ALD23: Sarah Al Amiri, Engineer

Sarah Al Amiri

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, سارة بنت يوسف الأميري, is chair of the the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency and the UAE Council of Scientists. She played a central role in the historic Emirates Mars Mission, which saw the UAE become the first Arab nation to reach the red planet in 2021.

Born in 1987, Al Amiri grew up in Abu Dhabi. Her fascination with space was sparked at the age of 12 when she saw a photo of the Andromeda galaxy. When she finished school, however, she chose to study computer science at university – believing that “higher education careers or studies in space exploration [was not] a realistic option”, as the UAE did not even have a space programme at the time.

Al Amiris’s career path opened up when she completed her master’s in 2009 and was hired as a software engineer by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (now the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre). She would later be promoted to head of research and development, working on the UAE’s first and second Earth observation satellites during her time at the centre.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) launched in 2014, and Al Amiri established a project that resulted in the successful 24-hour flight of a prototype pseudo-satellite vehicle – reaching the highest altitude of any unmanned aircraft over UAE airspace. The same year, she was named deputy project manager and science lead of Al-Amal (Hope), the UAE’s inaugural Mars mission and its most ambitious space project yet.  The goal was to send a probe to Martian orbit by 2021 to coincide with the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

The Mars mission was not Al Amiri’s only focus during these years. She was appointed head of the Emirates Scientist Council in 2016, aged just 29, and in 2017 was given her first post in the UAE government (becoming the cabinet minister responsible for the advanced sciences). A year later, she was made chair of the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term used to describe 21st century technological advancements including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and quantum computing.

The UAE’s Mars mission launched to global fanfare in July 2020. The same month, Al Amiri was appointed chair of UAESA, making her the youngest person ever to lead a space agency. When the Hope spacecraft successfully orbited Mars in February 2021, the UAE became the fifth nation ever to reach the planet.

Some of Hope’s major contributions to science include the sharpest and most precise mapping of a “discrete aurora” on Mars’s nighttime side, and the detection of dramatic variations in atomic oxygen and carbon monoxide in the planet’s dayside atmosphere. The mission has also been significant in terms of gender representation. Women made up 80 per cent of its science team, as well as a relatively high 34 per cent of the mission team.

In May 2022, Al Amiri’s governmental brief was expanded when she was made Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology. She has helped assemble a team focused on women in sciences, addressing what she describes as the “leaky pipeline” that can see women drop out of STEM programmes before beginning their careers. And she is currently overseeing work on the UAE’s next major mission: a flyby of Venus and seven different asteroids, due to launch in 2028.

For her contributions to science, technology and engineering, Al Amiri has been honoured as one of the World Economic Forum’s 50 Young Scientists in 2015; one of the BBC’s 100 Women in 2020; and on the 2021 Time 100 Next list.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @SarahAmiri1

Further Reading

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

ALD23 Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections between Mathematics and Literature, Sarah Hart

Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections between Mathematics and Literature, Sarah Hart

We often think of mathematics and literature as polar opposites. But what if, instead, they were fundamentally linked?

In this insightful and laugh-out-loud funny book, Once Upon a Prime, Professor Sarah Hart shows us the myriad connections between maths and literature, and how understanding those connections can enhance our enjoyment of both.

Did you know, for instance, that Moby-Dick is full of sophisticated geometry? That James Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness novels are deliberately checkered with mathematical references? That George Eliot was obsessed with statistics? That Jurassic Park is undergirded by fractal patterns? That Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie created mathematician characters?

From sonnets to fairy tales to experimental French literature, Once Upon a Prime takes us on an unforgettable journey through the books we thought we knew, revealing new layers of beauty and wonder. Professor Hart shows how maths and literature are complementary parts of the same quest: to understand human life and our place in the universe.

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About the author

Sarah Hart is a respected pure mathematician and a gifted expositor of mathematics. When promoted to full professor of mathematics at Birkbeck College (University of London) in 2013, she became the youngest STEM professor at Birkbeck and its first-ever female mathematics professor, as well as one of only five female mathematics professors under the age of 40 in the United Kingdom. Educated at Oxford and Manchester, Professor Hart currently holds the Gresham Professorship of Geometry, the oldest mathematics chair in the UK. The chair stretches back in an unbroken lineage to 1597. Professor Hart is the 33rd Gresham Professor of Geometry, and the first woman ever to hold the position.

You can follow Sarah Hart’s work here:

Twitter: @Sarahlovesmaths
Linktree: Sarahhart1 

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge, Chemist and Physiologist

Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge

Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge was a pioneering chemist and physiologist whose research laid the foundation for the creation of standardised hearing aids. A renowned scientist and educator whose work spanned fields including medicine, physiology and otology in the 1920s and 30s, she played a key role in establishing hearing aid clinics for the deaf. She is also notable for her invention of the miniature pH electrode and her work on artificial respiration.

Kerridge was born Phyllis Margaret Tookey in April 1901 in Bromley, Kent (Kerridge was her married name). She studied chemistry and physics at University College London (UCL), obtaining her honours degree in 1922.

Her first major scientific achievement came in 1925, when she was conducting research for her PhD in biochemistry. Kerridge created the miniature pH electrode, a glass tool that could fit into narrow layers in living tissue to analyse biochemical samples such as blood. She completed her PhD in 1927.

In addition to lecturing in UCL’s department of physiology, Kerridge studied medicine at University College Hospital, qualifying in 1933. She began working with scientific instrument maker Robert Paul, conducting rigorous physiological tests on an early life support device (later known as the Bragg-Paul respirator). Kerridge’s tests and recommendations helped make the device more efficient, comfortable, smaller and simpler, so it could be rolled out into hospitals and even used on newborns.

