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Asel Sartbaeva, CSCT researcher, named 2021 ‘Woman of the Year’

Dr Asel Sartbaeva has received the prestigious FDM everywoman in Technology ‘Woman of the Year’ award for being an outstanding role model for women in science and technology.

On 4 March 2021, Dr Sartbaeva, a lecturer in Chemistry and member of the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies (CSCT), received the 2021 FDM everywoman in Technology ‘Woman of the Year’ award at an online ceremony.

Dr Asel Sartbaeva is a world-leading, award-winning interdisciplinary chemist, who combines cutting-edge expertise in mineral physics, crystallography, biology and chemistry to develop emerging and disruptive technologies to address frontier problems in fields as diverse as green energy and global health – agendas of critical importance to women around the globe and, most acutely, in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Ten years ago, she started to develop her research on vaccine ensilication, a novel method to make vaccines stable without refrigeration. This award-winning technology, which she initially developed to tackle vaccine-preventable diseases for children, holds great potential during the Covid-19 rollout since it makes vaccine transport safer.

Born in Kyrgyzstan – then part of the Soviet Union – Dr Sartbaeva overcame early family resistance to study science at school, a determination that would take her on to study Natural Sciences at the best university in Kyrgyzstan, twice winning the National Student Olympiad in Materials, and becoming the first-ever female winner of this category. She later won a postgraduate scholarship to Cambridge and, in 2004, became the first Central Asian Cambridge Doctoral graduate. She followed this achievement with postdoctoral research in the USA, returning to the UK in 2007 to a prestigious Glasstone Fellowship in Oxford. In 2010, she won a Royal Society Research Fellowship for her work on the design and development of porous materials for greener catalysts and quickly used the flexibility of the fellowship to develop her research on vaccine ensilication – a novel method to make vaccines stable without refrigeration. From this small, innovative idea, ensilication has now become an award-winning technology (IChem Biotechnology award 2017, Hanson medal 2019, Emerging Tech, 2020).

Support for women

Dr Sartbaeva’s drive to tackle gender inequality more broadly in STEM was catalysed by her experience of becoming a highly successful scientist despite the Kyrgyzstan culture – semi-nomadic and highly patriarchal.

The only Kyrgyz female undergraduate in her undergraduate course, she is a pioneer in public engagement and has been called a “symbol of resistance to sexism in Kyrgyzstan” by Global Voices in 2017. In the UK, she was named one of the 175 Faces of Chemistry by the Royal Society of Chemistry for her diversity work and she won the WISE World award 2017. This recognition gave her a platform to speak openly about women’s rights in Central Asia and to champion international gender equality in STEM.

She works not only to attract more girls into STEM subjects, but to drive a lasting culture shift for women to remain and thrive, and ease the path for future generations. She is a Rosa Otynbaeva Foundation Women in STEM mentor; she mentors a group of young girls building the first Kyrgyz satellite; she designs and delivers STEM experiments for pupils between 4 and 11 years in local Bath schools and is building chemistry resources for primary school teachers and parents.

A sought-after public speaker at major technology and business conventions – such as UNLOCK 2019, Google X Moon shot Conference 2013, The Solutions Summit UN Foundation 2015, Pint of Science 2019 – Asel has been described as “a force of nature, an outstanding role model, a tireless advocate for gender equality and a game-changing scientist whose work will save the lives of women and children around the world”.

Dr Sartbaeva has also recently been appointed a UNICEF Ambassador for the ‘Girls in Science’ programme in Kyrgyzstan, her home country, and she will take part in UNICEF Kyrgyzstan (KG) campaigns and social media events aimed at girls who might otherwise steer clear of a science education.

Professor Marcelle McManus, CSCT Co-Director and 2020 FDM everywoman Academic awardee, said: “We are delighted that Asel’s work has been recognised by the FDM Everywoman Award. It is much deserved. Her work on ensilicated vaccines that do not require refrigeration is particularly timely; but this is far from the only reason she has won this award. Asel is tireless in her promotion of science and engineering to children and schools and in her drive to tackle gender inequality.”

Previous winners from the University of Bath also include Dr Apala Majumdar in 2019, Professor Semali Perera in 2017 and Professor Carole Mundell in 2016.

everywoman is a global platform dedicated to the empowerment of women in business. Working with companies and organisations, they support members’ professional development and offer mentorship opportunities and a networking forum for women.

By 8 March 2021

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