The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is held annually on 11 February; to mark the occasion, Estonian World highlights sixteen outstanding female researchers from Estonia.
The Day of Women and Girls in Science was established at the initiative of the United Nations in 2015 with the aim of promoting the significant role of women and girls in the development of science. In 2021, at the initiative of the University of Tartu and the Estonian Young Academy of Sciences, the day was celebrated in Estonia for the first time.
According to Ester Oras, an associate professor at the University of Tartu, the goal of celebrating the Day of Women in Science is, on the one hand, to highlight and appreciate the daily work and achievements of women researchers. On the other hand, the aim is to contribute to promoting gender equality and breaking gender stereotypes in academia and society. “Equal representation of women in academia and managerial positions, their active involvement and empowerment is the key issue for better and more influential science,” Oras said in a statement.
To mark the occasion, Estonian World highlights sixteen outstanding female researchers from Estonia, mainly based on the number of international citations, on the membership of the Estonian Academy of Sciences or work on the global level. The number of outstanding Estonian female scientists is much higher, of course – in 2020, the Estonian Research Council submitted the names of 80 Estonian researchers to AcademiaNet, the world’s biggest database of profiles of excellent female researchers from all disciplines.
Kessy Abarenkov is an associate professor in biodiversity informatics at the University of Tartu. In her research, she focuses on database and system development, building software tools for biodiversity data management, curation and analysis and for identification and metabarcoding of fungi.
In 2020 and 2021, Abarenkov was one of the Estonian researchers among the world’s most influential scientists, according to Clarivate Analytics. Clarivate compiles an annual list of top researchers who have shown notable influence in their field and have also published multiple papers that rank in the global top one per cent by citations.
Mari Moora is a professor in community ecology at the University of Tartu, whose research focuses mainly on studying biodiversity: plant competition, arbuscular mycorrhiza connecting fungi and plants, and biological interactions in plant populations. In 2020, she was one of the ten researchers from Estonia among the world’s most influential scientists, according to Clarivate Analytics.
Maarja Öpik is a professor in molecular ecology and the director of the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences at the University of Tartu. Öpik researches arbuscular mycorrhiza using molecular methods. She has also contributed into restoring ecosystems and developing sustainable agriculture. In 2020, she was one of the ten Estonian researchers among the world’s most influential scientists, according to Clarivate Analytics.
Anne Kahru, the Head of the Estonia’s Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology, was among the world’s most influential scientists, according to Clarivate, from 2018-2019.
Back in 2008, her lab was among the first ones in the world in nanoecotoxicological studies of metal oxide nanoparticles. “Synthetic nanoparticles have been already included in various consumer products (cosmetics, sunscreens, socks, and even underwear). However, relevant toxicological and ecotoxicological information is often misleading. Thus, human exposure to nanoparticles is a real concern,” she told ScienceWatch.com in an interview at the time. Nanotoxicology – the study of the toxicity of nanomaterials – is still her main research interest.
Kahru is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Anu Realo is a professor in the department of psychology at the UK’s University of Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Tartu and one of the nine female members of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Realo’s background is in personality and cross-cultural psychology and she has conducted considerable research on cultural and individual variation in personality development, emotional experience, individualistic-collectivistic attitudes and subjective wellbeing.
She has published 150 articles in internationally renowned scientific journals and books and for several years, was among the world’s most cited scientists, according to Clarivate.
Elin Org studies the relationship between the gut microbiome and health. Specifically, she is trying to find out whether the microbiome can be used as a marker for disease prevention or early detection, and what its links with different disease states and drug action might be.
In 2022, she was among the world’s most cited scientists, according to Clarivate.
Linda Hollebeek holds a PhD in marketing from the University of Auckland. She has been an associate professor at the Tallinn University of Technology for the past five years. Her research focuses on customer and consumer engagement with digital technologies, including social media, online communities, artificial intelligence (service robots), innovation and value creation.
Hollebeek was among the world’s most cited scientists in 2021 and 2022, according to Clarivate.
Lili Milani is a professor of epi and pharmacogenomics and the vice director of Estonian Genome Centre of the University of Tartu. In 2018, the centre ran the Estonian government-backed project to collect the DNA samples of 150,000 Estonians – with the aim of collecting genetic data and integrating it into every-day medical practice by giving people feedback of their personal genetic risks.
Estonia’s genetic data project in this format is unique in the world and stirred much interest abroad. Milani has also published research papers in magazines such as Genome Research, Nature, Science, Nature Genetics and BMC Genomics.
Krista Fischer’s main research interests are in biostatistics and the application of statistical methods in epidemiology and clinical research. For example, her work is helping predict more accurately the risk of disease in larger populations – which became handy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Estonia.
Her work is closely linked to genetics. The risk scores that she and her colleagues produce help predict a person’s risk of developing certain diseases based on their genetic variants. On this basis, prevention and screening measures can be better planned. Fischer’s research will also help to better understand how different genetic and metabolic biomarkers affect overall mortality.
Her major ongoing projects include the application of machine learning to precision medicine and the identification of genetic and epidemiological risk factors associated with premature death in Estonia. She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Maarja Kruusmaa is the Head of the Centre for Biorobotics at the Tallinn University of Technology and a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Kruusmaa is one of the experts on robotics in Estonia – her research is loaded with biorobotics, artificial muscles, robot learning, flow sensing and experimental fluid dynamics. Among other projects, the centre she founded has developed underwater robots.
In the past, Kruusmaa was also a member of an advisory panel that advised the European Commission in ICT.
Maris Laan is a geneticist and a professor of human molecular genetics at the University of Tartu. Her field of research is reproductive genetics. It covers the whole human life cycle – the genetic factors that cause infertility, miscarriages and other pregnancy complications, foetal development, reproductive health in men and women.
In the past, she worked with Stockholm-born Estonian descendant Svante Pääbo, who was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Ene Ergma earned her degrees during the Soviet rule from the Lomonosov Moscow State University and also the Moscow-based Institute of Space Research. A lifelong researcher and a professor of astronomy at the University of Tartu, she entered the Estonian politics in the new millennium and served as the parliament speaker from 2003-2006 and 2007-2014.
She has been a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences since 1994 and is also a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. Most of her scientific research has been done on the evolution of the compact objects, such as white dwarfs and neutron stars and also gamma ray bursts.
Tiina Randma-Liiv is a social researcher and management specialist. Her areas of research include administrative reforms and governance, small country administration, public service and non-profit sector.
She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Ellu Saar is a sociologist. In recent years, her research has focused, among other things, on social stratification and mobility in Estonia and the factors that influence them, such as education. She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
The Cambridge-educated Annela Anger-Kraavi has for over 15 years been an active researcher in the area of climate change economics and policy. She has also been involved in the UN and the EU climate negotiations. In addition, she is the chief executive of the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics, an educational charity.
In 2023, she holds a visiting professorship at the University of Tartu.
Anu Raud is a textile artist, lecturer and professor emeritus at the Viljandi Academy of Culture and the Estonian Academy of Arts. As a lecturer, she trained generations of Estonian textile artists and can be regarded as an inspiration and mentor to artists who respect their ancestral heritage.
She is a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.