ALD23 Books: Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge, Erica Gies

Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge, Erica Gies

The impact of the modern human race continues to manifest itself through climate change, which, coupled with our thirst for ongoing industrial agriculture and urbanisation, has resulted in an increasing frequency of extreme floods and devastating periods of drought in different areas of the world.

Drawing on the work of ‘water detectives’ from across countries such as India, Kenya, Peru and the USA, Water Always Wins conveys that we can learn much from nature on how to redress the impact of climate change.

Erica Gies examines the challenges that our planet now faces and how our efforts to manage water have been unsuccessful because ‘water always wins’. Gies explains the compelling concept of ‘slow water’ – the slowing of water within our landscapes – and how the combination of nature-based solutions and technological advances can restore balance to our global water system and help us adapt to climate change.

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About the Author

Erica Gies is an award-winning independent journalist and author whose work focuses on water management, climate change, and its impact on flora and fauna. Her work has been published in numerous renowned outlets including Scientific American, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, and Nature.

Erica grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in California where her days spent hiking and camping sparked her love of water and the outdoors. Gies now divides her time between San Francisco and British Columbia, and much of her work focuses on the environment in these areas.

Gies is also a National Geographic Explorer and has reported on the environment from locations across the globe, including Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America, where she has researched indigenous and nature-based solutions for water management in a changing climate – the focus of her recent book Water Always Wins. Gies also engages audiences with talks about environmental issues at conferences and colleges including Princeton, Stanford, and the University of California’s California Institute for Water Resources.

You can follow Erica Gies’ work here:

Twitter: @egies

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Professor Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga, Electrical Engineer

Professor Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga

Professor Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga is an electrical engineer whose pioneering research into battery management systems identified ways to increase the capacity and longevity of batteries.

Mubenga was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and had a medical scare aged 17 that drove home to her the importance of reliable energy. She had been hospitalised in Kikwit with appendicitis and needed urgent surgery, but the city had run out of power. It took three agonising days for Mubenga’s father to find enough fuel for the surgery to be performed – an experience that she has said inspired her to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

Today, Mubenga is an engineer and assistant professor of electrical engineering technology at the University of Toledo in the US, whose research focuses on sustainable and renewable energy (including solar power, electric vehicles and battery management).

She conducted her award-winning research into batteries as a doctoral student at the University of Toledo, where she developed a new kind of equaliser (a tool that can be used to rejuvenate tired batteries or to prevent batteries from becoming tired). Mubenga invented a bilevel equaliser, the first to combine an active and low-cost passive equaliser, that could be used to extend the life of lithium-ion batteries.

Mubenga is also an entrepreneur and philanthropist. In 2011, she founded SMIN Power Group LLC, a company that aims to help Africans overcome power outages. SMIN designs and installs renewable energy devices and solar systems – including public lighting and water pumping projects – in communities, schools and hospitals across the DRC. It also provides financial support to African students who are studying science and working on climate change solutions.

In 2018, Mubenga launched the STEM DRC initiative (where she still serves as president), a not-for-profit organisation that works to stimulate social and economic development in the DRC by promoting STEM education and providing college scholarships for Congolese students.

Mubenga currently leads electrification initiatives in the DRC as Director General of the country’s Electricity Regulatory Agency, a role to which she was appointed by the government in 2020. Previously, she served on the board of directors for Société Nationale d’Électricité (the DRC’s national energy company). She now balances her position as a DRC government official with her post at UoT, where she continues to teach and conduct research.

Mubenga’s awards and honours include being recognised as one of the Most Important Black Women Engineers by DesignNews and Engineer of the Year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2018. The same year, her battery research won the IEEE National Aerospace and Electronics Conference Best Poster Award.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @NgalulaPe

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Bessie Coleman, Aviator

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was an American aviator. The first Black person and person of Native American descent to earn an international pilot’s licence, she made the first public flight by a Black woman in the United States.

Coleman was born on 26 January 1892 into a family of sharecroppers in Texas. Noted as an outstanding maths student from an early age, she could only afford to attend college for one term before dropping out. While working in a barber shop in Chicago in her early 20s, she met pilots recently returned from World War I, whose stories of flying across Europe set her imagination alight.

At the time, however, flight schools in the US refused to accept women, Black people and Native Americans as students (Coleman’s father was of mixed African-American and Native descent). When Coleman’s brother teased her that she’d never fly a plane like the French female pilots he’d met during the war, she decided that a trip to France was her best route into the sky.

Coleman saved and obtained sponsorships to go to France for flight school, travelling to Paris in November 1920. She earned her pilot’s licence in just seven months, becoming the first Black woman and first self-identified Native American to do so in June 1921. That September, she returned to the States, but quickly realised that earning a living from aviation would be difficult; commercial flights were not yet widespread in the US. The best way to earn a living from civil aviation, she determined, was competitive stunt flying.

Keen to hone her skills in a highly dangerous field, and still unable to find a flying instructor willing to take on a Black woman in the US, Coleman returned to France to complete an advanced aviation course in February 1922. She spent time in the Netherlands with Anthony Fokker, one of the world’s most high-profile aircraft designers, and received training from one of his company’s chief pilots in Germany. On 3 September 1922, Coleman made the first public flight by a Black woman in the US, piloting a Curtiss JN-4D Jenny at Curtiss Field on Long Island, New York.

