News Release

Five women scientists in developing countries win 2020 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards

Early-career researchers living and working in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Yemen have been recognized for their work in engineering, innovation and technology

Grant and Award Announcement


Seattle, February 14, 2020 - Five researchers have been named winners of the 2020 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World for their research in engineering, innovation and technology. The winning scholars from Bangladesh, Guatemala, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Yemen are being recognized for their diverse accomplishments in engineering, innovation & technology. The prize also acknowledges the scientists' commitment to leading and mentoring young scientists, and to improving lives and livelihoods in their communities and regions.

"Recognition and visibility are important aspects of a scientific career," said OWSD President Jennifer Thomson. "OWSD is proud and happy to be able to give these inspiring women scientists the recognition they deserve: for their outstanding science, their commitment to building a better world and their persistence in often challenging circumstances."

The five winning researchers are:

  • Susana Arrechea of the University San Carlos of Guatemala; in chemical engineering and nanotechnology;
  • Champika Ellawalla Kankanamge of the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka; in environmental engineering;
  • Chao Mbogo of Kenya Methodist University; in computer science;
  • Samia Subrina of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology; in electronic engineering and nanotechnology; and
  • Fathiah Zakham of Hodeidah University in Yemen; in bioengineering and microbiology.

"Over the past seven years, OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation have celebrated a breathtaking array of innovative research coming from high achieving women scientists working in some of the most resource constrained circumstances. Our 2020 winners continue to address crucial UN Sustainable Development Goals with inspiring results.

"From preserving river ecosystems, to tapping nanotechnology for innovative environmental interventions, designing rapid, early stage turbuculosis diagnostics, and training the next generation of computer programmers," added Prof. Thomson.

First awarded in 2013, the awards are given in partnership by OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation. OWSD chairs a panel of distinguished scientists to select the winners, and the Elsevier Foundation supports a prize for each winner of USD $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the annual AAAS Meeting (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in Seattle, February 12-16, 2020. The five winners will be honored on February 15 at a special breakfast ceremony during the AAAS Meeting.

Past OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award winners have been received by their country's presidents and celebrated by local, national and international media. They have received other prestigious awards and fellowships including the L'OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships and the British Council Award.

Notes for editors

The awards ceremony will take place February 15, 2020 during the Minority and Women Scientists and Engineers Networking Breakfast from 7:00-9:00 AM PST in Seattle at the AAAS Annual Meeting (American Association for the Advancement of Science).

Journalists wishing to attend the ceremony may contact Domiziana Francescon at">

The 2020 winners are:

  • Susana Arrechea, Guatemala in Chemical engineering and nanotechnology: For her work on the potential industrial and environmental applications of materials such as nanoparticles, nanotubes, and graphene, which can be employed in creating more sustainable building materials, in water treatment, and in solar devices and other renewable energy solutions. "Winning the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award means showing to my baby daughter and to other young Guatemalans that scientific research can be done and recognized worldwide regardless of gender, origin of birth, or where you grew up," said Dr. Arrechea. "This award encourages me to keep doing research in Guatemala."
  • Champika Ellawalla Kankanamge, Sri Lanka inEnvironmental engineering: For her research on aquatic ecosystem conservation and pollution control. Her work contributes to the control of invasive aquatic plants in river ecosystems and the prevention of ecosystem degradation, by restoring shade and encouraging the natural resistance of other native plants in the ecosystem to the invasive species. "Receiving this prestigious award proved to me that my efforts were valued and my work has been recognized," said Dr. Ellawalla Kankanamge. "It will help me to continue and also to encourage young girls in advancement of their career."
  • Chao Mbogo, Kenya in Computer science: For her work designing techniques to support students in resource-constrained environments to learn computer programming using mobile devices. Her research finds ways to circumvent limitations such as small screens and small keypads, that make it difficult for students to use mobile phones for programming in areas where computers are not easily available. "This Award is a testament that designing technological tools that support learners is important and timely work, especially for students in developing countries who may not have much access to information or opportunities," said Dr. Mbogo. "This award has acted as a strong reminder to me to never stop holding the ladder up for others."
  • Samia Subrina, Bangladesh in Electronic engineering and nanotechnology: For her research on thermal and electronic transport in nanoscale materials and the applications of these materials in nanoscale devices. Her work has the potential to extend the lifespan and reduce degradation in such devices by preventing overheating, supporting the development of new technologies such as low-power nanoelectronics, high-efficiency solar cells, and thermoelectric power generators. "This prestigious award is not only recognition and a driving force for my work," said Dr. Subrina. "It is also an inspiration for my fellow mates in the journey to ensure equity in STEM in the developing world."
  • Fathiah Zakham, Yemen inBioengineering and microbiology: For her work using biotechnology and bioengineering to develop rapid, accurate and cheap tools for the diagnosis and management of tuberculosis and other emerging infectious diseases. Her research is contributing to earlier diagnosis and better surveillance of these diseases in areas with poor infrastructure. "As a Yemeni female scientist, receiving this award will motivate me to continue my research," said Dr. Zakham. "This award is an excellent and important initiative to promote the role of women scientists in their local communities, despite the hardship that they face."

Reference sheets for each award winner with a more extensive biography and description of their work are available upon request.


About OWSD

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world. Headed by eminent women scientists from the South, OWSD has more than 9,000 members and runs various programmes, including a PhD fellowship programme with over 270 successful graduates from Least Developed Countries and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an Early Career fellowship programme providing research grants of up to USD$50,000 in addition to leadership training. OWSD is the first international forum to unite women scientists from the developing world with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership. OWSD is affiliated with The World Academy of Science (TWAS), a programme unit of UNESCO, and is based in Trieste, Italy, with national chapters throughout the developing world.">

About The Elsevier Foundation

The Elsevier Foundation provides grants to knowledge centered institutions around the world, with a sustainability focus on innovations in health information, diversity in STM, research in developing countries and technology for development. Since 2006, the Foundation has awarded more than 100 grants worth millions of dollars to non-profit organizations working in these fields. Through gift-matching, the Foundation also supports the efforts of Elsevier employees to play a positive role in their local and global communities. The Elsevier Foundation is a corporate not-for-profit 501(c)(3), funded by Elsevier, a global information analytics business.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we're committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contacts

Domiziana Francescon, Program Officer
Elsevier Foundation
+31 6 102 159 01

Erin Johnson, Communications Officer
+39 040 2240 387

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