Brenda Milner was 89 years old when I started my PhD at McGill University, and now, ten years later, she is still actively contributing to our understanding of how the human brain shapes cognition.
This field, neuropsychology, became widely recognized mainly because of Brenda’s work with a patient known as HM. Due temporal lobe surgery (to cure his epilepsy), HM had lost the ability to convert short-term memories into long-term memories.
Through her extensive work with him, Brenda identified neural structures that underlie different types of memories, explaining how – and why – learning and remembering a movement is different than remembering someone’s name.
She attributes her success her ability to notice – and question – the behaviours she observes. This curiosity was infectious, transmitted to students and postdocs through both lectures and stories told over a beer after the annual neuropsychology holiday party. Through her energy and dedication, she has shaped neuropsychology and neuropsychologists alike.
In 2014 she was awarded the Kavli prize in neuroscience. You can read coverage of the announcement by Nature Reviews Neuroscience here.
As the founder of the Global Protected Area Friendly System, conservation ecologist Yan Xie is spearheading a movement to safeguard the world’s protected areas by providing an economic incentive for conservation.
Protected areas are the backbone of global efforts to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. But poor management and land use change threaten the utility and future of many of these regions.
For the past four years, Yan Xie she has been working with communities living in or close to protected areas across China to help them produce and bring to market protected area friendly products, and thereby capitalise on the goods and services these regions provide. The project has seen numerous such products bought to market to date, including walnuts and honey that support giant panda populations, and cereal crops that contribute to the protection of wildlife migration corridors along the Sino-Russian border.
Based on the successes seen in China, the World Conservation Congress has set up a task force to see whether this approach to bolstering the benefits and therefore resilience of protected areas can be rolled out globally.
Conserving the world’s remaining biodiversity is one of the greatest challenges we face. Yan Xie’s work on securing a future for protected areas in China and possibly beyond could prove an important step to securing that goal.
This time of year is perfect for getting out into the woods to see some spectacular fungi, at least here in the UK.
When I was an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to be taught fungal ecology by one of the most enthusiastic and engaging communicators of science you could hope for – Professor Lynne Boddy.
Lynne has quite literally written the book on the ecology of wood-decomposing fungi, and in a 40 year career has mentored dozens of PhD students and countless undergraduates, always being generous with her time and knowledge.
As a student, I have particularly fond memories of digging around in forest soil collecting samples with her on a research trip, unearthing cords of white fungal mycelia, like great networks of belowground arteries.
As well as being the current holder of the British Ecological Society’s Marsh Award for outstanding impact in ecology, and former president of the British Mycological Society, Lynne’s outreach work has brought fungi out of the lab and onto our televisions, radios and public events – and no doubt inspired a new generation of ecologists in the process.
You can listen to her here on BBC Radio 4 talking about her life’s work on the fascinating hidden world of fungi.
Suzanne Farley, Executive Editor, Scientific Reports
“Any equation she can solve; every problem she can resolve. Mildred equals brains plus fun. In math and science, she’s second to none.”
This entry in the Hunter High School yearbook for 1948 prophetically described the career of Mildred ‘Millie’ Dresselhaus, who passed away in February. Best known for her work on graphite, fullerenes and nanostructures ― which earned her the sobriquet ‘the queen of carbon’ ― Dresselhaus was also a staunch advocate of gender equality in science and engineering.
As a student, Dresselhaus was inspired by future Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn Yalow, at the time a frustrated teacher unable to land a job in research. Dresselhaus in turn nurtured the careers of notable female researchers (and won a Nobel) including Deborah Chung, Lourdes Salamanca Riba and Nai-Chang Yeh.
As one of the most-awarded women in history, Dresselhaus’ work features in a special free-to-access ‘Female Laureates’ Collection in Scientific Reports.
Lei Lei, Associate Editor, Nature Plants
Having seen this year’s Nobel prizes awarded last week, Youyou Tu, the last female scientist to receive the award springs in my mind as a great representative of women in science.
Her scientific endeavour of finding remedy for malaria started in 1960s. She explored traditional Chinese herbal medicine, combing ancient text and folk remedies for possible leads. After studying more than 2000 recipes, she finally managed to extract artemisinin, which inhibits the malaria parasite, from sweet wormwood.
Tu lives a very low-key life, almost unknown to the public before international prize recognitions. I am very proud to be her fellow alumna and she has become the inspiring figure for me and many young women in science.
Katherine Lucey studied journalism, received an MBA and had career as an investment banker in the United States. Neha Misra studied physics and economics in India, and became an energy economist. They joined forces at the beginning of the decade to found Solar Sister.
About 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Solar Sister empowers African women to become clean energy entrepreneurs, sometimes in addition to other professional activities. Each entrepreneur’s social network is rooted locally and allows for direct sales of solar lanterns or stoves for example, supporting education and health in their communities. The entrepreneur gains in skills, revenue and status.
Women hold multifaceted and increasingly recognized roles in the energy transition, from consumers to managers and educators. Lucey and Misra’s team is a great example of pulling together the intensely varied skills necessary to tackle the issue of energy access.