LONDON, March 8 /PRNewswire/ -- In line with international Women's Day today Professor Athene Donald was awarded the 2009 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Laureate for Europe at a prestigious event in Paris. Established in 1998, the For Women In Science Awards recognize five exceptional women scientists each year - one per continent. The awards act as a benchmark of international scientific excellence, and an invaluable source of motivation, support, and inspiration for women in the scientific field. The Laureates serve as role models for future generations, encouraging young women around the world to follow in their footsteps.

As Professor of Experimental Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Athene Donald was awarded for her work in unravelling the mysteries of the physics of messy materials, ranging from cement to starch. Her pioneering research has included work to understand the structure of starch granules, as found in wheat and corn, and how that structure changes during plant growth, processing, hydration and cooking. These changes may affect how efficiently the human body metabolises starch - an important issue for food scientists and those involved in industrial-scale food preparation.

Professor Donald's studies have also opened up exciting new possibilities for the formation of new biomaterials for bone and tissue repair. She is currently exploring how cells adhere to surfaces, which is important for medical implants, and to the organisation of polymers in novel solar-energy devices.

Athene Donald feels tremendously fortunate to have had mentors and a very supportive husband who believed in her, even at times when she herself had doubts. They offered her challenges, opportunities and support as she moved from one topic to another.

Follow your dreams is the message Athene Donald would convey to young women in science today. Don't be fooled into believing that contemporaries who appear to have confidence are actually any better than you are. Don't think it is impossible to be a scientist and a mother, though simultaneously recognizing it may be difficult and very hard work to be both. And don't try to become someone else and lose yourself in the process.

The other four international laureates awarded last night were:

Africa the Arab States: Pr. Tebello Nyokong, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes University in South Africa, for her work on harnessing light for cancer therapy and for environmental clean-up.

Asia-Pacific: Pr. Akiko Kobayashi, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry, College of Humanities and Sciences at Nihon University in Japan, for her contribution to the development of molecular conductors and the design and synthesis of a single-component molecular metal.

North America: Pr. Eugenia Kumacheva, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto in Canada, for the design and development of new materials with many applications including targeted drug delivery for cancer treatments and materials for high density optical data storage.

Latin America: Pr. Beatriz Barbuy, Professor at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, for her work on the life of stars from the birth of the universe to the present time.

L'Oréal and UNESCO also presented the findings of a new international study entitled 'Science as the World Sees It', launched to coincide with the awards. The research, amongst 10,000 people across 10 countries highlighted a number of cultural differences in public attitudes to science:

- People in the UK were least likely to have ever dreamt of becoming a scientist (23%) compared with two-thirds (64%) of Chinese people.

- Although the Chinese are the nation most likely to describe science as 'difficult' (54% - compared with only 26% in the UK), they are also the least intimidated by science (22%).

- The UK (57%) and South Africa (63%) were most intimidated by science of all the countries in the survey.

- South Africans (87%) were most likely to encourage their children to pursue a career in science, while the UK was the second least likely (60%), after Germany (57%).

Science was considered to be a stable career choice by three-quarters of UK respondents, who felt it would be resistant to the current financial crisis. The vast majority also felt that science is not a gender specific career but for men and women equally (92%). People in the UK think the key motivators for women to go into science are because it's intellectually challenging (68%) followed by doing it for humanitarian reasons (35%).

L'Oréal UK and Ireland Managing Director Grita Loebsack said:

At L'Oréal, science is part of our DNA. Our founder was a chemist by profession and research and innovation in the interest of beauty remain our guiding principles to this day. More than half of our researchers are women, but this degree of parity is still too unusual in this field. This new research proves that we still have a long way to go to make science the number one career choice in this country. That's why successful role models like Athene are so important to inspire the next generation of scientists, whose ideas and breakthroughs will form the world of tomorrow.

Notes to Editors


The L'Oréal UNESCO For Women In Science programme was founded 11 years ago by L'Oréal and UNESCO on the premise that 'the world needs science and science needs women'. The awards programme is designed to promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science, by awarding promising female scientists with fellowships to help them further their research. There are three distinct schemes:

- The founding awards provide five women, one from each continent, with a prestigious laureate of up to $100,000 for their research. The international structure of the programme ensures that the laureates are distributed among women who are working under a wide variety of conditions. - The UNESCO-L'Oréal fellowships are run internationally and have awarded 120 promising female doctorate or post-doctorate scientists up to $40,000 each, since their inauguration in 2000. The fellowships help women scientists pursue their research in some of the world's most prestigious laboratories. - National Fellowships, such as the UK and Ireland programme detailed below, run in 35 countries around the world. Each National Fellowship helps students pursue scientific careers and have, to date, enabled 340 women to continue their research. By the end of 2008, over 50 countries will have established their own programmes.

In total, over 700 women in 70 countries have been recognised for their research and received funding to further their studies since the programme was founded in 1998.

For more information and for photography, please contact: Carolyn Abbasi Larkey or Lucy Varah on behalf of L'Oréal and UNESCO at Fishburn Hedges. Email:; Lucy Varah +44(0)7806-949-660 ; Carolyn Abbasi Larkey +44(0)7702-602-495