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article imageNigerian physicist Francisca Okeke wins UNESCO science award

By JohnThomas Didymus     Apr 2, 2013 in Science
A Nigerian physicist Professor Francisca Okeke is one of the four winners of the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.
Okeke won the award for her contributions "to the understanding of daily variations of the ion currents in the upper atmosphere which may further our understanding of climate change."
According to UNESCO, Okeke's academic career has been dedicated to the study of the ionosphere and she has made outstanding contributions in her field.
The four other recipients were women scientists from Europe, Latin America, North America and the Asia/Pacific regions.
Each recipient will receive $100,000.
The ionosphere is a part of the upper atmosphere that lies between 50km and 1000km above the earth's surface. According to a summary of her research published by UNESCO, Okeke is being honored "for her significant contributions to the understanding of daily variations of the ion currents in the upper atmosphere which may further our understanding of climate change."
Five women scientists, one from each continent, are honored every year for their outstanding contributions in the physical sciences and for "the strength of their commitments and their impact on society."
According to UNESCO: "The research of the 2013 Laureates demonstrates exceptionally original approaches to fundamental research in the Physical Sciences, from contributing to better understanding climate change to advancing research on neurodegenerative diseases and potentially uncovering new energy sources."
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, said: "These five outstanding women scientists have given the world a better understanding of how nature works. Their pioneering research and discoveries have changed the way we think in various areas of the physical sciences and opened new frontiers in science and technology. Such key developments have the potential to transform our society."
According to NAN, the award was announced last year October but the ceremony took place this weekend in Paris.
Okeke is the third Nigerian to receive the award since it was established in 1998.
The European recipient of the award was Professor Prathibha Gai of York University. She was recognized for "ingeniously modifying her electron microscope so that she was able to observe chemical reactions occurring at surface atoms of catalysts which will help scientists in their development of new medicines or new energy sources."
The recipient from the Asia/Pacific region was Professor Reiko Kuroda of the Tokyo University of Science . She was honored for "discovering the functional importance of the difference between left handed and right handed molecules which has wide applications including research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s."
Professor Marcia Barbosa of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre (Brazil) was the recipient from Latin America. She was honored "discovering one of the peculiarities of water which may lead to better understanding of how earthquakes occur and how proteins fold which is important for the treatment of diseases."
Professor Deborah Jin of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Colorado, Boulder, won in the North American category for "having been the first to cool down molecules so much that she can observe chemical reactions in slow motion which may help further understanding of molecular processes which are important for medicine or new energy sources."
NAN reports that Okeke promised she would work to encourage women to participate in science and technology in Nigeria. She said there were significant cultural barriers preventing women from contributing to global scientific innovations. She said that "even though [science] is seen as a male dominated field, people like us inspire others."
A previous Nigerian recipient of the award Dr. Euchararia Nwachi, was recognized for her research on “scientific solutions to environmental pollution."
Mariam Katagum, Nigeria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, said the candidates were selected by the jury because they had "broken the frontiers in the field of science."
She described Nigeria's female recipients of the award as role models for Nigerian girls. She added: "We can only do that by providing the environment, access to quality education and making sure that the facilities that will make them interested in science subjects are in place."
According to UNESCO, Professor Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology, led the international jury that selected the 2013 winners.
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