March 26, 2024

Dr Sara Keller, from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science, has been awarded a 2024 Rising Talent Award from the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme. The initiative recognises exceptional early career women scientists in the UK and Ireland.

“It is incredibly important to showcase positive female role models for young women aspiring to pursue STEM careers, demonstrating that these paths are not only achievable but also accessible. The L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science Awards play a key part in this, through promoting and providing flexible funding for women at critical junctures in their careers to pursue research in STEM fields, many of which are still male-dominated.”

Dr Sara Keller, Department of Engineering Science, Oxford University

Each year, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme awards five prestigious grants to outstanding women postdoctoral scientists in the fields of Physical Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Computing, Life Science, and Sustainable Development.

This year, Dr Keller received the Engineering Rising Talent Award for her work to develop ultrasound molecular imaging probes for the rapid diagnosis of bacterial infections with the aim of creating new tools for image-guided interventions.

Dr Keller said: ‘It is an incredible honour to win this award, and it was wonderful to share this recognition with other extremely impressive women scientists and engineers across the United Kingdom and Ireland. I am very grateful to my academic mentors who have provided incredible support to me; specifically, Professor Mike Averkiou at University of Washington (my PhD supervisor) and Professors Eleanor Stride, Constantin Coussios, and Robin Cleveland at Oxford. And of course, to my own mum, who is also an engineer and provided me with a stellar role model for what it means to be a woman in STEM!’

Dr Keller first joined the Department of Engineering Science’s Biomedical Ultrasonics, Biotherapy, and Biopharmaceuticals Laboratory (BUBBL) as a postdoctoral researcher in November 2021 to work on the Beyond Antibiotics Programme. Her initial work focused on using high-intensity focused ultrasound as a novel antibiotic, by mechanically disrupting biofilms created by infectious bacteria. Her passion and success in this complex and challenging area inspired her to successfully apply for her own independent research funding through a Glasstone Research Fellowship, awarded by Oxford University’s Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences Division.

Since October 2023, Dr Keller has researched novel methods of using contrast-enhanced ultrasound to diagnose bacterial infections specifically and rapidly, to mitigate unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions that drive antimicrobial resistance. Ultimately, this could enable image-guided delivery of antibiotics, reducing excess use. The £25,000 funding from the Rising Talent Award will provide her with the freedom and flexibility to develop her ideas, and consolidate herself as an independent researcher.

Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee & sponsor for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme commented: ‘Congratulations to this year’s L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women in Science Rising Talent fellows. Giving a platform and visibility to women scientists is everyone’s responsibility, Government, civil society, and business, because if you cannot see it, you cannot be it. Neither the UK, nor the world, can successfully respond to the pressing environmental and societal challenges without unleashing the knowledge and capability of women scientists.’

Professor Anne Anderson, Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Board of Directors said: ‘Congratulations to the 2024 Rising Talents. As we stand at a pivotal moment in time for scientific advancement, UNESCO continues to highlight the importance of true gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the vital role women play in a more equitable scientific society.’

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science global partnership has been established for 26 years; supporting over 250 talented women researchers from 110 countries annually. In the UK the programme is a partnership between L’Oréal UK & Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO, and the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society.

Further information about the awards and the 2024 winners can be found on the website.