WiE-UC March Newsletter

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ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021

WiE - UC Newsletter IEEE Student Branch of the UC - Women in Engineering Affinity Group

ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021

IEEE WiE interviews Eugénia Cunha Eugénia Cunha is a Biologist with a Ph.D. in Sciences, in the subspeciality of Physical Anthropology, from the University of Coimbra (1994). With almost 25 years of experience in Forensic Anthropology, she has been invited as a speaker in several events in about 20 different countries and a thesis advisor in MsC, Ph.D. and postdoc levels. Eugénia is currently a full Professor at University of Coimbra and the Director of South Delegation National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. 1. You have a degree in Biology and you decided to take a Ph.D. in the subspeciality of Physical Anthropology. What made you choose that path? My passion to read and interpret the information saved on human bones. In other words, to make bones speak about what happens in life and at the time of death. They are not so silent as we might think. And bones are fundamental for several Sciences. In my case, they are the basis of disciplines that I have been involved in: Forensic Anthropology , Human evolution, and Paleopathology. 2. Has being a Professor always been something you wanted to do? What do you most enjoy about that work? No, being a teacher was not planned. All I knew by then was that I wanted to do research related to humans in their biological aspect. And as I consider that both the research and the knowledge have to be shared, teaching, which is mandatory in the Academic career, becomes natural. What is the sense of our knowledge and research if we do not share it? One of the best achievements of a university teacher is to feel/know that we have motivated someone, that we were able to create interaction and that, above all, we have followers and former students that now do better jobs than we do. As I am working for so long (almost 37 years), I can now state that I have followers in both research and teaching. In other words, I am easily replaceable.

Dealing with the unpredictable and traveling around the world are two other aspects that I enjoy in my work. Being the director of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science was unpredictable and a big challenge.

Big achievements in my career: fortunately I have some: among the most recent ones I would highlight having been invited Teacher at Stanford, last year, and being an evaluator for the European Commission (ERC advanced grants). I learned a lot. I still like to learn. Otherwise, it would be very boring. 3. What is the most challenging thing about your work as a researcher? I like the societal dimension of my research. I like to feel that the research done by my team has practical effects and benefits for society.

ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021

That pragmatic aspect is achieved by forensic anthropology which I started in 1997, at the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. In the context of Forensic anthropology identification is a big challenge in particular in exceptional scenarios of crimes against humanity where I am proud to have been working. To return back identity to human remains in those scenarios is a rewarding challenge. But I have to say that organizing my time, the articulation with my personal life, finding time to do what I like, besides work and also inside work, is a big challenge and a very demanding task. I am lucky that I like what I do. And although nowadays I am almost exclusively dedicated to Forensic Sciences, I never left human evolution where I try to keep updated. 4.Can you tell us a little bit about your expectations for the future? What is your goal professionally? One of my goals is to get accreditation and certification for Legal Medicine as well as for Forensic Anthropology and that this status could be officially recognized by the entities that work with Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. In terms of research, my goal is to give a step further on the process of skeletal ageing. I wish I can finally get the needed funded project on that. And how I wish that at least my very best students could get a good job in their fields.

As I am strongly committed to my profession, it would be nice to verify that when I leave, things are on the right path and that, as previously said, that I have followers. Luckily there is still some research, specific topics, that I still want to do. I am still very motivated with some subjects.

Well… in general, no. But I remember that when I coordinated and worked in Guinea that, after the first impression, the militaries didn't believe that I was going to be well succeeded. But they changed opinion and we did a good job all together. In my academic career, I also have one or two episodes of that. What I do not like is to feel that I got what I have because I am a woman. Hopefully, I am not the director of Legal Medicine because I am a woman. 6. Have you ever been a part of an organization such as Women in Engineering (WiE) during your path? No, never. 7. What has been the most gratifying aspect of your career? That is difficult to answer. Fortunately, I have several very gratifying aspects of my career. To keep liking a lot what I do after so many years, to still wanting to do research and to work, no matter where. In Brazil, for instance, where I am going since 2000, it is particularly rewarding to work. They do recognize what I do. I have friends in several countries. I can live almost anywhere.

Finally, as a bit of humor… 8. What apps/software/tools can't you live without? I had the experience of being 3 weeks doing fieldwork in Kenya without anything, not even a telephone. Even my bag was lost. Well, I can live without it but it is hard. I can live without apps, series, social networks (for sure). But without a mobile phone, a computer and internet, I doubt.

5. Have you ever felt any kind of discrimination for being a woman in your field of work or even during your years as a college student?

