Two University of Tartu researchers were awarded fellowships For Women in Science

The recipients of this year’s 6,000-euro young talent awards of the L’Oreal Baltic For Women in Science Programme are University of Tartu researcher Kaija Põhako-Esko and doctoral student Mari-Ann Lind. With the help of the fellowship they try to help people with innovative soft robotics solutions and improve the living conditions of animals through microbial research.

Kaija Põhako-Esko, Associate Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Tartu Institute of Technology, wants to use the L’Oreal fellowship to develop novel materials for soft robotics devices.

“Soft robotics deals with devices that are soft and compatible with the human body, such as clothing-like exoskeletons, which help people with reduced mobility and rehabilitation patients. Exoskeletons are also often used to ensure safety and avoid injuries in the field of sports and occupational health. I want to develop new materials. To his end, I combine textile technologies and electroactive polymers – materials that change their shape in response to an electrical signal. Textile is a good starting point for developing useful and novel soft robotics devices – we all wear textile clothes and textile technologies have been elaborated to perfection over centuries,” Põhako-Esko explained.

Mari-Ann Lind, a doctoral student in Animal Ecology at the University of Tartu, plans to use the fellowship to study the impact of anthropogenic pollution on flounder in the Baltic Sea. She says it is important to find out whether fish have got evolutionary cancer defence mechanisms as a result of long-term pollution, for example, whether their gut microbes help them better cope with carcinogenic pollutants. “Earlier studies have suggested an association between gut microbiome and cancer development. I want to find out whether such an association exists. The results of the research will help better understand the impact of pollution on fish, which enables to create more effective environmental measures and better control the release of pollutants into the environment. “Research into animal cancers can also offer innovative ideas for medicine, such as human cancer treatment,” said Lind.

According to Tarmo Soomere, President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, it is important to notice young talented female scientists who are committed to finding innovative and practical solutions for society.

“A future worth living can only be based on balance and gender equality in all key aspects of society. Supporting young talented women researchers is one of the most advanced and effective ways to achieve this balance. Such recognition is an inspiration for the entire society,” Soomere said.

In Estonia, the award For Women in Science was launched five years ago. It has been so far awarded to six brilliant women scientists: Els Heinsalu, Karin Kogermann, Tuul Sepp, Kaarin Parts, Maarja Grossberg and Lisandra Marina Da Rocha Meneses-Nandha.

The L’Oréal Baltic initiative For Women in Science is the only programme in the Baltic states that, in cooperation with the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO and the Estonian Academy of Sciences, supports the professional development of women scientists and the achievement of their important goals. The programme emerged from the global programme For Women in Science, created by UNESCO and L’Oreal in 1998 to increase the number of female scientists and promote gender equality in the science world.