Women in Science

In the realm of science, women have always pioneered. Before we knew their names and when their prestige had yet to unfold, countless women broke scientific boundaries in the shadows. 

But in the year 2020, we want to bring the world’s female scientists into the light. In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’re showcasing a few leading scientists we’ve had the privilege to host on our very own stage over the years.

As you digest these talks, we invite you to imagine a future where gender biases in STEM are a thing of a past. Preconceived notions have long flown out the window, and women in scientific fields are commonplace. They’re not “women,” they’re simply “colleagues.” What kinds of diseases can we eradicate? How many ways can we make life easier for ourselves? 

No matter what, one thing is clear: we’re hungry for a future like this, so we’re going to keep running after it, no matter how long it takes.

Julia Herzen: Novel X-Ray technology that can revolutionize preventative medicine

When you think of a heart attack patient, you probably picture someone whose diet and exercise regimens have seen better days. If a stroke victim crosses your mind, it’s probably someone who seems old and fragile—certainly not spry and healthy, right?

In Julia Herzen’s 2019 talk, “Novel X-Ray technology that can revolutionize preventive medicine,” she begins with a chilling fact about heart attacks and strokes: not only are they the world’s leading causes of death, but they can strike just about anyone.

Julia, a physicist and X-ray scientist, identified a key problem with diagnosing cardiovascular disease early on: with current technology, it’s difficult to find until it’s too late. Julia decided to tackle this problem by working with a team to develop a device that makes these critical early diagnoses more accessible, less invasive, and much less expensive to carry out.

Through Julia’s contribution to science, we’re not only witnessing a spearhead in medical technology, but also a dismantling of the leading cause of death worldwide. Because of the work that Julia and her team are committed to completing each day, countless lives can be saved.

Dongheui Lee: Robots that learn from us

Have you ever noticed that when you upgrade your smartphone, you seem to suddenly make a lot of unnecessary typos? Remember when you got an in-home AI Assistant that, maddeningly, forced you to slowly pronounce your words over and over just to complete a basic task? Has it ever felt like the machines designed to make life easier were actually just slowing you down?

As Dongheui Lee explains in her 2015 talk, “Robots that learn from us,” machines have the capability to absorb information in the way that humans do—they just need to be shown the way.

As a mother of a young child and a researcher in the field of robotics, Dongheui is struck by the ways that humans and robots have the capability to take in new information. In her work, she encounters the ability of robots to mimic humans in real-time; even mirroring subtle, unintended movements like a cough. In other aspects of her research, Dongheui finds that robots need extra help from their human counterparts for basic tasks like performing a dance move or walking safely—tasks that human toddlers can master by themselves. 

As Dongheui’s research has taught us, machines are fallible creations. Her work in the field of robotics shows us that they need help to learn from humans in order to make our lives easier. Every time you correct a typo made by autocorrect or your AI Assistant asks you to repeat a phrase, you’re teaching your personal robot how to be a better version of itself.

Ilona Grunwald Kadow: Are we victims of our senses?

Think about yourself, about the choices you make. You’d say you’re a pretty reasonable person who makes informed decisions, right?

Neuroscientist Ilona Grunwald Kadow’s research on fruit flies might hold a different answer.

“But what does that have to do with humans? Well, it has to do with humans quite a bit. Because just like this fly, we are animals.”

Ilona elaborates in her 2018 talk, “Are we victims of our senses?” that female fruit flies behave in a shockingly similar way to female humans while pregnant—their entire world has taken on a new sensory landscape. The pregnant fruit fly, exactly like the pregnant human, gravitates naturally toward scents that will benefit not only her body, but her baby’s as well.

The research thickens when it comes to the prospect of when to call it quits versus when to press on. As Ilona and her team found out in a controlled experiment, when a fruit fly has no appetite, it will tire itself out rather quickly. Conversely, when the fruit fly is hungry, it will keep running. The urge to give up is blanketed by a surge of dopamine from the brain, motivating the fruit fly to persist. 

Through Ilona’s research in neurobiology and her work in understanding the mechanisms of our minds, we’re not only able to understand how we function better as individuals, but how we can connect to one another across the panorama of our senses.