Coleman’s performances involving dramatic tricks in the air were hugely popular, and she became a media sensation known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie”. Her dream was to establish a school for African-American aviators, but she didn’t live long enough to see this ambition realised: she died in a plane crash in 1926, aged just 34. Her legacy, though, lived on. When NASA astronaut Dr Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to travel into space in September 1992, she carried a photo of Coleman with her.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Professor Rose Leke, Immunologist, Parasitologist and Malariologist

Professor Rose Leke

Professor Rose Leke is an internationally renowned immunologist and parasitologist who has dedicated her career to helping eradicate malaria. Working with Dr Diane Taylor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, her research has advanced understandings of how malaria during pregnancy can harm the health of both mothers and foetuses. She has also dedicated many years to working on polio elimination programmes and advocating for better representation for women in STEM.

As a young girl growing up in rural Cameroon in the 1950s, Leke experienced regular bouts of malaria as a normal part of life. Her interest in medicine was initially sparked by the treatment she received for a lung abscess as a child: she wanted to understand exactly what she had gone through, as well as how she could help others experiencing health problems. In secondary school, Leke noticed how many pregnant women in her community were dying of malaria and decided to pursue a career in mitigating the harm caused by the disease.

In 1966, Leke left Cameroon for undergraduate studies in the US, followed by a masters and a PhD in parasitology in Canada. She then returned to Cameroon to research onchocerciasis, or river blindness. “To me, the choice was never going to be oncho, I had to do work in malaria,” she said later. Malaria was what she felt she “was supposed to do”.

That goal was certainly achieved. Leke has worked on malaria elimination programmes, served as a member of multiple national and international malaria response committees, and held the positions of Executive Director of the Cameroon Coalition Against Malaria and president of the Federation of African Immunological Societies. Her primary research focus is the immunology of parasitic infections, with emphasis on malaria in pregnant women, and she has worked for decades to improve clinical care for pregnant women suffering from the disease.

In the early 1990s, Leke began her decades-long collaboration with Taylor. The women’s research has made it easier to diagnose placental malaria and shown how the presence of the malaria parasite within the placenta can affect the immune development of newborns. Leke has also worked extensively on polio elimination, inspired partly by the experiences of close relatives who suffered with the disease.

Leke retired from senior university positions in 2013, when she was head of the Department of Medicine and Director of the Biotechnology Centre at the University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon. Two years later, she established the Higher Institute for Growth in Health Research for Women Consortium – furthering a lifelong commitment to improving gender equality in science and global health leadership. To date, the mentorship initiative has supported over 100 young women scientists in Cameroon.

Today, Leke is Emeritus Professor of Immunology and Parasitology at the University of Yaoundé I. She also serves as a chair or consultant on several global committees related to malaria and polio, including for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Among many awards, Leke was ceremonially named Queen Mother of the Cameroon Medical Community by the Cameroon Medical Council in 2019 and recognised for her “Achievement in Global Health Leadership” by the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention in 2022. This year, she received the 2023 Virchow Prize for Global Health – honouring her “pioneering infectious disease research towards a malaria-free world and relentless dedication in advancing gender equality”.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @LekeRose

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23 Books: Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon, Melissa L Sevigny

Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon, Melissa L Sevigny

In the summer of 1938, botanist Elzada Clover and PhD student Lois Jotter set off from the University of Michigan to travel the Colorado River, accompanied by an ambitious expedition leader and three amateur boatmen. The expedition held a tantalising appeal for Clover and Jotter: no one had yet surveyed the plant life of the Grand Canyon, and they were determined to be the first. Journalists and veteran river-runners proclaimed that the motley crew would never make it out alive, but the reputation of the Colorado River as the most dangerous river in the world did not deter the women from their mission. The adventurous expedition is all the more remarkable considering the context of attitudes towards women in botany at the time, which, like many other areas of science, was very much male-dominated. 

Through the vibrant letters and diaries of the two women, science journalist Melissa L Sevigny traces their daring 43-day journey down the Colorado River, during which they meticulously catalogued the thorny plants that thrived in the Grand Canyon’s secret nooks and crannies. Along the way, they chased a runaway boat, ran the river’s most fearsome rapids, and turned the harshest critic of female river-runners into an ally. These brave and pioneering women garnered significant publicity and curiosity at the time for their expedition, and their work has had a lasting impact on the scientific understanding of this unique landscape. Clover and Jotter’s plant list, including four new cactus species, would one day become vital for efforts to protect and restore the river’s ecosystem. 

Brave the Wild River is a joyful and spellbinding adventure story of two women who risked their lives to make an unprecedented botanical survey of a defining landscape in the American West at a time when human influences had begun to change it forever.

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About the Author 

Melissa Sevigny is a science journalist and reporter at KNAU (Arizona Public Radio) in Flagstaff, Arizona. She has worked as a science communicator in the fields of planetary science, Western water policy, and sustainable agriculture. Her lyrical nonfiction explores the intersections of science, nature, and history, with a focus on the American Southwest. Sevigny is also the author of Mythical River (University of Iowa Press, 2016) and Under Desert Skies (University of Arizona Press, 2016). She earned a BS in Environmental Science & Policy from the University of Arizona and an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State University. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

You can follow Melissa Sevigny’s work here:

Website: Melissa L. Sevigny – Science Writer (
Twitter: @MelissaSevigny

With thanks to Synergy for their support.