ALD22: Professor Hailan Hu, Neuroscientist

Hailan Hu

Professor Hailan Hu

Hailan Hu, 胡海岚, is a neuroscientist who studies the neurological mechanisms behind emotional and social experiences and how they change the brain’s neural circuitry. Her work is opening up new approaches to treating mental illness.

Born in China in 1973, Hu received her BSc in biochemistry and molecular biology from Peking University in Beijing in 1996. She completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in 2002. She worked across the US until returning to China in 2008 to set up her own lab at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai.

In 2011, her team showed that the social rank of mice is encoded in neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, with neurological differences between higher and lower ranked mice. Changing the strength of the connections between neurons resulted in the mice’s social status changing.

In 2016, Hu and her team discovered that a set of neural circuits called the lateral habenula become hyperactive in depressed rats. Ketamine, a fast-acting antidepressant, alleviated the rats’ symptoms by reducing that neuronal hyperactivity.

Increasing our understanding of the neurobiology of mental health disorders opens up new avenues for therapeutics. In an interview, Hu said, “we discovered how the anaesthetic ketamine blocks electrical bursts from a region of the brain and relieves the symptoms of severe depression. We’re talking to scientists and clinicians worldwide about translating the research into antidepressants.”

Hu’s lab has formal collaborations with a number of research groups, including at the University of California, Los Angeles, Columbia University in New York City and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Hu won the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science award in 2015 and 2022, as well as many other prizes and awards.

Further Reading

ALD22: Dr Firdausi Qadri, Immunologist

Dr Firdausi Qadri

Firdausi Qadri is a Bangladeshi immunologist and infectious disease researcher. She developed an affordable oral cholera vaccine and the typhoid conjugate vaccine. She gained her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and her master’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Dhaka before moving to the UK to earn her doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 1980. Although she had the opportunity to stay in the UK, she felt she needed to return to Bangladesh.

She began working at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDE,B) in 1988, starting her research on shigella, which causes dysentery, accidentally getting infected with Shigella dysenteriae herself.

She later refocused on cholera and typhoid, using biochemical, immunological and molecular approaches to understand the bacteria that cause these diseases and develop rapid diagnostic tools.

Qadri carried out a major trial with 240,000 people to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of a large-scale oral cholera vaccine. In 2017, when Rohingya refugees from Myanmar arrived in Dhaka, their camps were in areas with some of the highest rates of cholera in the city. She led a team of experts during a mass vaccination program which prevented a cholera outbreak, and was part of the vaccination of 1.2 million high-risk people in Dhaka.

In 2012, Qadri was awarded the Christophe Rodolfe Grand Prize. She used the prize money to found the Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives, which launched in 2014 and focuses on genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome, Huntington’s disease, and congenital hypothyroidism.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Qadri was one of the key scientists coordinating a response to the new virus.

In 2020, she received the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Award for Asia-Pacific “in recognition of her outstanding work to understand and prevent infectious diseases affecting children in developing countries, and promote early diagnosis and vaccination with global health impact”.

In 2021, Qadri was awarded the Raman Magsaysay Award for “her passion and lifelong devotion to the scientific profession; her vision of building the human and physical infrastructure that will benefit the coming generation of Bangladeshi scientists, women scientists in particular; and her untiring contributions to vaccine development, advanced biotechnological therapeutics and critical research that has been saving millions of precious lives.”

Further Reading

ALD22 Books: The Matter of Everything, Dr Suzie Sheehy

The Matter of Everything: Twelve Experiments that Changed Our World, Dr Suzie Sheehy

Asking questions has always been at the heart of physics, our unending quest to understand the Universe and how everything in it behaves. How do we know all that we know about the world today? It’s not simply because we have the maths – it’s because we have done the experiments.

In The Matter of Everything, accelerator physicist Suzie Sheehy introduces us to the people who, through a combination of genius, persistence and luck, staged the ground-breaking experiments of the twentieth century that changed the course of history. From the serendipitous discovery of X-rays in a German laboratory, to the scientists trying to prove Einstein wrong (and inadvertently proving him right), to the race to split open the atom, Sheehy shows how our most brilliant, practical physicists have shaped innumerable aspects of how we live today. Radio, TV, the chips in our smartphones, MRI scanners, radar equipment and microwaves, to name a few: these were all made possible by their determination to understand, and control, the microscopic.

Pulling physics down from the theoretical and putting it in the hands of the people, The Matter of Everything is a fascinating expedition through the surprising, and occasionally accidental, experiments that transformed our world, and a celebration of the creative and curious people behind them.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

About the Author

Dr Suzie Sheehy is a physicist, science communicator and academic who divides her time between her research groups at the University of Oxford and University of Melbourne. Her research addresses both curiosity-driven and applied areas and is currently focused on developing new particle accelerators for applications in medicine. She was awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 fellowship and was a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.