Later in the 1930s, Kerridge began working at the Royal Ear Hospital in London. Her research – initially on the hearing of London schoolchildren, then expanded to include adults – revolved around the ‘silence room’ at University College Hospital. A large soundproof space equipped with a pure-tone Western Electric Audiometer, this became the centre of Great Britain’s first clinic where people could access free and impartial advice on hearing aid prescriptions. In first-of-their-kind studies, Kerridge used the audiometer to quantify data on hearing thresholds. She said she conducted this research not in pursuit of “new facts, but for measurements, as precise as human material and physical instruments would allow”.

Further clinical tests by Kerridge produced data that was used to improve the Post Office’s amplified telephone service for people with hearing loss. Her research promoted the idea that hearing could be objectively assessed, enabling the NHS to start prescribing standardised hearing aids in 1948. The design of the Medresco, the first NHS hearing aid, was based on phonetic tests co-created by Kerridge.

Kerridge approached her work on deafness with empathy as well as scientific curiosity. She didn’t just want to help people with hearing loss communicate; she wanted them to be able to enjoy socialising and listening to music, too. She was known for striving to include the lived experiences of patients in the prescription of their hearing aids, and worked to design new devices that would give people more autonomy over hearing tests.

Over her long career, Kerridge worked at the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth; the Physiological Laboratory, Cambridge; the Carlsberg Chemical Laboratorium, Copenhagen; the Medical Unit of the London Hospital; and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. When the Second World War broke out, she was seconded from University College Hospital to serve the Emergency Medical Service at a hospital in Epping, where she and her colleagues created an improvised laboratory for work in pathology and blood transfusions.

Sadly, it was at this hospital where she contracted an unknown illness. She died on 22 June 1940, aged just 38.

Further Reading

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

ALD23: Dr Noor Shaker, Computer Scientist

Dr Noor Shaker

Dr Noor Shaker, نور شاكر, is an award-winning Syrian computer scientist and biotech entrepreneur. With multiple patents and businesses to her name, her research focuses on how artificial intelligence (AI) can help cure chronic diseases by discovering new drugs faster and more effectively than humans. She has described herself as “passionate about data and pushing the boundaries for what is possible with AI”.

Born in Syria, Shaker studied computer science at the University of Damascus. Motivated by the accurate belief that AI technology would play a pivotal role in “what the world would look like in 10 or 20 years”, she chose to major in artificial intelligence studies. A master’s in Belgium came next, followed by a PhD and a postdoc in machine learning at the IT University of Copenhagen. In 2016, Shaker was appointed assistant professor at Aalborg University in the Danish capital, where she researched the use of machine learning in affective computing.

During her time in academia, Shaker produced more than 50 papers and co-wrote a textbook on generative methods. However, in 2017, she left her university post behind to move to London and co-found GTN Ltd (Generative Tensorial Networks). This startup aimed to use AI and quantum computing to discover new medications by identifying effective but previously untested combinations of drug molecules. The company’s overall goal was to develop new medicines that could reverse once-incurable neurological diseases, while halving the time it took to bring a new drug to market.

Business success is no more guaranteed than scientific breakthroughs, and GTN Ltd entered liquidation as the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Undeterred, Shaker founded another London-based start-up that same year, aiming to use AI to make drug discovery faster and more effective by blending experts’ chemistry knowledge with advanced machine learning. Before being acquired by the US company X-Chem in 2021, the company collaborated on research with universities including King’s College London and Cardiff University.

Shaker is currently a senior vice-president and general manager of X-Chem’s London office. A regular speaker at AI events, she also sits on AI and diversity advisory boards for several organisations and universities, including Artificial Intelligence and Informatics at the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

In 2018, Shaker was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 and received a CogX UK Rising Star Award from then Prime Minister Theresa May. Other accolades include being named one of the BBC 100 Women in 2019; one of the Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech 2021; and a winner in the Artificial Intelligence Excellence Awards program from Business Intelligence Group in 2022.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @noorshak

Further Reading

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

ALD23: Dr Haleema Alamri, Materials Scientist

Dr Haleema Alamri

Dr Haleema Alamri is a materials scientist whose work has contributed to the development of biodegradable plastics. With a background in chemistry and macromolecular engineering, her aim is to find sustainable solutions for the environmental problems posed by traditional plastic materials.

Born into a family of scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers in Saudi Arabia, Alamri studied chemistry at Umm Al-Qura University. After a master’s in chemistry and nanoscience at the University of Waterloo, Canada, she returned to Saudi Arabia and completed her PhD in chemistry at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in 2016.

Alamri was then hired by petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco as a research scientist in its Research and Development Center (R&DC). She was promptly nominated to spend a year on a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, working on cutting-edge research in chemistry and polymer science. She rejoined Saudi Aramco’s R&DC and held a number of senior roles, leading a team working on smart technologies for polymeric materials, including new techniques to help control their decomposition.

Over the course of her career, Alamri has authored or co-authored multiple peer-reviewed papers on more sustainable alternatives to plastic. These have covered diverse subjects including the safety of degradable polymers and the development of water-resistant materials inspired by lotus leaves. The aim of this research is to create the next generation of functional, cost-effective and degradable materials, which will never cause environmental harm by clogging up oceans or landfill.

In 2022, Alamri became director of the Innovation & Technology Observatory Department at the Saudi government’s Ministry of Energy. She is also a research affiliate at MIT.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @haleema_alamri

Further Reading

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