Now more than ever, it is undeniable how integral science and research have become to public health. Nationwide, doctors, scientists and experts are working around the clock to find the most up-to-date and reliable information to prevent and stop the spread of Covid-19.
Here are five must-know women who are shattering ceilings, making groundbreaking discoveries, and spreading public awareness during the global pandemic.
Joy Buolamwini is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), a computer scientist and an expert in artificial intelligence bias. Four years ago, when Buolamwini was a graduate student at MIT’s Media Lab, she began looking into the racial and gender disparities in commercially-available facial recognition technologies. Her research culminated in two groundbreaking, peer-reviewed studies, published in 2018 and 2019, that revealed how systems used by Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and others were unable to classify darker female faces as accurately as those of white men—essentially shattering the myth of machine neutrality.
Buolamwini’s research helped persuade these companies to put a hold on facial recognition technology until federal regulations were passed. Through her nonprofit AJL, she has testified before lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels about the dangers of using facial recognition technologies with no oversight.
In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Buolamwini has called for a complete halt to police using such facial surveillance and is providing activists with resources and tools to demand regulation.
It’s not easy to go up against some of the biggest tech companies when you know they can deploy all of their resources against you. I am still very aware that I am a young Black woman in America. And in the field of AI, the people I was aiming to evaluate held all the purse strings. – Joy Buolamwini
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Dr. Corbett is a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). She went viral on social media this spring after news broke that Dr. Corbett, a Black female scientist, was leading the team of researchers working on a Covid-19 vaccine at the NIH.
Dr. Corbett’s passion for science stems from her summer break during high school, when she began working in a chemistry lab at the University of North Carolina. After being paired with Black grad student and future mentor, Albert Russell, she was able to see how it was possible for her to impact science through representation. Dr. Corbett has stressed the importance of mentors and advocates, crediting her boss, Dr. Barney Graham, for the opportunity to lead and be visible in Covid-19 vaccine research.
I am true to who I am, but I understand that there is a level of professionalism that is attached to essentially what is my newfound status as a scientific lead of this coronavirus vaccine. – Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Kathrin U. Jansen
Kathrin Jansen is a senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer. She is currently leading a group of more than 650 people focused on delivering the next wave of vaccine innovation.
Over the course of her career, Jansen has contributed to the prevention of infectious diseases around the world through vaccines that are widely used by people of all ages. She has also led the development of lifesaving vaccines against the human papilloma virus, meningococcal meningitis and pneumococcal pneumonia. Today, she’s leading Pfizer’s work with German partner BioNTech to deliver a potential mRNA vaccine against Covid-19. Kathrin’s determination is legendary—as is her scientific rigor and bold thinking.
If you have a scientific intuition and you’re careful with your experimentation, at the end, you have to follow your gut and not let naysayers derail you. – Kathrin Jansen
Patel is the director for vaccine development and antibody discovery at Novavax and leads an all-female team working to create a viable vaccine for Covid-19.
The little-known Maryland vaccine development company, which received a $1.6 billion deal from the federal government for its experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced encouraging results in two preliminary studies back in August.
Though more testing needs to be done, Patel and her team have since found three possible vaccines. Compared to some of the other candidates among the dozens of Covid-19 vaccines in various stages of development right now, this one may have an advantage, because it uses an approach that has been successfully tried with other vaccines, like those that protect against shingles. At the end of August, it was announced that Novavax would supply Canada with 76 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine to the country.
I think in science, it’s more common for women to be in the lab than the guys. – Nita Patel
Dr. Leana Wen
As an emergency physician, former health commissioner for Baltimore, and a visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University School of Public Health, Dr. Wen has been a leading voice in public health and a frequent commentator about coronavirus.
As an expert in pandemic preparedness and response, she is an on-air commentator for CNN as a medical analyst and has been a frequent guest expert on the Covid-19 crisis for CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and National Public Radio. In addition, she has written numerous pieces for Know Your Value on the best precautions to take throughout the pandemic’s continually-evolving science. In early April, Dr. Wen gave birth to her second child, Isabelle, and shared her first-hand experience of the challenges of pregnancy and delivery during a pandemic.
During times of uncertainty, it helps kids to know that there are things that are in their control, and that they can do their part to help others too. – Dr. Wen