Meet The 5 Women Revolutionizing Research in Asia


Across the vibrant tapestry of Asia, a remarkable group of women scientists is pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation. Today, on International Women’s Day, let’s delve into some of the region’s important female scientists.

Chinese Madame Curie: Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu was a pioneering physicist who made significant contributions to the burgeoning field of nuclear physics. Born and raised in China, Wu embarked on a remarkable academic journey, culminating in her education and career in the United States.

Wu’s expertise extended to diverse aspects of nuclear research. Notably, she played a crucial role in developing the process for separating uranium isotopes, a critical step in the development of nuclear technology. Additionally, she contributed to the advancement of Geiger counters, essential instruments for measuring radiation levels, allowing for more accurate and efficient research.

Her involvement in the highly classified Manhattan Project during World War II further highlights her impactful contributions. This top-secret project aimed to develop the atomic bomb, and Wu’s expertise played a vital role in its success.

Beyond her scientific achievements, Wu also emerged as a vocal advocate for gender equality in science. Notably, her insightful question, “whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment,” sparked meaningful conversations about dismantling gender barriers in scientific pursuits.

Preeminent Botanist: Kono Yasui

Kono Yasui, defying ingrained societal expectations, defied the odds to become a trailblazer in Japanese science. Despite encountering gender bias throughout her career, she persevered with the unwavering support of her family. This unwavering support proved pivotal in her journey to becoming the first Japanese woman to attain a doctoral degree in science.

Yasui’s determination was further tested when the government initially rejected her application to pursue further studies in the United States. Their reasoning, steeped in prevailing patriarchal norms, stated that “a woman cannot achieve much in science.” However, Yasui’s tenacity and passion for scientific exploration refused to be deterred. Ultimately, she was granted permission to study abroad, albeit under restrictive conditions that mandated the inclusion of “home economics research” and even prohibited her from marrying. These conditions are a stark reflection of the prevailing gender inequalities of the time.

Despite these obstacles, Yasui thrived on her return to Japan, establishing herself as a preeminent botanist. Her research delved into the fascinating world of plant genetics, and she further distinguished herself by investigating the impact of the atomic bombs on the flora of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This impactful research contributed significantly to our understanding of the ecological consequences of nuclear war.

Igniting Malaysia’s Space Journey: Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Mazlan binti Othman

Professor Emerita Tan Sri Dr. Mazlan binti Othman stands tall as a leading figure in Malaysian science, particularly in the realm of astrophysics and space exploration. Born in 1951, Dr. Othman’s passion for science blossomed early, nurtured by discerning teachers. This early spark propelled her to become the first Malaysian to achieve a Ph.D. in astrophysics, obtained from the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Upon returning to her home nation, Dr. Othman’s dedication translated into tangible contributions. She not only established the astrophysics program at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, paving the way for future generations, but also spearheaded the development of Planetarium Negara, igniting public interest in astronomy and space exploration. These accomplishments laid the foundation for her future leadership roles.

Dr. Othman’s influence extends far beyond her initial contributions. She served as the founding Director-General of Angkasa, Malaysia’s National Space Agency, from 2002 to 2007. During this tenure, she played a pivotal role in launching the nation’s first microsatellite and overseeing the successful mission of Malaysia’s first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. Her impact transcends national borders, as evidenced by her prestigious international positions, including twice serving as Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). In this role, she tackled critical global issues like international space cooperation, space debris management, and sustainable development through space technology. Dr. Othman’s unwavering dedication to science and her remarkable achievements have rightfully earned her numerous accolades.

The Doodling Mathematician: Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani

Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician of exceptional talent, etched her name in history as the only woman to ever receive the prestigious Fields Medal, considered the highest honor in the field of mathematics. Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1977, her exceptional aptitude for numbers was evident from an early age.

Dr. Mirzakhani’s research delved into the intricate world of Riemann surfaces, complex mathematical objects that arise in various areas of mathematics, including geometry and analysis. To understand this, imagine a really cool playground with slides and swings that twist and turn in all sorts of crazy ways. Mathematicians like Dr. Mirzakhani love exploring these playgrounds, but theirs are made of shapes and numbers instead of slides and swings!

Through her groundbreaking work, she significantly advanced our understanding of these objects, pushing the boundaries of mathematical knowledge.

Beyond her academic rigor, Dr. Mirzakhani’s unique approach to problem-solving gained recognition. Renowned for doodling on pieces of paper and spontaneously writing equations alongside, she described herself as a “slow” mathematician, attributing the beauty and depth of the subject to persistent effort and dedication. Tragically, the world lost Dr. Mirzakhani’s brilliance to breast cancer in 2017, at the young age of 40.

Experimental Quantum Physicist: Dr. Jacquiline Romero

Dr. Jacquiline Romero embodies the spirit and potential of the rising generation of women in science. Currently living her childhood dream, she has established herself as an experimental quantum physicist, delving deep into the fascinating and often counterintuitive world of quantum mechanics.

Dr. Romero’s research utilizes photons, fundamental particles of light, to probe the strange and wonderful behaviors that govern the quantum realm. To put it simply, she uses tiny packets of light, called photons, to study the strange and amazing rules that govern the world of really, really small things. These rules are different from the ones we see in our everyday world, and scientists are still trying to understand them fully. Dr. Romero’s work helps us learn more about how this tiny world works and how it might be used for new inventions in the future.  Her commitment and passion for this field are evident in her groundbreaking research, contributing significantly to our understanding of this intricate and ever-evolving field.

Her dedication extends beyond the realm of scientific exploration. Dr. Romero actively advocates for gender equality in science, serving as a role model and inspiration for aspiring young women. She champions the message that motherhood and scientific success can coexist, debunking harmful stereotypes and fostering inclusivity within the scientific community.

Dr. Romero’s achievements have been recognized with prestigious awards, including the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program International Rising Talent Prize in 2019.

Image of Jacquiline Romero—Cosmo.ph

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