For the ninth year in a row, the industry’s largest beauty company, L’Oréal, left the world of glamour to celebrate filamentous fungi, superfluid helium and hydrogen sulfide.


On Sept. 13, L’Oréal USA held its L’Oréal Fellowships for Women in Science Award Ceremony at the Morgan Library and Museum. Opening the proceedings, Christine Quinn, New York City’s first female speaker of the city council, applauded the five honorees for picking a field that is not historically dominated by women. “Not just doing it,” said Quinn, “but doing it at the highest, most significant levels.”

Each year, the program awards five distinguished female researchers with grants up to $60,000. Together with L’Oréal, the American Association for the Advancement of Science selected the fellows based on academic records, intellectual merit, research proposals with the potential for scientific advancement and outstanding letters of recommendation. 

“They [fellows] could have done just about anything,” said Dr. Shirley Malcom, head of the directorate of education and human resources programs with AAAS, “but they chose the fields that they did as a manifestation of their excitement and love that they found at some point in their lives.”

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This year’s fellows were Dr. Christina Agapakis, a synthetic biologist from the University of California; Dr. Lilian Childress, a physicist in quantum optics from Yale University; Dr. Joanna Kelley, a geneticist from Stanford University; Dr. Erin Marie Williams, a paleoanthropologist from George Washington University, and Dr. Jaclyn Winter, a biochemist from the University of California.

The recipients participate in a week of events that include an awards ceremony, professional development workshops, media training and networking opportunities.

For her area of study, Dr. Agapakis’ research explores the role of design, ecology and evolution in biological engineering.

“One of my professors requested [that I read] an amazing book that’s been really important for me as I grow as a woman in science,” said Dr. Agapakis. “That book is called ‘Reflections on Gender in Science’ by Evelyn Fox Keller. I think she [Fox Keller] makes a really good point at the end of the book that’s really important for this program. By promoting and supporting women in science, we’re not creating women’s science, something that’s separate, we’re promoting science in general.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Childress studies the interactions between quantum states of light and mechanical motion. The L’Oréal USA Fellowship will allow her to develop a new optomechanical device based on a potentially dissipationless mechanical material: superfluid helium.

Dr. Joanna Kelley explores the genomic basis of adaptation to environments containing high levels of hydrogen sulfide. She will use sulfide spring populations of the fish Poecilia from three river drainages to study adaptive trait divergence, differentiation in gene sequences, and gene expression patterns.

By understanding the genomics of this fish system,” said Kelley, “I hope to add to our understanding about mechanisms that drive the diversity of life.”

Dr. Erin Marie Williams is investigating the decision-making processes and abilities of our early human ancestors as evidenced through their selection of raw materials for the production and use of early Stone Age technologies.

And Dr. Jaclyn Winter’s current research focuses on exploiting the chemical diversity of biologically active natural products produced by filamentous fungi.

“We will all be rewarded by what they are able to give us,” Dr. Malcom said, “now and into the future.”

At the end of the ceremony, Rebecca Caruso, executive vice president of L’Oréal USA,  announced the newest extension of the Women in Science Program. L’Oréal will launch a Web site to encourage young girls to stay interested and excited about science, technology, engineering and math.