Latin American Women in Microscopy: special issue for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Posted by , on 11 February 2023

The FocalPlane blog of interviews to Latin American scientists who specialize in microscopy was “born” with various aims in mind. One of the main aims is to shed light into the people behind the microscope –scientists from Latin America – their life and career paths, their contributions to science, and their expectations and hopes for the future of science and microscopy in the region. We have discussed this, among many other topics over a 90 minute Zoom interview. We hope to interview over 500 scientists from 35 countries in the region over the next 5 years, and hopefully continue beyond this time. Each place in the world faces different realities, and if we are to reach equality, equity and truly democratic science, it’s important to hear all voices. This project wouldn’t be possible without the participation and time of all the scientists who have taken part in it. In it, we have aimed at equal representation considering various aspects, including gender. Over the last year, 58 scientists (21 of whom are women) from 6 countries (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia) have shared their experiences with us. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’d like to highlight all the women who have so far participated in this project.

Many of the women participating in the interviews are leaders in various areas of science and beyond, as well as role models themselves. Below, we highlight quotes from all the inspiring women we have had the chance of speaking to, in a range of topics relevant to their persistence, courage, inspiration, determination and future hopes.

Brazilian participants in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Erica Martins Duarte, Lia Medeiros, Aline Araujo, Moara Lemos, Carolina Catta-Preta.

Erica Martins Duarte (Group leader of Parasitology at UFMG, Brazil): On being a microscopist and her research line in parasitology: “There’s so much information in an image, that it makes you want to stay forever taking pictures. I think my first interest in parasitology arose from the fact that Brazil is endemic to many parasites».
Lia Medeiros (Head of the electron microscopy at Fiocruz, Brazil): On the importance of women in leadership positions in science: “I think it makes a huge difference for us to have this mirror: women in positions of leadership ».
Aline Araujo (Postdoctoral fellow at Institut Pasteur, France): On the importance of women in leadership positions in science: “ In Brazil, I only ever worked with women leaders during my career, both in industry and academia. That shaped my vision that I could become a leader myself and that there was nothing I couldn’t do because of my gender».
 Moara Lemos (Head of electron microscopy at Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Portugal): On being a microscopist: “It’s like opening a curtain and finding a secret. It’s a ritual for me. I go to the microscope and I open a curtain to the unknown. About leeches, I found many in the Amazonia, even inside alligators’ mouths».
 Carolina Catta-Preta (Postdoctoral fellow at NIH Bethesda, USA): On her future career: I feel […] during my career I managed to ‘build’ a toolkit that includes molecular biology and microscopy. I think in the future as an independent researcher I can connect these dots to do what I really like, which is drug target validation.»
Uruguayan participants in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Maria Eugenia Francia, Marcela Diaz, Paola Scavone, Gabriela Casanova.

Maria Eugenia Francia (Group leader at Institut Pasteur Montevideo, Uruguay, and organizer of LatAmBOP): On founding the Latin American Biology of Parasitism course, an internationally renowned course for parasitologists: “The inspiration came from the Biology of Parasitism (BOP) course, and also from Middle East BOP (MeBOP) course. […] I thought to myself “this has to exist for all regions of the world”.
Marcela Diaz (IPM Advanced Imaging Unit member and CZI grantee to train imaging educators, Uruguay): On generating imaging technologies in-country: “I am very happy to be part of these initiatives, and hopefully contribute to a better future for microscopy in Uruguay».
Paola Scavone (Group leader at IIBCE and comic creator, Uruguay): On her participation within a group of microbiologists that generates scientific comics as well as online games, video games and short films aimed at children and adolescents: «With the comics we also want to send this message to the girls: that they can be scientists.Additionally, we want that the super-heroes are in equal measure, women and men.»
Gabriela Casanova (Head of electron microscopy unit, president of the Uruguayan society of Microscopy and Imaging, and LABI executive committee member, Uruguay): On the historical role of women in science in Uruguay.  In the 1960s and 1970s in Uruguay, men were in charge of handling the microscopes and “doing science” and the women’s work was limited to preparing samples and washing the laboratory material so that the men could do research.»

Argentinian participants in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Victoria Alonso, Virginia Albarracin, Lucia Lopez and Valeria Levi.

