Celebrating Women’s History Month: Highlighting the Pioneering Research of Three Women Scientists


The world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, saluting women for their achievements and reflecting on the courage and determination of those who advance gender equality.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation has long supported the advancement of women in science, particularly in bringing gender equality to that male-dominated field.

In 2019, along with the New York Academy of Sciences, the Foundation announced finalists for the 2019 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists in chemistry, physical sciences and engineering, and life sciences. Of the 31 finalists, nearly a third were women, up 80% from the National Awards inception in 2014.

For many of these women, their passion for science blossomed early, nurtured by caring family members and teachers, while professors and colleagues later provided inspiration and guidance for them to fulfill their academic ambitions.

Now, they are among the nation’s rising stars in their respective fields.

In celebration of IWD 2021, we are highlighting the achievements of these women as they share their research, the journey from early days in science to where they are today, and their thoughts on how women are shaping the future of science.


Heather Lynch, 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Laureate in Life Sciences

Quantitative ecologist, Heather Lynch, PhD, from Stony Brook University monitors Antarctic penguin populations using field surveys in concert with satellite imagery that can track the size of penguin colonies on the ground. Using advanced mathematical modeling and data on the spatiotemporal patterns of penguin populations, Dr. Lynch can detect population declines predictive of penguin colony collapse. She discovered one of the largest undetected colonies of Adélie penguins off the Danger Islands in Antarctica. Her work is particular importance as this species provides key data on the health of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.



Ana Maria Rey, 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering

Atomic clock maker and quantum physicist, Ana Maria Rey, PhD from University of Colorado Boulder and a fellow of NIST and JILA is exploring some of the most challenging and fundamental problems in physics. Working with experimentalists, Dr. Rey’s innovative theoretical work led to the development of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, useful in GPS and telecommunications, but also useful for the discovery of new quantum physics. In addition, Dr. Rey has developed and tested theories on atomic collisions between strontium atoms. The collisions exhibit properties observed in fundamental particles and may potentially enable the construction of a quantum computer.



Emily Balskus, 2019 Blavatnik National Laureate in Chemistry

Microbe hunter Emily Balskus, PhD is a chemical biologist at Harvard University leading breakthrough advances at the interface of chemistry, enzymology, and microbiology. She was named 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Laureate in Chemistry. Dr. Balskus’s research is focused on identifying the novel chemistry of the human gut microbiome and deciphering the role that gut microbial metabolism plays in human health and disease. One signature achievement is elucidating the mechanism by which bacterial toxins called Colibactins are biosynthesized and behave within the gut, potentially causing DNA damage and colon cancer.