An award-winning public speaker, presenter and science communicator, Suzie is dedicated to sharing science beyond the academic community. Her 2018 TED talk has been viewed over 1.8M times and she has been an expert TV presenter for a number of Discovery Channel shows including four seasons of Impossible Engineering. In her talks and shows, Sheehy loves to bring real-life demonstrations and experiments, and has shared these with hundreds of thousands of audience members. She also designed Accelerate! a particle physics showed aimed at children, which ran in the UK and Germany.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @suziesheehy
Instagram: @drsuziesheehy

ALD22: Professor Janaki Ammal, Botanist and Cytologist

Janaki Ammal

Prof Janaki Ammal

Prof Janaki Ammal was born in 1897 in Kerala, India. She completed her undergraduate study at Queen Mary’s College, Chennai, and an honours degree from Presidency College before going to the USA to earn her master’s degree in botany in 1926, and a few years later her doctorate, from the University of Michigan.

After spending two years as a professor at the Maharaja’s College of Science in Trivandrum, she joined the Sugarcane Breeding Institute in Coimbatore. Her research focused on improving native Indian sugarcane species, which was not as sweet as the Saccharum officinarum plants the country was importing from Java. By cross-breeding dozens of plants to create hybrids in her laboratory, she developed a strain that yielded more sucrose and would grow well in tropical Indian conditions.

Unfortunately, as a single woman from a caste considered low, Ammal faced prejudice from her male colleagues, and she returned to the UK in 1940. She worked with Cyril Dean Darlington at the John Innes Institute and, over the course of five years, they wrote the Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants, which records the chromosome number of around 100,000 plants and which is still a core text for modern plant scientists.

In 1946, Ammal joined the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley as a cytologist, studying the structure and function of cells, and their first salaried female staff member. There, she studied the chromosomes of a wide number of garden plant species to better understand their evolution and varieties. She was particularly interested in magnolia, and several of her shrubs still survive at Wisley today.

She treated some magnolia seeds with a solution of colchicine, a drug usually used to treat gout, which resulted in the seedlings doubling the number of their chromosomes. The seedlings grew faster, showed variations in their leaf texture and developed longer-lasting flowers. One of her varieties, which has white petals and purple stamens, is named Magnolia kobus ‘Janaki Ammal’.

After World War II, she returned to India to become the first director of the Central Botanical Laboratory at Allahabad and manage the Botanical Survey of India, which had been established in 1890 to collect and catalogue India’s flora.

India had suffered some widespread famines in the 1940 during which millions died, and the Indian government was deforesting vast swathes of land, much to Ammal’s distress. She became much more active in working to protect India’s flora, in particular trying to ensure that Indian scientists had access to specimens collected from their own country. She was also instrumental in stopping a hydroelectric dam that would have flooded the botanically diverse Silent Valley. She headed a chromosomal survey of the Valley’s plants, and eventually the government shelved the project.

The Indian government awarded her the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, in 1977. In 1999, two awards were named after her: The EK Janaki Ammal National Award on Plant Taxonomy and EK Janaki Ammal National Award on Animal Taxonomy. And in 2019, a rose was named after her.

Further Reading

ALD22: Professor Fumiko Yonezawa, Theoretical Physicist

Fumiko Yonezawa

Professor Fumiko Yonezawa

Born in 1938, Fumiko Yonezawa, 米沢 富美子, was a theoretical physicist who studied amorphous materials, semiconductors and liquid metals.

Her career began when she studied amorphous materials, or glasses, as part of her doctorate at Kyoto University in the mid-1960s. She developed the Coherent Potential Approximation (CPA), a method for calculating physical characteristics, such as density or resistivity, of amorphous materials.

Later, at Keio University, Yonezawa and her team studied how, at an atomic level, liquids become crystals or amorphous solids, using computational models. She spent some time at City College of New York, returning to Japan in 1981. In the 1990s, she developed a “theory of metal-insulator transition in liquid selenium” and became interested in neural networks.

In 1984, she was awarded the Saruhashi Prize, which is awarded to Japanese women for research in the natural sciences, for her “Theory of Fundamental Physical Properties of Amorphous Materials”. She was the first woman to become President of the Physics Society of Japan in 1996 and, in 2005, she won a L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for “pioneering theory and computer simulations on amorphous semiconductors and liquid metals.”

In 2020, the Physical Society of Japan launched the Fumiko Yonezawa Memorial Award to “honor and encourage” female members of the society, presenting awards to five women in physics in Japan.

Fumiko Yonezawa died on 17 January 2019, aged 80.

Further Reading