Five Colombian scientists who leave their mark on Earth and space – KESQ

Melissa Velasquez Loaiza

(CNN Spanish) – Only 30% of science researchers are women, according to the Women in Science report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Unesco.

Unfortunately, women are under-recognized for their contributions to science in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field. Additionally, studies have shown that women are discouraged or lose interest in entering STEM fields at a young age. According to the Pew Research Center, women continue to be underrepresented in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences.

In Colombia, for example, only 37% of people holding research positions are women, according to the UNESCO Women in Science report cited by the Center for Sustainable Development Goals for Latin America at the University of Los Andes.

Colombia ranks 15th out of 20 in Latin America in terms of gender and research, according to UNESCO.

However, many Colombian scientists have outstanding jobs in these fields, not only in the country, but also abroad.

And on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we must celebrate them. These are just some of the Colombian scientists who leave their mark.

Adriana Ocampo: missions to Mars and Jupiter at NASA

Adriana Ocampo. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Adriana Ocampo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1955. She has a Colombian father and an Argentine mother. She was raised in Argentina and at a very young age she moved to the United States, where she developed her career at NASA from a very early age. She is now the leader of NASA’s New Frontiers project.

Ocampo has participated in several scientific projects such as a mission to Mars and previously to Jupiter —with the Galileo mission (1995-2003)— and has spent much of his life investigating the solar system in NASA’s Planetary Science Division. Also, in 2016, he was the leader of the interplanetary journey of the Juno space probe that reached Jupiter to investigate the largest planet in the solar system.

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“The field of science and space is full of exceptional opportunities, but we still need more women to be part of that space exploration that is extraordinary,” she told CNN en Español in 2016 from California.

Ocampo highlighted the role of several women who lead NASA, including engineer Dava Newman, deputy administrator of that institution —second highest position— and others who are “examples of life to follow.”

“There is a great need to have young people, women participating in exploration,” he concluded.

Diana Trujillo, aerospace engineer

Diana Trujillo speaks on stage during the 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort on February 7, 2019 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)

Diana Trujillo from Cali is a strategic operations engineer for the Mars 2020 Mission.

Trujillo was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1983. He arrived in the United States at the age of 17, without knowing English, $300 in his pocket, and a clear first goal: not to starve.

He is currently a key member of the team that designed and tested the US space agency’s robotic arm and two rover instruments, called Pixl and Sherloc, which is part of the Mars 2020 mission.

His team has to analyze the information coming in from the Rover Perseverance and make decisions about what to do next. The Perservarnce arrived on Mars after eight years of work and Trujillo is one of the leaders of the project.

In 2021, Trujillo was awarded the Cafam Prize for Women, which recognizes the leadership spirit of women in Colombia. Upon receiving the award, Trujillo spoke about the importance of inspiring girls and women to participate in the fields of science and research.

“The message for girls who want to do science is to first find what makes you happy, regardless of what everyone is saying, hold on to that dream you have, and read up on the role models out there for you. that they can map out the steps and plans they want to do based on what other people have done and don’t want to do.”

Andrea Guzmán Mesa, astrophysicist and exoplanet researcher

Andrea Guzmán Mesa, Colombian scientist and astronomer, exoplanet researcher in Switzerland. (Credit: Andrea Guzmán Mesa)

Andrea Guzmán Mesa was born in Bogotá, Colombia, studied mathematics in her country and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, with which she is investigating the “intersection between the atmospheres of exoplanets, the interiors of the planets and learning automatic,” according to its website.

Since 2018 he has been part of the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern, and he also received a scholarship from the European Union to do a master’s degree in Astrophysics. Guzmán Mesa speaks Spanish, English, Italian and Portuguese.

He is currently a member of the Swiss Society for Astronomy and Astrophysics SSAA and received the MERAC Award sponsored by the MERAC Foundation, a non-profit foundation in Switzerland that recognizes, encourages and promotes research and mobility of young Astrophysicists and Cosmologists in Europe.

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It is also part of the PlanetS National Research Competence Center, which brings together researchers from Swiss universities working in planetary sciences, and of which two of its members received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on Exoplanets, according to information from the Colombian Foreign Ministry.