Victoria Alonso (Group leader at IBR-CONICET and National University of Rosario, Argentina):  On her early work as a scientist: “My mom is an anatomist/ pathologist, and we lived in a small city, where she had her own lab. I basically grew up in that lab! So since my childhood I became familiar with histological sectioning. Then as a teenager […] I had to work in the mornings in my mom’s lab.»
Virginia Albarracin (Group leader, Head of EM unit, and creator of Ciencia con M, in Tucuman, Argentina). On her work in extreme environments, and future dreams: “I’ve always worked on thermophiles […] Speaking of extremophiles, I used to watch […] documentaries about the International Space Station, and I really wanted to go there and do research. I still consider it […].»
Lucía López (Super-resolution expert and assistant researcher at CIBION, Argentina): On her hopes for the future of microscopy in Argentina: “I hope to […] make my expertise available and contribute to accessible and equitable science […] For instance I am currently writing a protocol on how to optimize the setups to do MINFLUX. I think all these techniques should become accessible to people with not so many resources.»
Valeria Levi (Group leader at the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences at CONICET, Argentina): On the strengths of Argentinian education: Argentina has a long-standing tradition of high-quality, public and free universities that persists throughout the years despite the fact that Argentina is not a rich country. We firmly believe that education is a human right and not a privilege. This simple but powerful statement promotes a very stimulating environment for research, learning and teaching.»
Chilean participants in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Maria Isabel Yuseff, Alenka Lovy, Karina Palma, Cristina Bertocchi and Veronica Eisner.

Maria Isabel Yuseff (Group leader at Pontificia Universidad de Chile, Chile): On women in leadership roles: “I first wondered whether this would not distract me from my scientific career, but soon concluded that being in this position I could really have an impact and be a role model. It would be a position which would allow me to inspire and help the students in a way I would otherwise not be able to.»
Alenka Lovy (Assistant Professor at CIB and leader at LiSIUM, Chile): On establishing low-cost light sheet microscopes in the Latin American sub-continent: “We reckon it would be brilliant to build these microscopes and be able to travel with them, to show researchers across the whole country what you can do with them, and to teach how they can be built if they are useful for those places. It’s something we’re working on.»
Karina Palma (Postdoctoral researcher at LEO and SCIAN-Lab, Chile): On her choice to develop her career as a researcher in Chile:«For me, to stay in Chile to develop my scientific career was a conscious decision. I want to contribute to the scientific and technological development of my country.»
Cristina Bertocchi (Group leader and member of the Advanced Microscopy Unit committee at Pontificia Universidad de Chile, Chile): On her love for microscopy: “I have been using microscopy since my very first step in a laboratory […] and it has been love at first sight. I probably felt the same kind of excitement like when von Leuwenhoek for the first time looked at microorganisms moving in a drop of water. And, I never let it go.»
Veronica Eisner (Executive Member of LABI, Group Leader and Academic Director of the Advanced Microscopy Unit at Pontificia Universidad de Chile, Chile). On the importance of infrastructure and capacity-building in Chile: “Doing science in the place where we were born and grew up, close to our families is a privilege. We shouldn’t have to go abroad to do high-quality science, and [my] vision is to be able to achieve this at home.”
Paraguayan participant in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Andrea Maldonado.

Andrea Maldonado ( SEM specialist at GBIOMAT, UNA, Paraguay): On the importance of female role models: “A role model for me is my mum. She’s an engineer and a professor – since I was very young she always encouraged my dreams, and told me I should not limit my ambitions simply because I’m a woman […] I’m lucky to have been raised in a family where I had her example and support. But this is not the rule in Paraguay – many girls don’t have an immediate role model like I did.”
Bolivian participants in the Focal Plane interviews to Latin American microscopists: Licyel Lenny Paulas Condori and the Microscopia Para Todos team, and Leslie Tejeda.

Licyel Lenny Paulas Condori (National coordinator and co-founder of Microscopia Para Todos, Bolivia):  On the aim of Microscopia para todos ( “We realized that not every student in Bolivia has access to science – starting with a microscope – and we wanted to promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) disciplines in a way that any child and adolescent, regardless of socio-cultural or socio-economic background, could have access to natural wonders”.   
Leslie Tejeda (Food Biochemistry Researcher and member of Swebol Biotech, Bolivia) On the importance of perseverance: “I’m a mother of two girls, and although sometimes I felt like switching to a different job because of the difficulties of academic life, I realized it was important for me on one hand not to give up on my own dreams and on the other hand, to change the landscape for future generations of women (which includes my daughters).”
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