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Sustainability through science

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The Names of L'Oreal (Thailand)'s "Women in Science 2017" awardees are announced along with honorary awards to two former fellows

In what has become an annual celebration of work in the field of science, three Thai researchers have once again been recognised with the Women in Science awards by L’Oreal (Thailand) for their outstanding work in creating sustainable solutions and contributing towards the development of the country. 
In addition, to mark the 15th anniversary of the fellowships, the beauty company has introduced the honorary L’Oreal Woman Scientist Crystal Awards to reward two former fellows of the programme. 
In the Life Science category, the fellowship was granted to Assistant Professor Dr Marisa Ponpuak from the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, for her research entitled “The study of autophagy to find new drugs for malaria and tuberculosis”.
The fellowship grant in the Materials Science category went to Associate Professor Dr Napida Hinchiranan from the Department of Chemical Technology, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University, for her study “Applications of natural rubber to create value-added products and alternative energy in a comprehensive way”. 
The third fellowship in the Chemistry category was awarded to Dr Pussana Hirunsit from the National Nanotechnology Centre, National Science and Technology Development Agency, for her research entitled “Applying Solid-State DFT simulations for design and development to tailor properties of novel nanocatalysts and nanostructured materials for renewable energy and environmental applications leading to sustainable development”.
The honorary Crystal awards were given to Professor Dr Pimchai Chaiyen, who was awarded a fellowship grant from L’Oreal Thailand’s “For Women in Science” in 2003, Professor Dr Pimchai’s research was entitled “A study of oxygenase enzyme for aromatic degradation”. Further studies under this project have identified applications in the production of value-added chemicals with clean technology, without the use of hazardous chemicals and with reduced waste discharge.
These findings can help turn waste from the agro or petro-industries into value-added chemicals and energy. Moreover, this technology also helps reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming. 
The research by Dr Napida and Dr Pussana adopts the same approach. Para rubber is one of the main agro-industrial crops in Thailand and with prices on a downward spiral, Dr Napida’s research allows from the creation of value-added products and alternative energy.
“The research will help create innovations from chemically modified natural rubber and can be commercially developed in the future, which will fully and sustainably utilise rubber. At the same time, deteriorated rubber from the transportation and industry sectors can be developed into pyrolysis oil. Fuels obtained from the pyrolysis of deteriorated rubbers need continuous research and improvement if they are to become a viable alternative energy source to strengthen the country in a comprehensive way,” she says, adding that fuel from rubber, both new and deteriorated, is as good as the diesel fuel obtained from petroleum oil. 
“But we can’t do it commercially for mass production because in legal terms, diesel fuel must be from petroleum,” she says.
The research from Dr Pussana in “Applying Solid-State DFT simulations for design and development to tailor properties of novel nano catalysts for renewable energy and environmental applications leading to sustainable development” is the main methodology used in identifying key factors (descriptors) influencing activity and selectivity of nanocatalysts.
Dr Pussana is working on her research at the National Nanotechno- logy Centre at National Science and Technology Development Agency and her focus is on developing catalysts for electrochemical reduction reaction of CO2 conversion to chemical products, which have economic value and for biomass conversion to biofuels and biochemicals. The research has developed a sustainable process to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, which is the main cause of climate change and global warming. This research also contributes to making renewable energy production more efficient.
Identifying an inexpensive catalyst substance will help in the CO2 conversion process, making it practical and viable for use in factories.
In 2016, Thais released an average of 3.9 tons of carbon dioxide each, an amount that is expected to increase.Dr Passanan hopes her CO2 conversion model will help decrease this amount by as much as 10 per cent.
Meanwhile the winner of the Life Science award focuses on medical research into drug resistance. Assistant Professor Dr Marisa notes that the discovery of autophagy as an important immune mechanism in killing liver-stage Plasmodium vivax could reduce the prevalence of the disease in Thailand and elsewhere around the globe. Her research has also examined the use of autophagy in overcoming drug resistance to TB treatments. 
“The study of molecules from Thai natural products with a defined structure that can help activate autophagy may lead to the development of a supplementary or new medicine to cure malaria infections and may help in developing medications to treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s diseases in the future,” she says.
The study of resistance to cellular Autophagy by Mycobacterium tuberculosis Beijing strains can also be developed to create new medicines effective in killing the Beijing strains, which are among the most common and drug-resistant infections in Thailand.
Her research is timely, as just last week the Public Health Ministry announced it was adding the drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) to the contagious disease list. Thailand was among the top 14 countries to record prevalence in TB in 2016 and it is believed that there are now around 120,000 TB patients.
Crystal awardee Dr Anchalee’s research into powder metallurgy processes and products to increase Thailand’s manufacturing capability has been successfully implemented in industry as well as in the academic field. The best example of this work is the development of the fabrication process for titanium foam. This has been used by a private company in Thailand and is now being commercially manufactured and distributed.
“The award completely changed my life. I was approached by the private sector for consultations, funding research grants and technology transfer. I was also given the chance to spread my knowledge of powder metallurgy to the Thai industrial sector, contributing to the excellence in Thai manufacturing capability of metal parts for sustainable development of the country,” says Dr Anchalee who works at National Metal and Materials Technology Centere (MTEC), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA). Next year, she will work with a global company in setting up a factory in Europe.
Dr Anchalee explains that using the metal powder for creating parts and products decreases the waste from pumping from the mould. Today it is being used in making the tiniest parts of watches as well as in other businesses.
“Women in science are well respected here in Thailand and I would like to tell the young generation who love science or are interested in research that it is possible to make a living from this work,” adds Dr Pimchai. After years of research into enzymes, Dr Pimchai and her team came up with protein markers that can be produced commercially and through her start-up is now distributing these on a commercial scale, thus reducing dependence on imports. 
The two Crystal award winners will join the workshop in Paris, France that will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the L’Or้al’s “For Women in Science” programme.
This fellowships were established in 1997 by L'Or้al Group and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). To date, the programme has offered fellowships to more than 2,500 female scientists and researchers from 112 countries.
In Thailand, the L’Oreal For Women in Science fellowship programme was set up in 2002 and offers a Bt250,000 grant every year to each of the selected Thai female researchers aged between 25 and 40 years working in the categories of Life Science, Materials Science and Chemistry. The programme has granted 61 fellowships to Thai female researchers to date.
Apart from creating sustainability for community and country, which has been the main focus of the programme throughout the last 15 years, each grant is carefully assessed by a jury made up of respected experts in various scientific fields. The selection criteria are based on the benefits of the research, accurate research methodologies and peer acceptance.

Published : September 25, 2017