The bright star of dark energy

Friday 26 June 2015

The bright star of dark energy mainbody

Dr Rita Tojeiro, of the University of St Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy, was this week announced as one of the winners of the 2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO UK & Ireland For Women In Science Fellowships (FWIS). Dr Tojeiro was one of only five winners out of 350 applicants.

Dr Tojeiro won her award for her studies of the past lives of galaxies, and work to understand the expanding universe. She describes her project as a quest to understand what drives the acceleration of the Universe, and explains:

“Astronomers can use three-dimensional maps of mass in the Universe to study Dark Energy, but most of the mass in the Universe is in a form that is difficult to observe. So Astronomers map the positions of galaxies instead: collections of billions of stars, gas and dust that can be seen to vast distances due to their brightness. Traditionally, galaxies are used simply as light-houses: beacons in a dark Universe that tell us where most of the mass lies. However galaxies are complex and evolving objects in themselves – a potential complication in traditional approaches. By studying certain aspects of the past lives of galaxies, I hope to use their complexity to our advantage and vastly improve the way we use these three-dimensional maps to study Dark Energy.”

L’Oréal joined forces with UNESCO seventeen years ago to form the fellowship programme to encourage greater participation of women in the field of science. These fellowships promote and reward outstanding female postdoctoral researchers, offering flexible financial help. Each worth £15,000, the fellowship can be spent on whatever they need to help drive their research forward, a unique feature of these awards.

Dr Tojeiro will use her prize money to fund a range of support including: travel to allow international collaborations, research visits, and help with childcare costs.

She will also benefit from a raft of career and life enhancing experiences such as media training, personal impact coaching, speaking opportunities, networking events and access to senior mentors and role models.

On receiving her prize Dr Tojeiro said:

“All finalists were remarkable, working on vastly different but equally fascinating subjects, which I loved learning about. By the end of the day I felt like I’d won regardless, but the announcement of the actual award later in the evening was a wonderful and welcome surprise.”

Chair of the judges Pratibha Gai, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, Founding Professor of Electron Microscopy and co-director of the York Nanocentre at the University of York commented:

“I am so proud to be involved in the For Women In Science programme in so many ways, particularly in helping to bring worthy women such as these to the attention of the scientific community. We need to do everything we can to support female scientists in this country, and in turn inspire young girls to consider STEM careers.”

Dr Tojeiro was schooled in Portugal and studied undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the University of Edinburgh. She then moved to the University of Portsmouth for 5.5 years of post-doctoral study before arriving in St Andrews in March 2014 with a 5-year Ernest Rutherford Fellowship for independent research.

Notes to news editors

The five winners were selected by a jury of eminent scientists, chaired by Professor Pratibha Gai who was L’Oréal’s International Laureate in 2013. The Jury made up of:

  • Professor Dame Anne Glover, Vice Principal External Affairs and Dean for Europe, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Beth Taylor, Vice- Chair, UK National Commission for UNESCO
  • Professor Gwyneth Stallard, Professor of Mathematics, Open University
  • Professor Helen Atkinson, Head of Mechanics of Materials Research Group, University of Leicester and VP RAE
  • Professor John O’Halloran, Chair of Zoology and Vice President, University of Cork
  • Professor Sir John Pethica FRS, Professor of Physics, Trinity College Dublin and Chief Scientific Advisor, National Physical Laboratory
  • Katriona Methven, Director of Scientific and Technical-Regulatory Affairs, L’Oréal UK and Ireland
  • Professor Sue Black, Honorary Senior Research Associate, University College London.

The L’Oréal – UNESCO For Women In Science International Programme was founded seventeen years ago by L’Oréal and UNESCO on the premise that ‘the world needs science and science needs women’. The awards programme is designed to promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science, by awarding promising female scientists with fellowships to help them further their research.

The National Fellowships, such as the UK and Ireland programme, are run in over 46 countries around the world. Each National Fellowship helps women scientists at a critical point in their career to continue to pursue their research with flexible financial aid.

For more information go to the Women in Science website.

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