Award ‘encourages me to keep doing research in Guatemala’

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Susana Arrechea
Photo: Alison Bert

Susana Arrechea (pictured) is one of five researchers who are winners of the 2020 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World for their research in engineering, innovation and technology.

The winning scholars from Bangladesh, Guatemala, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Yemen were recognised for their diverse accomplishments in engineering, innovation & technology.

The prize also acknowledges the scientists’ commitment to leading and mentoring young scientists, and to improving lives and livelihoods in their communities and regions.

Arrechea’s research is focused on the potential industrial and environmental applications of materials such as nanoparticles, nanotubes, and graphene, which can be employed in creating more sustainable building materials, in water treatment, and in solar devices and other renewable energy solutions. In addition to contributing to the development of nanotechnology in Guatemala, she is also involved in improving solar electrification, connectivity, and digital and STEM literacy in schools in rural Guatemala, in partnership with New Sun Road and Microsoft.

She said: ‘Winning the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award means showing to my baby daughter and to other young Guatemalans that scientific research can be done and recognised worldwide regardless of gender, origin of birth, or where you grew up. This award encourages me to keep doing research in Guatemala.

Arrechea received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala (USAC), and worked there as a professor of physical chemistry before pursuing her master’s degree and doctorate in nanoscience and nanotechnology at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. After graduating Cum Laude, she worked as a visiting researcher at the University of California-Berkeley as part of a Fulbright Nexus project on renewable energy, and later at the Center for Biotechnology Studies of the University of Valle de Guatemala.

‘Recognition and visibility are important aspects of a scientific career,’ said OWSD President Jennifer Thomson.

‘OWSD is proud and happy to be able to give these inspiring women scientists the recognition they deserve: for their outstanding science, their commitment to building a better world and their persistence in often challenging circumstances.

‘Over the past seven years, OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation have celebrated a breathtaking array of innovative research coming from high achieving women scientists working in some of the most resource constrained circumstances. Our 2020 winners continue to address crucial UN Sustainable Development Goals with inspiring results.

‘From preserving river ecosystems, to tapping nanotechnology for innovative environmental interventions, designing rapid, early stage turbuculosis diagnostics, and training the next generation of computer programmers,’ added Thomson.

The other winning researchers are:

  • Champika Ellawalla Kankanamge of the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka; in environmental engineering;
  • Chao Mbogo of Kenya Methodist University; in computer science;
  • Samia Subrina of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology; in electronic engineering and nanotechnology; and
  • Fathiah Zakham of Hodeidah University in Yemen; in bioengineering and microbiology.

First awarded in 2013, the awards are given in partnership by OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation. OWSD chairs a panel of distinguished scientists to select the winners, and the Elsevier Foundation supports a prize for each winner of USD $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the annual AAAS Meeting (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in Seattle in February.