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Highlighting Societal Benefits of Accelerator-Based Technologies and Promoting Gender Equality


Women leading the charge in accelerator-based research: Giuliana Aquilanti (left), Seunghyun Lee (middle) and Sherry Yennello (right).  (Photo: R. Musiime/IAEA)

An IAEA technical meeting has showcased advancements in accelerator technology while simultaneously addressing gender disparities — advocating for ways to bridge the gender gap in scientific pursuits. 

Accelerator-based technologies benefit society, and have applications in many areas of research — from basic science and environmental and energy applications, to materials research and cultural heritage.  

International experts attended the technical meeting on Novel Applications of Accelerator-based Techniques for Socio-economic Benefits hosted by the IAEA at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, in December 2023.  More than half of the attendees were female, showcasing a clear stride towards achieving gender equality in this field. 

The sessions featured presentations by international speakers spotlighting the societal impacts of accelerator-based technologies. Discussions delved into oncological therapy, industrial effluent treatment and global collaborations aimed at socio-economic progress. Conversations also addressed gender disparity within the field, reflecting on the underrepresentation of women in accelerator-based research. 

Sherry Yennello, a Professor and Director at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University, USA, was one of the speakers at the event. She identified caregiving responsibilities and workplace biases as hurdles for women in accelerator-based research.  

“Most of the caregiving responsibilities fall to women, so therefore, women are challenged in this way and potentially excluded from the field,” she said. 

She also expressed concern about the impact of workplace environments where women contemplating parenthood may be exposed to ionizing radiation – a factor she too had to consider when she decided to have a child.  

The European Union actively supports gender equality in research and innovation by providing funding to institutions with structured Gender Equality Plans. Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste, an Italian synchrotron facility and recipient of EU funding (also designated as an IAEA Collaborating Centre), is committed to equipping the next generation of women in science.  

Giuliana Aquilanti, a Beamline Scientist at Elettra, praised the institution’s Gender Equality Plan - particularly in employees’ trainings that promote gender equality. She highlighted language nuances in Italian that sometimes contribute to how roles are perceived, emphasizing the importance of recognizing gendered language - a skill she learned from Elettra’s trainings. 

“In Italian we mainly use the masculine word for engineer and yet the feminine word exists. So, in Italian, a male engineer is ingegnere and if you are a woman, it is ingegnera. But nobody is using this,” she said. 

Seunghyun Lee, an Accelerator Physicist at Korea Multipurpose Accelerator Complex (KOMAC) located in South Korea, stressed the necessity of exposing young girls to science as early as possible and advocated for hands-on training opportunities.  

Reflecting on how her own journey was sparked by reading science magazines at a young age, Lee emphasized the pivotal role of accessible and engaging science education as well as actionable recruitment strategies that enhance gender diversity. 

“Don’t wait for women scientists to come to your institute - you have to really look for and encourage them to do so,” Lee said .  

Most of the caregiving responsibilities fall to women, so therefore, women are challenged in this way and potentially excluded from the field.
Sherry Yennello

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