Five exceptional women honored for discoveries in physical sciences

As the International Year of Light celebrates science and knowledge all over the world, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO will present, on March 18th, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards to five outstanding women scientists and fifteen grants to promising young researchers. Each of these women is a brilliant example of scientific excellence. They prove everyday that women can greatly contribute to scientific progress in a field still largely dominated by men.

Well into the 3rd millennium, much progress remains to be made to reach gender balance in science. Only 30% of the world researchers are women and many barriers and obstacles discourage women from entering or pursuing a career in science. Dedicated to both honoring distinguished women scientists and supporting promising young researchers, the L’Oréal-UNESCO program gives five annual Awards and accelerates the careers of 15 exceptional young women chosen among over 230 Fellowships awarded every year all over the world.  Since 1998, the For Women in Science program has honored 2,250 greatly talented women in over 110 countries.

The five winners of the 2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

Female scientists who are changing the world

This year’s five Laureates of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards are being honored for their ground-breaking discoveries in the physical sciences. By studying the infinitely large to the infinitely small, they have pushed back the frontiers of knowledge to explain the most fundamental questions of the universe and contribute to solving some of today’s greatest challenges. Passionate in life as much as in their work, they are also committed to giving back to their communities and transmitting their love of science.

They were selected in the five regions of the world by an independent International Awards Jury made up of twelve prominent international scientists who were personally chosen by the President of the Jury, the 1999 Nobel Prize winner, Prof. Ahmed Zewail.

AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES: Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli – High Energy Physics and Nuclear Physics

Professor at the Mohammed V- Agdal University, Rabat, Morocco

Prof. Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli is being honored for her key contribution to one of the greatest discoveries in physics: proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson, the particle responsible for the creation of mass in the universe. Nicknamed « research activist », she dedicates much of her time to raising the level of scientific research in her country and has been instrumental in improving Moroccan healthcare by creating the 1st master’s degree in medical physics.

ASIA / PACIFIC: Yi Xie – Inorganic Chemistry

Professor at the University of Science & Technology of China, Hefei, China

Prof. Yi Xie is being honored for her significant contributions to creating new nanomaterials with promising applications in the conversion of heat or sunlight into electricity. Her work will greatly contribute to lessening pollution and boosting energy efficiency, and will open promising prospects for the future. Committed to preserving our planet, she has dedicated her life to finding new and intelligent solutions to address the environmental challenge.

EUROPE: Dame Carol Robinson - Physical Chemistry - Mass Spectrometry 

Professor at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Prof. Dame Carole Robinson is being honored for creating a revolutionary method for studying how proteins function, particularly membrane proteins, and establishing a whole new scientific field: gas phase structural biology. Her pioneering work could have a significant impact on medical research. A risk-taker, Prof. Robinson has always done things her way: she left school at 16, passed her PhD at a school for adult learners and took eight years off to raise her children.

LATIN AMERICA: Thaisa Storchi Bergmann – Physics and Astronomy 

Professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande Do Sul, Porto Alegre Brasil

Prof. Thaisa Storchi Bergmann is being honored for her work leading to the understanding of massive black holes, one of the most enigmatic and complex phenomena of the universe: she was the first researcher to discover that matter could escape from black holes. Passionate and determined, she is convinced that education for all is the key to a better world and, through her work, she hopes to contribute to promoting science as a captivating and fun career path.

NORTH AMERICA: Molly S. Shoichet – Polymer Chemistry

Professor at the University of Toronto, Canada

Prof. Molly S. Shoichet is being honored for the development of new materials to regenerate damaged nerve tissue and for a new method that can deliver drugs directly to the spinal cord and brain. Her work is putting chemistry at the service of medicine in spectacular new ways. A people person, she also participates in special athletic events for people with spinal cord injuries, is actively involved in human rights issues and has contributed to launching a social media campaign designed to “connect today’s research with tomorrow’s reality.”

A unique exhibition celebrating women in science

Starting today, millions of passengers going through the terminals of the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will discover a unique exhibition of the five Laureates by world-renowned photographer Brigitte Lacombe.

By traveling the world to meet each of these women, Brigitte Lacombe has created a series of photographs that capture their inspiring spirit and passion. “Aéroports de Paris has been engaged in supporting women in science since 2005. Each year, we support this cause and offer exceptional visibility to increase public awareness”, said Benjamin Perret, Aéroports de Paris’ communications director.



Professor Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli uit Marokko | Foto: UNESCO/Brigitte Lacombe)

Vrouwen zijn sterk ondervertegenwoordigd in de wetenschap. Wereldwijd is slechts 30% van de wetenschappelijk onderzoekers vrouw. Unesco streeft naar gelijke kansen voor vrouwen en mannen wat betreft toegang tot en deelname aan de wetenschap. Om die reden is in 1998 een wereldwijde samenwerking tot stand gekomen tussen cosmeticaconcern L’Oréal en Unesco. Onder het motto The world needs science and science needs women kent het programma prijzen toe aan excellente vrouwelijke wetenschappers en verleent het beurzen aan jonge vrouwelijke onderzoekers. 


Sinds 1998 hebben meer dan 3000 vrouwelijke wetenschappers uit 117 landen een award of beurs gekregen. Drie winnaars hebben inmiddels een Nobelprijs gewonnen. Elk jaar worden wereldwijd aan 275 getalenteerde jonge vrouwelijke onderzoekers beurzen toegekend om veelbelovend onderzoek te kunnen voortzetten. In Nederland hebben sinds 2007 16 vrouwen een beurs ontvangen.

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