PURE SCIENCE: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo rubbed shoulders with the crème de la crème of the scientific world on Thursday night at the 21st edition of the For Women in Science awards at UNESCO House in Paris.

The L’Oréal Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, annually recognizes five women scientists, each from a different continent, for the excellence of research in a range of fields.

Prior to the ceremony, a couple of this year’s Rising Talents talked to WWD about what the initiative means to them.

“It’s a big honor, especially after meeting all these amazing ladies, it’s a confidence booster. To be given the platform to talk about my research….” said Sherry Aw, a neuroscientist from Singapore specializing in neurodegeneration, “Using the fruit-fly model.”

“They have a brain that’s one million times smaller than ours, it’s the size of a full stop, but they too can experience neurodegeneration as they age. We’re trying to use them as a model to understand how and why our brain cells die,” she said.

“I think it’s a great event for bringing the message that we need women in science,” said Jacq Romero, an Australia-based experimental quantum physicist who encodes information in particles of light, “to enable, hopefully, future communication technologies that can give us unhackable security.”

“Fifty million Facebook user accounts were hacked last year. If you have a whole quantum communication technology in place, where you have quantum physics rule how the information works and is transmitted it is in principle possible to have perfectly secure transmissions…But we’re still far off.”

“Science concerns humanity as a whole….Taking into account the perspectives of [gender equality] is essential for a science that benefits us all,” echoed L’Oréal chairman and chief executive officer and Fondation L’Oréal chairman, Jean-Paul Agon, in his opening speech. He also read a quote by Simone de Beauvoir from 40 years ago that “still rings true today,” ending in the words: “The advent of true inclusiveness is at hand for the good of science and the wellbeing of humanity.”

With two new areas — mathematics and computer science — the 2019 L’Oreal UNESCO award laureates included Professor Claire Voisin, awarded for her outstanding work on algebraic geometry, and Professor Maki Kawai, recognized for her seminal work on manipulating individual molecules at atomic scale to transform matter and create innovative materials.

The night’s round-table was themed around fighting inequalities in science, with a spotlight on African women scientists.

Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in her powerful speech spoke of the first moon landing.

“Fifty years ago, for the first time, man landed on the moon. But who knew that it was computer scientist and mathematician Margaret Hamilton who [wrote the code] that got them there?”

Since its inception in 1998, the For Women in Science program has supported 107 laureates and more than 3,000 young scientists, doctorates and post-doctorates, providing research fellowships every year in 117 countries.