What if scientists were only limited by their curiosity and not by gender? Women are typically awarded smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine members are women, according to the U.N. Today, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we asked three Packard Fellows about how they are advancing science, not only through their research, but also by appreciating the value of inclusion.

Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering recipients Kathryn Moler (2001 Fellow), Teri Odom (2003 Fellow), and Annabelle Singer (2017 Fellow) all serve as pioneering leaders in science. Their research informs potential solutions for some of today’s most urgent challenges in areas from healthcare to transformative energy.

Vice Provost and Dean of Research at Stanford, Moler creates tools to study the fundamental behaviors of electrons in states of matter not commonly encountered and shares these with other scientists. She chose this area because of the complicated materials and fascinating science, and the potential for new and significant discoveries.

Odom, a nanoscale materials scientist and chair of the Chemistry Department at Northwestern University, works to change the properties of ordinary metals to do extraordinary things. “Gold has historically been a magic material,” she says. “And now, by changing its nanoscale structure and shape, we can do almost anything we want.” This includes developing gold nanoparticles to study how cells might internalize viruses or deliver localized treatments for cancer.

Currently, in the fifth year of her Packard Fellowship and an assistant professor at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Singer is seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s. Her research takes an unusual engineering approach. “We’re looking at how we can manipulate brain activity to change immune responses in the brain to improve brain health and potentially prevent disease,” she says.

In addition to leading groundbreaking science discoveries, these three Packard Fellows are also aware of the importance of inclusion in academia. While history emphasizes singular accomplishments in science, any leading scientist will tell you that the profession is communal and increasingly reliant on a network of collaborative relationships that span the globe. There are many reasons why diversity in this space is so important, but perhaps the most important is in how it helps us reach our full potential as a collective.

“We want everybody to be a scientist at some level, every person to be educated in science,” says Moler. “We want representative scientists that people trust and a science community that functions at its highest level.”

But it won’t be functioning at its highest level without intervention. “The thing on the forefront of my mind is how the pandemic has negatively affected our scientific community and I don’t think it’s being recognized,” says Singer.

Funding and policy efforts that increase access and inclusion in science will serve the greater good, improving humanity’s ability to respond to the many challenges we face with the full depth and breadth of our potential. One example is Stanford’s recent announcement of additional COVID-related support for eligible junior faculty, in recognition of continuing pandemic-related challenges.

Read the full article about women in science by Amanda Guslani at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.