International Day of Women and Girls in Science: celebrating Saint Helena science pioneers

  • Mark Yon 

February 11th is designated as International Day of Women and Girls in Science https://www.un.org/en/observances/women-and-girls-in-science-day/ to promote women and girls in science, promoting full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

On a global scale less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. The Global Agenda for Sustainable Development https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org be it working to improve health or combat climate change requires that every nation realise all potential. To achieve this, the world needs more women working in all scientific fields contributing talent, creativity and different perspectives.

At SHRI we wanted to make a contribution to the International Day and give recognition to some of the women engaged in science on St Helena and making important contributions to our knowledge, understanding and management of our environment and well-being.

Dr Tara Murphy

Dr Tara Murphy is a clinical psychologist currently working with the Health Directorate on Saint Helena.

Tara has co-written books for people with tic disorders and co-authored more than 40 peer reviewed papers. She has been involved in making documentaries on neurodevelopmental conditions (tic disorders, autism and epilepsy) which are available on YouTube. Most recently, with colleagues, Tara has written a booked called “The Incredible Teenage Brain: Everything You Need to Know to Unlock Your Teen’s Potential” to help parents, professionals and young people understand how to get the best from their teenage brain.

Tara is curious to understand what makes the young people of Saint Helena resilient. She has designed a study which will use questionnaires and interviews to work what the needs of young people are, how they cope and what services to support them should look like. The study is planned to be carried out in 2020 and will form part of a PhD study with University of Nottingham, in the UK.

Vanessa Thomas-Williams

Vanessa Thomas-Williams, the St Helena Government Nursery Officer is a custodian of the genetic diversity of St Helena’s endemic plants.

Vanessa employs scientific techniques routinely across each stage of the conservation process from collecting seed, storing seed, propagation to planting back out in the wild. She is currently working with Dr Alan Grey of the Centre for Ecology (CEH) and Hydrology and Professor Quentin Cronk of the University of British Columbia (UBC) to investigate the genetics of St Helena’s rare endemics. The team use morphometric and genetic (DNA) techniques to study differences between sub-populations of different species. They have identified a potentially new sub-species or variety of old father live-forever (Pelargonium cotyledonis), identified differences between different populations of peak grass (Carex dianae) that could represent varieties and confirmed that despite very different growth form shown in different sub-populations of the St Helena plantain (Plantago robusta) there isn’t significant variation at the DNA level. These are all important findings which Vanessa applies to ensure conservation action is actively conserving the genetic variation existent in the species.

Sheena Isaac

Sheena Isaac is the Outreach and Education Officer at the St Helena National Trust inspiring future generations of Saint scientists.

Sheena ensures that the scientific knowledge gained within the Trust’s Terrestrial and Marine Conservation Teams is shared in engaging and inspiring ways. Working closely with all the Island’s schools, Sheena encourages pupils to discover and get involved in science to develop their understanding and appreciation of our environment.

Natasha Stevens

Natasha Stevens, in the right of the picture is an entomologist (bug specialist). She works as part of an all women invertebrate team at the St Helena National Trust.

With over 420 endemic terrestrial invertebrate species she is always discovering something new. Recently having undertaken an exposure trip to the UK, visiting a number of invertebrate experts, she is helping to increase the knowledge and understanding of invertebrates needs on St Helena and how we can help look after them.