AsianScientist (Mar. 2, 2021) – On February 11, Asian Scientist Magazine marked the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day dedicated to recognizing the invaluable scientific contributions of women across the world. Our top stories for February not only celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but also reveal the complex gender-based perceptions through which they must navigate.
As the quest for COVID-19’s origins continue, our other highlights detail how researchers have found SARS-CoV-2 relatives in Southeast Asia. Another surprising discovery? A tiny mouse once thought to be extinct in the wake of the Philippines’ Mt Pinatubo catastrophic eruption. Meanwhile in India, expeditions have revealed the extent of microplastic pollution in the Ganges river basin—a first step in understanding and managing oceanic microplastic.
If you missed out on the latest scientific breakthroughs from Asia, here are five pieces from February 2021 to bring you up to speed.
In Singapore, women make up less than 30 percent of local researchers and engineers. To examine local perceptions of girls and women in STEM careers, Asian Scientist Magazine, in collaboration with international market research firm YouGov, surveyed 1,064 Singapore-based respondents.
Overall, parents of children under 18 believed that boys and girls were equally suited to science and technology subjects. However, more respondents perceived ‘hard science’ subjects like advanced mathematics as better suited for boys and humanities subjects like literature and art as more suitable for girls.
Despite uneven perceptions, respondents were mostly supportive of initiatives like elevated media visibility, career talks and scholarship schemes to increase the interest of young girls in STEM. Such initiatives are a step in the right direction towards gender parity in Singapore’s STEM ecosystem.
Last February, we also highlighted the many achievements of trailblazing women in STEM across the region. Consider Professor Jackie Ying, head of the NanoBio Lab at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), who was elected to the prestigious US National Academy of Engineering for her pioneering work developing nanostructured materials, nanomedicine and diagnostic devices to improve human health.
Meanwhile, synthetic chemist Professor Kyoto Nozaki from the University of Tokyo was recognized with the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science Award for her work in designing molecular catalysts to manufacture molecules useful in medicine and agriculture. Elsewhere, up-and-coming researchers Dr. Khongorzul Dorigotov from Mongolia and Dr. Imalka Munaweera from Sri Lanka were conferred the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.
When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the area’s unique fauna was thought destroyed along with their lush forest habitat. Twenty years later, Field Museum researcher Mr. Danilo “Danny” Balete and his team ventured to Mt. Pinatubo to discover the fate of its biodiversity. To their surprise, they documented 17 species living on the mountain including bats, rodents and mammals like pig and deer.
Once thought extinct, the most abundant species turned out to be the Pinatubo volcano mouse—demonstrating the ability of small native mammals to tolerate disasters like volcanic eruptions. Amid the arid landscape, the researchers also found promising signs of regrowth. As Mt. Pinatubo continues to recover, the forests will return along with other resilient mammalian species that once called it home.
Recently, researchers discovered a virus named RacCS203 in a colony of Rhinolophus acuminatus bats in Eastern Thailand with 91.5 percent genome similarity to SARS-CoV-2. While these findings suggest that the virus emerged from bats, evidence of related coronaviruses have also been found in pangolins. Aside from Thailand, SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses have also been observed in China and Japan—supporting the notion that SARS-CoV-2 relatives may be widespread across East and Southeast Asia.
Thousands of people flock to the sacred Ganges River daily to bathe, fish and partake in religious rituals. Despite warnings of high pollution levels, the surrounding river basin still remains the one of the most heavily populated in the world.
In 2019, an international research team embarked on two expeditions to map the microplastics generated by human activities. Microplastics were identified in 71.6 percent and 61.5 percent of pre-monsoon and post-monsoon samples respectively. Of the microplastics found, over 90 percent were fibers, with clothing materials like rayon and acrylic as the most abundant—reflecting the impacts of increasing human activity along the rivers.
The team concluded that up to three billion microplastics are likely released from the river basin every day. With this information, researchers can better understand how pollution in major river systems contribute to oceanic microplastics.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Oi Keat Lam and Shelly Liew/AsianScientist.
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