The women leading science and innovation in Brazil


Cindy Parker, Regional Manager for Science and Innovation in Latin America, based at the British Embassy in Brasilia.

For the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we asked women leaders, scientists and innovators involved in the Newton Fund to share their stories and celebrate the impact of women in science.

I am a newcomer to the world of science. I am not a scientist by trade, but I am fortunate enough to have a job that brings me into constant contact with a wide variety of UK and Brazilian scientists and scientific institutions. Six months ago, I took up the role of leading the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy in Brasilia. Our aim is to promote scientific collaboration between the UK and Brazil, highlighting UK scientific excellence and encouraging bilateral research collaboration.

Science diplomacy, like any form of diplomacy, is rooted in relationships. Over the last six months, I have had the privilege to meet many talented, committed, inspirational people working on science in Brazil. Many of them are women. As we celebrate the UN’s International Women and Girls in Science Day, it is the perfect opportunity to champion the contribution of just a few.

Professor Maria Zaira Turchi is a professor of Portuguese literature, President of the State of Goias’ Science funding agency (FAPEG) and the outgoing President of CONFAP, the national association of state science funding agencies. Women currently head just two of the twenty-six FAPs (state science funding agencies) and so her election as President reflects the high regard she is held in by her peers. I have come to know Professor Zaira through the partnership between CONFAP and the Newton Fund to joint-fund research programmes and opportunities for researchers to travel and get more experience. Her tireless energy and passion for internationalising science research in Brazil has been instrumental in the success of these programmes. We were delighted that Professor Zaira accepted our invitation to be Master of Ceremonies at the Brazil Newton Prize reception.

This year we are celebrating the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation. As part of the Year’s events, we supported this year’s Brazil Young Scientist Awards, organised by the Brazilian National Council for Research (CNPq). Seeing the creativity, optimism and talent of Brazil’s next generation of scientists was inspiring. Juliana Davoglio Estradioto, age 18, won the Secondary School prize for her project to develop a biodegradable plastic film made from passion fruit peel.

Cindy (in white) with the winners of the Young Scientist Awards, including Juliana

Equally inspiring, were the awards given to the school-teachers, and college and university professors who had mentored, guided and encouraged the Young Scientists. All of the winners in this category were women. Jane Tutikian, Vice-dean of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, and winner of the Merit prize for Higher Education, said that for her, “promoting science is a way to fight for Brazil’s development and effectively committing to social development”.

Science teachers and professors were also recognised for their work.

Finally, Professor Wal Dutra a senior Brazilian researcher from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Professor Wal is a specialist in human infectious and parasitic diseases, with a current focus on the immunology of human leishmaniasis (a neglected tropical disease). Health is a priority area for our science work and we are proud of the strength of our bilateral research collaboration in the area of neglected and infectious diseases.

In 2017 UK and Brazilian researchers mapped the Zika genome, which will help prevent future outbreaks in Brazil and further afield. Whilst working as a visiting professor in the UK, Professor Wal met African scientists researching similar diseases and her vision for a three-way research collaboration between the UK, Brazil and Africa was born. My team is exploring how we can help Wal bring each country’s researchers together to scope joint research programmes. This type of initiative, bringing together international researchers and cutting-edge UK technologies to tackle real societal challenges, goes to the heart of our work on science diplomacy.

Brazil has a wealth of great women working in science. These are just three examples of the many ways women are fostering, delivering and leading key aspects of scientific work in Brazil, in partnership with the UK.

Last year the British Council in Brazil launched its ‘Women in Science’ programme, aimed at strengthening the links between female scientists in the UK and Brazil. Together with my colleagues in the British Council, I look forward to continuing to work alongside Brazil’s women in science, championing their contribution and encouraging other women to follow in their steps.

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