Director, Mother, Science Lover
(Date of Service: 10 September 2001 - Present)
Discovering New Worlds of Science

"There is only one thing worse than coming home from the lab to a sink full of dirty dishes, and that's not going to the lab at all."  Ms. Chien-Shiung Wu,China/USA,
1912-97. One of the 20th centuries eminent nuclear physicists.

For Gabriele Voigt - one of today's exceptional nuclear scientists - times have changed. You would be hard pressed to find her with a tea towel in hand. "I'm really lucky," the Director of the IAEA's Seibersdorf Laboratories says with a grin. "There are not a lot of men like my husband who would agree to stay at home to take care of the family."

She is surrounded by mutant bananas in Seibersdorf's greenhouse, where scientists work on ways to feed the developing world. As a girl, Gabi collected butterflies and bugs. Today she runs labs that breed flies fed by blood to help Africa wipe out it tsetse scourge. The diversity of work at Seibersdorf is enormous, from bananas and insects to analyzing soil samples taken from weapon inspections in Iraq.
"I was always interested in scientific things, especially mathematics and physics. My dream scientific field was biology." Originally a geneticist, Gabi has worked for the last 18 years in radiation protection, computer modeling and radioecology.

"What I'm now especially interested in is forensic analysis against nuclear terrorism. To apply the methods in order to see how they would work in an emergency situation. Would these methods be applicable, how are they are applicable, and do they need to be modified?

"And then there is food and agriculture. Before you can think of environmental protection you first have to consider that you need to feed a certain amount of people. That people need food to survive. So there is always this balance between what you can do, what is at stake, and what is most urgent. And this is what I see as part of the role of the Agency - helping developing countries to stimulate their own research and the application of nuclear techniques," she said.

Enthusiastically, she rushes on to cover stories about how the IAEA is working to benefit humanity, to how she returned to work three days after giving birth, and pumping breast milk during her lunch hour for her husband to freeze and feed their baby. Gabi had the second of her two children at the age of 43. They are now seven and 12. Her great love of science and pride in her family is evident, as she proudly switches between stories of the two.

Another priority for Gabi is to see more women in top jobs in the nuclear industry. Women fill just over 13 per cent of the IAEA's professional scientific and engineering posts (funded from the Agency's regular budget). (Watch the video for more.)

Despite sitting on the boards of eminent nuclear journals and having a string of international research and project grants under her belt (from research on the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, to dosimetry), Gabi faces discrimination because of her gender.

"I would say, and I am in agreement with many of my female colleagues, you have to work harder than men. It's quite clear that to get the acknowledgement from your male colleagues, you need to demonstrate that you are more than capable than any man would be."

Gabi and her family signal a changing face of the nuclear world. "I think my family is a wonderful example that it can work." At the university where she lectures, the majority of her students are now female.

"Women see chances offered and are motivated to reach for them. I also think, or hope, that the younger generation of men will be more supportive of women and their careers. Times are changing. It may take a couple of years yet. But there will be a better balance."