L’Oreal awards fellowships to young UC Berkeley women postdocs

Two young female postdoctoral fellows at UC Berkeley this week received $60,000 fellowships from the L’Oréal For Women in Science program, in exchange for which they commit to mentoring girls and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

L’Oreal’s promotional video about the 2015 For Women in Science Fellowships, two of which were awarded to UC Berkeley postdocs.

The For Women in Science Fellowships have been awarded in the United States for the past 12 years to help women at critical stages in their careers, such as establishing a research lab after receiving their Ph.D.s. L’Oreal’s global program has given awards to more than 2,250 women since 1998. L’Oréal USA is the largest subsidiary of the L’Oréal Group, one of the largest makers of beauty products worldwide.

Ming Yi, 30, is conducting research in condensed matter physics in the Department of Physics. Sarah Richardson, 32, studies synthetic biology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences at UC Berkeley (QB3).

The two are among five total awardees announced Oct. 13, all of whom will attend ceremonies next week in Washington, D.C., where they will meet with women scientists in the U.S. government to discuss policy issues affecting women in STEM fields. An awards ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 22.

Robertson, Richardson and Yi

Berkeley’s three L’Oreal For Women in Science Fellows: Claire Robertson, Sarah Richardson and Ming Yi. (L’Oreal photos)

Two other new fellows also have Berkeley ties. Sarah Ballard, 31, who obtained her bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from UC Berkeley in 2007, conducts research on exoplanets at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Claire Robertson, 30, studies cancer bioengineering at Berkeley Lab.

The fifth new fellow is Julie Meyer, 39, a marine microbiologist at the University of Florida.

Richardson focuses on harnessing bacteria to make molecules that could lead to the development of new biofuels and medicines. Using the CRISPR gene-editing technology developed at UC Berkeley, she hopes to make it easier for other scientists to implement biomanufacturing. Richardson has performed extensive community outreach focused on minority and economically disadvantaged students, including current work with the Oakland Unified School District’s “Dinner with a Scientist” program.

Yi focuses on high-temperature superconductivity, a phenomenon in which electrons coherently pair up to travel without resistance in a material at a relatively high temperature. This research is already being applied in the development of high-efficiency power transmission lines and high-speed Maglev trains. A new mother, Yi will use part of her fellowship to create a support group that encourages STEM mothers to stay and succeed in the field.

Ming Yi explains her love of physics in this L’Oreal video.

Robertson is using her background in imaging and biomechanics to better understand how the normal environment in the breast acts to suppress tumor formation through biophysical mechanisms. This research has the potential to rapidly reduce breast cancer mortality by mimicking these mechanisms with new drugs and improving prediction of when cancerous cells will grow or metastasize. In addition to mentoring several women researchers, Robertson has been active in outreach throughout her career, including helping to expand Rocket Science Tutors, an afterschool science program for disadvantaged middle school students.

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