Filipa Moreira

ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021

Biography GERTRUDE BELLE ELION Gertrude B. Elion was one of the few women to receive a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, last century, and the pioneer of drug discovery. Born on January 23, 1918, she had a happy childhood in New York City, with her brother, her parents, and her close grandfather. She described herself as “a child with an insatiable thirst for knowledge” and for that reason, after ending her high school career she pursued a major in science, particularly in chemistry, at Hunter College in 1933. This choice was strongly motivated by the death of her beloved grandfather, who suffered from stomach cancer. She was highly motivated to do something that might eventually lead to a cure for this disease. However, due to financial difficulties, after college she did not have the money to go on to a graduate school. Gertrude applied to a number of universities with the hope of getting an assistantship or fellowship but those didn’t often go to women. She began looking for jobs that were also scarce and the few positions that existed in laboratories were not available to women. She eventually took jobs as a secretary, a chemistry teacher, and a barely paid worker in a lab. After saving some money, and with the help from her parents, she entered graduate school at New York University in 1939 and obtained her Master of Science degree in chemistry in 1941. She was the only female in her graduate chemistry class.

“In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.”


In 1944, when the Second World War created a shortage of labour in the pharmaceutical industry, Elion had the opportunity to get a job at Burroughs Wellcome, assisting George Hitchings, who was to become her fellow Nobel laureate. Together they revolutionized the management of many diseases by discarding the tradicional trial-and-error approach to drug development, in favour of a rational, scientific approach. Elion eventually began to lead larger and larger teams of her own, discovering compounds like azathioprine, that made kidney transplants between unrelated donors possible. Furthermore, when scientists doubted that drugs could be invented to fight viruses, Gertrude developed an antiviral drug acyclovir, later approved in 1977. Her name appears on 45 patents for lifesaving and life-changing drugs and she won a Nobel Prize in 1988. She also became the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in 1991, and was presented with the National Medal of Science by President George H.W. Bush. Even though she had formally retired, Elion's energetic figure was regularly seen walking through the labs, listening to and talking with her colleagues. She died at the age of 81 on February 22, 1999, and in spite of her death, Gertrude Elion is still saving lives.

Paloma Solis

ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021

Curiosity of the month...


Ever heard of the HeLa cell line? It is the oldest and most used human cell line in scientific research. It originated from a culture of cervical cancer cells taken on February 8, 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old AfricanAmerican woman. Unlike other human cultured cells, which would only survive for a few days, Henrietta’s cells were found to be uncharacteristically durable. Her cells were used to develop what is called an immortal cell line. The line’s name, “HeLa”, corresponds to the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last name. Henrietta’s cells were taken without her knowledge and consent, as the lack of informed consent was common practice at the time. Henrietta would later pass away from cervical cancer, on October 4, 1951 and, for many years, Henrietta’s family had no access to her medical files. They also had no say in the applications that HeLa cells would be used for, and received no financial benefit from the cell line’s success. In 2013, an agreement between the US National Institute of Health and Henrietta’s family gave the latter some control over the access to the cells’ DNA sequence. Over the years, the HeLa cell line has been used to study cancer, AIDS, and the effects of radiation, among many other fields of medical research.

Ana Nunes


WiE Recommend... Hi! My name is Alexandra Pereira. I'm in the last year of my master degree in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Coimbra, specializing in Biomedical Instrumentation. I'm also the current Chair of IEEE University of Coimbra Women in Engineering (WiE-UC). And I rediscovered recently (while in the lockdown) that I enjoy legos and puzzles. Here are my suggestions!



B y WiE

ISSUE NO. 11 | MARCH 2021


Adélia Sequeira is a portuguese mathematician who currently teaches Mathematics at the Department of Mathematics, IST, University of Lisbon and she is also the Coordinator of the Scientific Area on Numerical Analysis and Applied Analysis and the Director of the Research Center for Computational and Stochastic Mathematics in Lisbon. Nowadays, her research is made in cardiovascular mathematical modelling and simulation of problems related with vascular diseases like the progression of cerebral aneurysms as well as biomechanical actions in the blood vessels with application to thrombosis and atherosclerosis. Other research areas are mathematical SOURCE: CIENCIAVIVA.PT and computational fluid dynamics, especially focused on non-Newtonian modelling, which can simulate fluids and hemorheology and physiological processes and clinic data hemodynamics studies. improving the quality of life through more efficient and accessible treatments. In 2019 she was selected as a "Women in Science" by the Portuguese Agency of Science and Technology "Ciência Viva" for her work towards the advance of personalized medicine using Rita Manco mathematical and computational .


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