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Women in Science

UWC's L'Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science

The L'Oreal-UNESCO Regional Fellowships For Women in Science (FWIS) in Sub-Saharan Africa are awarded annually to honour young women scientists for their work – and to provide them with €15 000 to put towards their PhD research. Of the 158 applicants in 2013, 10 inspiring candidates from eight countries were selected for the honour. And of those lucky fellows, two of them come from a single university - the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The Fellowships are open to all women up to the age of 40 across Sub-Saharan Africa who are working towards their PhD in all fields of science. This year's winners included women whose work lies in nanotechnology, computer science, hydrology, genetics, quantum biology and more. UWC's 2013 fellows are materials scientist, Aline Simo, and chemistry PhD, Sekai Lana Tambo. Both students are doing their bit to develop a cleaner, greener and more economically stable Africa.

Aline Simo is a true citizen of Africa, having been born in Morocco, raised in Cameroon, and now completing her PhD in nanotechnology/materials science in South Africa. She is involved in a number of outreach programmes, and aims to be a role-model for young female learners.

Her PhD research deals with nano-scaled intelligent materials and their application in 'smart windows' – by covering a glass window with these intelligent nanophotonic materials, they will be able to reflect solar heat when it's hot and transmit it when it's cold, regulating the temperature in cars and buildings and helping to minimise carbon emissions caused by air conditioning. She is also involved in hydrogen gas sensing for the hydrogen economy – her research demonstrated that vanadium oxide, a mineral of which South Africa is the second largest producer in the world, makes excellent sensors at room temperature.

Aline says the FWIS fellowship recognises her contribution to the advancement of science and its benefits to society. “It also allows me to broaden my scientific knowledge, and enables me access to the facilities and equipment I need to engineer and increase my scientific research output.”

Sekai Tambo was born in Zimbabwe, the first-born of eight children, and had to work three jobs – as sub-warden, tutor and demonstrator – just to fund her undergrad studies. She is involved in several community engagement projects.

Her research focuses on developing high energy conservation hybrid photovoltaic cells from cheap silicon substrates – which would reduce the cost of solar cells, perhaps making them more affordable for poor communities, especially in Zimbabwe.

“In developing communities such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa,” she notes, “there are millions of economically disadvantaged rural communities living without access to electricity. Solar energy is a particularly attractive renewable option for them, because it is naturally decentralised, available in excessive supply, and falls steadily in cost as technology advances.”

She believes her FWIS fellowship will help her further these ideals.

Bertrand de Lalu, L'Oreal South Africa Managing Director, says that the chief objective of the regional fellowship is to increase the participation of women in science. “Women face a number of challenges in this still heavily male-dominated sector,” he explains. “L'Oreal seeks to assist by removing one of these hurdles, which is access to finance. We believe the women we assist have the potential to make great strides in the field of science.”