems and threatened species of Bangladesh. In particular, she focuses on assessing the extent of and the risks from plastic pollution, which is closely linked to climate change. Microplastics and other plastics enter the waterways in Bangladesh from fishing nets, among other sources, and are harmful to threatened species and habitats. Dr. Chowdhury is leading an effort to educate women in poor and marginalized fishing communities about how discarded Nylon-6 fishing nets can be turned into value-added products such as carpets and clothing, creating an alternative income source for the communities while protecting the wetland habitats.
Dr. Chowdhury received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Zoology from the University of Dhaka in 2003 and 2005, respectively, and joined Noakhali Science and Technology University in 2006. She was awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship to study for her PhD in the Zoology at the University of Cambridge, where she completed in 2012. Since 2013 she has worked at the University of Dhaka, teaching animal diversity, wetland ecology and other topics in zoology. She has received many awards and grants, including a Wildlife Conservation Society Fellowship. She is a board member of the conservation organization WildTeam and member of the Zoological Society of Bangladesh, and has been appointed regional co-chair of the South Asian Invertebrate Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She is also a member of the Commission on Education and Communication and the IUCN Species Survival Commission. She is an alumna of the Aquatic Ecology Group, University of Cambridge.
Dr. Chowdhury was the country lead for the National Geographic "Sea to Source: Ganges" expedition in 2019-2020. She was responsible for assembling a research team and organizing stakeholder meetings, and for all national operations and logistics. Following the expedition, she led a World Bank-funded pilot project to turn the research findings from the expedition into a community-based solution, involving several international technical partners. Dr. Chowdhury aspires to get more women engaged in science education and conservation efforts in Bangladesh, and to make scientific findings understandable to the public.
Faculty of Engineering
San Carlos University
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Dr. Flor de Mayo González Miranda is trying to engineer better landslide prevention for vulnerable areas in Guatemala. Climate change is causing increasingly strong periods of rain in the country, where much of the terrain is rugged. Due to poverty and the lack of government and private programmes for decent housing, many people live in settlements on the slopes of ravines, where rain and other events make landslides more frequent. Landslides obstruct roads and sometimes bury entire communities. Dr. González Miranda is investigating how a specific grass in the vetiver family, Chrysopogon Zizaniodes, can help to prevent landslides. Through soil tests, X-ray diffraction, and other techniques, she has shown how the plants' roots alter the chemical, physical and mechanical behavior of the soil, reducing the speed of soil infiltration as well as soil plasticity. In addition to this work, Dr. González Miranda has also studied the flow of fresh water into Guatemala's ports, and the thermal behavior of sand sericite as a precursor to mullite material.
Dr. González Miranda earned a certification as a production control technician from Rafael Landivar University in 1986, and a Bachelor's degree from San Carlos University in 2002 in industrial engineering. She holds two Master's degrees in environmental science, from San Carlos University (2008) and Cadiz University in Spain (2009). She has worked as an engineer in various capacities, including as an environmental adviser for the company Superingenieria. In 2019, she earned her PhD in industrial and environmental engineering from the University of Almería (Spain). She is currently a researcher and lecturer in the School of Industrial Mechanics at San Carlos University.
Dr. González Miranda is very active in public outreach, training, and awareness raising. She has collaborated with the National Council of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education of Guatemala on the TIC-STEAM project to provide training in programming, robotics and environmental care to girls in rural areas, and has conducted free trainings for women, youth and community leaders on manufacturing simple products, safety and industrial hygiene, and best practices for manufacturing, among other topics. She has also been interviewed in the newspaper Prensa Libre to provide expert analysis on Guatemala's multi-million dollar Chimaltenango Bypass, which gave rise to a corruption case related to the project. She is the author of six books published in Guatemala.
Department of Biology
University of Rwanda
Dr. Myriam Mujawamariya is helping Rwanda to prepare for climate change by studying how various types of indigenous trees respond to different climate scenarios. Erosion is a major environmental concern in Rwanda, and many efforts are being put into landscape restoration and ecosystem-based adaptation. However, greater knowledge is needed about how trees will respond to higher temperatures and other climatic changes, as well as which trees can best support ecosystem services such as soil stabilization, climate regulation, biodiversity, and bioenergy. Dr. Mujawamariya tested the physiological responses of 20 native species grown at three sites along an elevation gradient, to simulate different climate change scenarios, using the unique Rwanda Tropical Elevation Experiment, Rwanda TREE project (see www.rwandatree.com). The project will contribute to understanding of how climate change will influence tropical forest cover, carbon sequestration and biodiversity not only in Rwanda, but in all of Africa's Western Rift Valley region and beyond.
Dr. Mujawamariya received her bachelor's degree in biology at the former National University of Rwanda in 2007, and a master's degree in plant sciences, specializing in natural resources management, from Wageningen University in the Netherlands in 2012. She received her PhD in natural sciences, specializing in environmental science, from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden in 2021. She began working at the University of Rwanda in 2007 as as a Tutorial Assistant, and then Assistant Lecturer since 2013; in 2021, she was promoted to Lecturer.
Dr. Mujawamariya is a member of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation and is a Research Associate at the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management (CoEB). She has won numerous grants for her work, including the Belgian ARES grant, and grants from the Rwanda National Council of Science and Technology, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). She has participated in many community outreach activities through the University of Rwanda and CoEB to raise awareness for biodiversity conservation, including educating school children about environmental protection.
Dr. Ashani Savinda Ranathunga is focused on turning industrial and agricultural waste into anthropogenic (man-made) soil for geotechnical engineering-related applications. She is a proponent of the “waste to wealth” concept, which is to produce green and value-added products from waste for sustainable and greener applications. Her research findings enable the effective utilization of locally available waste ase secondary raw materials for economical and ecofriendly construction and development projects. Specifially, she is using industrial waste products like fly ash and calcium carbide residues, and agricultural waste products like paddy husk ash and corn cob ash, to stabilize soft soil that is otherwise too weak for construction, contributing to greater longevity of infrastructure. She is also using the same waste products to rehabilitate degraded land and soil in abandoned mines, reducing environmental pollution and adverse social impacts. In addition, she looks at the effective utilization of shallow geothermal resources for energy production in rural areas of Sri Lanka.
Dr. Ranathunga completed her undergraduate degree in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Ruhuna in 2013, graduating at the top of her class. She received her PhD from Monash University, Australia in 2017, where she won the best PhD thesis award and the postgraduate publication award for her work on enhancing extraction of coal bed methane from deep underground coal seams by injecting CO2. Her findings demonstrated the opportunities of using low-rank coal for CO2-Enhanced Coal Bed Methane (CO2-ECBM). After completing her PhD, she joined the University of Moratuwa as a Lecturer attached to the Department of Civil Engineering.
In addition to her research, Dr. Ranathunga supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research award from her university. In recognition of her contribution to the field of geotechnical engineering, she was awarded the Bright Spark Lecture Award for most promising young geotechnical engineer/academic by the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) in 2020. Dr. Ranathunga has published around 40 publications including book chapters, indexed journal articles and international conference papers to disseminate knowledge in the field of geo-energy and geo-resources.