Researchers at CNSI Café.


Girl Power in Statia

at CN Science Cafe

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STATIA–Think of scientists and the image that comes to mind is often dull men in white lab coats, but not at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Café where girl power seems to be challenging the status quo.

  Fifteen visiting female scientists were vocally present at last week’s session of the Science Café at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI). What they had to share was extremely interesting.

  Sarinda Westerhout was the first scientist to present her project. She said that when it comes to the Lesser Antillian Iguana, “The female of the species is more equipped than its male counterpart to win the battle of the sexes.”

  These native and ecologically endangered creatures have green scales on their bodies, but unlike the females, the males seem to have the yellow colour of cowardice running through their minds.

  “My research suggests that males run away at the slightest opportunity,” said Westerhout, “whereas females wait mysteriously to weigh up the situation.” She should know as she has measured the Flight Initiation Distance (FID) of more than 150 individuals of these fascinating reptiles on Statia. “The higher their location above ground, the less likely both genders are likely to bolt away, but what is certain – male iguanas are more about fright before flight and females are more about sight and insight.”

  The second presentation was by the Global Health Field School. Every year, researchers with mainly a biology or medical background visit Statia during the summer months to carry out projects for their respective Master theses. Summer 2017 is no different except that a record number of students are exploring Statia shores and that they are all lady scientists.

  These researchers come from all over the world to the Global Health Field School on St. Eustatius. The school was founded five years ago by the Eastern Caribbean Public Health Foundation and most of the students are from the University of Maastricht.

  All their investigative work is noticed since it involves a wide range of important health issues. “Health is most definitely wealth,” Teresa Leslie told the Science Cafe before introducing each researcher. “This research is increasing our understanding of diseases, their cures and improving our way of life. We can only develop a sustainable future for our island if our island population is healthy.”

  The list of research topics is long and of global importance. It includes such areas as vector-borne disease, mental health, food security, women’s reproductive health and anti-bacterial resistance.

  One student, Katherine Garnett from the UK wants to identify and measure the risk perception of Zika in pregnancy among women of childbearing age; another, Joanna O’Sullivan from Nottingham in the UK is fascinated by what Statia folk think of waste management and how its presence or possibly absence relates to contagious disease.

  Yiran Chen from Shenzhen City in China is on a quest to examine the minds of Chinese migrant workers on the island. “Most of these workers come from the same Guangdong Province as myself.” She says, “They work long hours mostly in the restaurant and retail business – in many cases leaving their young children and family life behind in China. They often have insufficient English language skills and little time to communicate with local people, so their motivation is of much interest.”

  Teresa Leslie is delighted that the Global Heath Field School is proving so popular with women researchers. “Half the science and engineering doctorates in the US are gained by women, but many post graduates can become disillusioned by the lack of opportunities for women who are building careers and balancing a family life. The good ‘ole boys club’ can be extremely demotivating at times.”

  Nevertheless, Leslie hopes that Summer 2018 on Statia will be populated by an equal intake of male researchers. “The root of gender bias in science is the stereotype of the successful male scientist,” she told the Science Cafe. “By enabling women to succeed we get rid of this silly stereotype. Science is fun for all ages and genders – on Statia and elsewhere!”

Source: The Daily Herald