These Are the Contributions to Science Made by 10 Latin American Women

“Stop and take a look. 10 Latin American women in the sciences”. Image published by the Karisma Foundation under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 2.5 CO).

This article by Karisma Foundation was originally published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Colombia license. An edited version appears below. 

According to UNESCO, 29% of all the people in the world who dedicate themselves to research are women. The figure is a little more encouraging in Latin America, where the average reaches 45%. In fact, the region has the highest rate on a global scale in terms of the number of female researchers. In Colombia, the average reaches 37%, whereas in terms of leadership, out of the 4,000 registered research organizations in Colciencias, only 34% are led by women.

Despite the advances, these figures indicate that there is still some progress to be made, especially when comparing the situation of women with their male colleagues in the field of sciences. That is to say, women are involved, but still not on equal terms. All it takes it to try to put together a list of the names of female inventors, scientists, mathematicians or engineers that we learn about in school, and we realise that we do not know of many.

We invite you to pause for a moment and get to know the stories of 10 Latin American women who have built their careers in the field of natural sciences, medicine, engineering, technology and mathematics, as an invitation to question what would happen without the contribution of women to the different professions in the world.

1. Nayive Pino Benítez, Colombian biologist

Her interest in the field of biology is closely connected with the place in which she grew up: the Pacific/Chocó natural region, a place of exuberant and rich flora, but, paradoxically, one of the poorest and most unknown areas of the world. This landscape is what compelled her to work to draw attention to the high value of the flora from Chocó and to contribute to the reduction of the multiple challenges tied to the poverty of this Colombian region. She's worked hard to make more visible the high values of Chocoan flora and thus propose solutions to the multiple ways in which poverty is a problem in the region. She's also been fundamental in the training of a new generation of researchers and scientists inside her region through her academic work at the University of Quindío; in the Armenia province. (Source: Fundación Karisma interview.)

2. Luz Amparo Triana Moreno, Colombian botanist, pteridophyte and biologist

Triana Moreno has developed her academic and investigative activities in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Caldas in Manizales, Colombia. Her lines of scientific investigation include pteridology – a field of biology that studies ferns and related plants – as well as botany and ecology. Her scientific activity has made her worthy of various prizes and scholarships, as well as having a plethora of bibliographic output and significant participation in national and international scientific events. (Sources: Wikipedia and CvLAC.)

3. Bonnie Prado Pinto, Colombian aerospace engineer

In an effort to inspire young people to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Bonnie organised a summer camp in 2015 for adolescents from disadvantaged areas of the Colombian city of Quibdó. In 2010, she earned an internship that made one of her biggest dreams a reality: working at NASA. There, she worked on enhancing the development of robotic vehicles for space exploration. She's currently following a doctoral program in Astrodynamics and Spacial Application at the University of Purdue in Indiana (US) (Sources: ALE, Purdue University and El Tiempo.)

4. Ángela Restrepo, Colombian microbiologist

As well as having to overcome family members who didn't fully appreciate that she wanted to study and build a career in the sciences, the big challenge that Ángela faced was the resistance of some directors “to recognise that women knew how to keep their word and would come back to teach at the end of their studies outside the country”. She advises female scientists “to never lose optimism nor the desire to open doors for those who follow them”, that they try “to change the world” through their work, that “they are always enthusiastic” and that they “are open to chasing lofty goals”. Restrepo has been responsible for the education of generations of microbiologists and has been the only woman to be part of the “council of wisemen” a group of major scientists in the country that has worked in important proposals for the development of education. (Sources: IANAS and EAFIT.)

5. Kathrin Barboza, Bolivian biologist

Together with her colleague Aideé Vargas, in 2006 she rediscovered the “Tome's sword-nosed” bat that had been believed to be extinct for more than 70 years. Her work brought about the creation of the first ecological sanctuary in Latin America dedicated to the conservation of a bat species. (Sources: Wikipedia, L’Oréal-Unesco and La Información.)

6. Valeria de Paiva, Brazilian mathematician, logician and computer scientist

The academic activities of Valeria de Paiva have been geared towards the study of the logical approaches of computation, especially using category theory, knowledge representation and the semantics of natural language, as well as functional programming with a focus on foundations and type theories. Moreover, she is a principal research scientist in natural language and artificial intelligence in the technology laboratory Nuance, where the objective is to create bridges between experts in linguistics and engineering in artificial intelligence. (Sources: Nuance, LinkedIn and Valeria de Paiva.)

7. Alicia Dickenstein, Argentinian mathematician

Together with the positions and achievements that she has obtained, the idea that mathematics is universal — it always answers to the same laws and enables natural communication between different cultures and states — is, perhaps, the most satisfactory thing about her profession. In 2015 she was chosen by an assembly of mathematics representatives from all over the world as vice president of the International Mathematics Union from 2015 to 2018, a position that was given for the second time in 97 years to a woman. (Sources: Nexciencia and Fundación Karisma interview.)

8. Idelisa Bonelly, Dominican marine biologist

Idelisa Bonelly is known as “the mother of marine conservation in the Caribbean”. She has furthered marine biology on the island in her role as professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, where she prompted the creation of the biology degree with the express purpose of motivating young women to become scientists. Moreover, she participated in the creation of a research center (CIBIMA) on the subject. (Sources: Wikipedia and UN Women.)

9. María Amparo Pascual, Cuban biostatistician

María Amparo Pascual is the first female Cuban specialist in biostatistics, dedicated primarily to research methodology and then to clinical research in oncology. This experience enabled her to participate in the creation of Cuba's National Clinical Trials Coordinating Centre (CENCEC), for which she served as the founding director from 1991, in a time when women hardly ever obtained director positions. (Sources: Fundación Karisma interview and Siempre Latina.)

10. Nubia Muñoz, Colombian pathologist and epidemiologist

Her work has contributed to the discovery of the infectious agents of stomach cancer, liver cancer and cervical cancer. One of her greatest satisfactions as a scientist is having discovered the human papilloma virus at the main cause of the latter type of cancer. This work earned her the Canada Gairdner Global Health prize in 2009 and a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008. (Sources: Fundación Karisma interview, El Espectador, Canada Gairdner Global Health Award and Revista Arcadia.)

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