According to her, the exact sciences, especially astronomy, “have been built around a very marked gender stereotype”, which is why the role of women in education in this field has been limited, and their own research, or positions managers.

“There is then a historical lag,” Guzmán Mesa told CNN in an email. “There is still today a significant gender gap, which, despite the fact that progress has been made on this front, is far from being closed.”

The scientist told CNN that she was “lucky” to have a mentor who was her role model, which made it easier for her to find a path in her career. And she adds that the low participation of women in the field of science is due to the “little visibility that has been given to female scientists, all of them potential role models, and the lack of knowledge of these by society, especially of girls and young people”.

“We do not become what we do not see!” said Guzmán Mesa. As he said, it is not that there have been no women in science over the years, but because their contributions “were systematically denied by the scientific community and society, and they had to live in the shadow of their male counterparts.” ”.

“This is improving but there is still a lot to do,” he said.

Finally, he says that science must represent “the diversity that we as humanity have” and that is why not only women must be part of it, but also have representation of gender, cultures, races, nationalities.

“Not becoming part of something that is transversal to all of us, such as science, is basically losing half of human talent and knowledge,” he asserts, saying that “by having an inclusive and diverse perspective… we will be able to tackle many of the problems that they afflict us”.

Blanca Huertas, biologist

Colombian Blanca Huertas is the senior curator of the London Natural History Museum’s butterfly collection. (Credit: Natural History Museum, London)

Blanca Huertas was born in Bogotá and is currently the senior curator of the largest and oldest butterfly collection in the world, with specimens dating from the 1600s to the present.

He studied Biology at the Pedagogical University in Bogotá, and then did a master’s degree in Systematics and Biodiversity at Imperial College London, and then a doctorate at University College London.

Huertas – known as ‘Madame Butterfly,’ ‘Dra. Butterfly’, or the ‘Butterfly Guardian’ – has been working for 15 years at the Natural History Museum in London.

“Getting this position, obviously, has been the dream of anyone who studies butterflies,” she says smiling, proud to be the guardian of such a collection and also, to be one of the few Latinas who works there.

The biologist and a group of researchers found a yellow butterfly that was discovered in the 1800s in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia. This specimen lived alone for almost 100 years – 99 exactly – in the collection of the Natural History Museum in London.

The keeper of the world’s largest collection of butterflies 2:42

The article about the discovery of this specimen is called: One hundred years of solitude: the rediscovery of the Catasticta lycurgus, a yellow butterfly from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This in honor of those yellow butterflies and the Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Gabriel García Márquez.

Nubia Muñoz, cancer researcher

Nubia Muñoz, cancer researcher.

Nubia Muñoz (Cali, 1940) is one of the most important Colombian cancer researchers in the country. According to the Colombian Ministry of Health, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine because thanks to her research on the origin of cervical cancer and the development of the Papilloma Virus vaccine that causes Cervical Cancer.

Muñoz is a doctor and has a specialization in Pathology from the Universidad del Valle. She later studied Epidemiology and Virology at Johns Hopkins University in the United States and finally came to France on a scholarship to work at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). She was there as a researcher for two seasons: 1969-1972 and the longest, from 1974 to 2001.

At the IARC in Lyon, France, Muñoz led research on “cancers related to infectious agents” such as stomach cancer, Helicobacter pylori, liver cancer, and hepatitis B and C viruses, according to his profile at the Ministry of Sciences. Colombia.

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But his most important research was in his studies on cervical cancer and its relationship with the human papillomavirus. This research allowed the development of the vaccine against Cervical Cancer, the fourth type of cancer that women suffer the most in the world, according to the WHO.

Muñoz was recognized in 2018 by the BBVA Foundation in the Development Cooperation category “for making an effective vaccine against cervical cancer possible, one of the main causes of death among women in developing countries.”

According to the BBVA Foundation jury, thanks to Muñoz’s research, “the first vaccine developed specifically for cancer prevention” was developed.

The award jury highlighted the work of Nubia Muñoz for being “an example of a female researcher who has also worked on diseases that affect women, especially in developing countries.”

With information from CNN’s Lauren Kent.

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Five Colombian scientists who leave their mark on Earth and space – KESQ