Five Talented Women Scientists from the Global South Win OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Research Prize for Their Work on New Ways to Tackle Water Quality Issue

The 2024 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards have recognized women-led science from more than 20 low- and middle-income countries since 2013

March 21, 2024 9:28 AM EDT | Source: Elsevier

Amsterdam, the Netherlands--(Newsfile Corp. - March 21, 2024) - Five women researchers have been awarded the 2024 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World for their contributions to research that helps meet the challenge of improved water quality, advancing UN Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water, sanitation and hygiene - an issue which disproportionately affects women and girls around the world.

This announcement comes ahead of World Water Day tomorrow (Friday 22 March) since the winners’ research explores a wide range of pioneering ways that the challenge of water quality can be tackled, from using hydrological modelling to bioremediation with bacteria, and from creating nanocomposites for heavy metal removal to working with communities to develop sustainable practices. The prize also acknowledges the scientists’ commitment to leadership, mentoring and engagement within their communities, including the translation of research into actionable insights for stakeholders.

Jennifer Thomson, President of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) said "Clean water is as essential a need as it gets - not only for humans but for the ecosystems that sustain us. Our five amazing winners this year are all working in their own different ways to make sure that the most vulnerable communities have access to clean water, and that critical ecosystems such as our coral reefs and wetlands are protected. We are so proud of them and are sure this prize is just one step on their path to success."

Cannot view this image? Visit:

Photo caption (clockwise from left): Zubeda Ukundimana, Lidia Antonella Rivera Peñalva, Shirani Manel Kumari Widana Gamage, Augustina Clara Alexander, Tasrina Rabia Choudhury.

To view an enhanced version of this graphic, please visit:

This year's winners are:

  • Augustina Clara Alexander, University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania: water supply and treatment, hydrological modelling, climate change
  • Tasrina Rabia Choudhury, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Bangladesh: environmental restoration, water quality improvement
  • Shirani Manel Kumari Widana Gamage, University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka: applied microbiology, plant virology, bioinformatics
  • Lidia Antonella Rivera Peñalva, Coral Reef Alliance, Honduras: marine biology, fisheries, socioecological systems
  • Zubeda Ukundimana, Kampala University, Uganda: wastewater treatment, sanitation, and hygiene

"With these awards, our vision is to celebrate impressive women scientists who are helping to make real progress towards advancing the UN SDGs," explained Ylann Schemm, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation. "We know that women and girls bear the brunt of the water and sanitation crisis, yet we do not have gender parity in research around issues disproportionately affecting women around the world. By offering this prize, we want to spotlight the important research undertaken by the women who've become inspiring role models for communities most affected by this issue."

First given in 2013, the award is made in partnership, by the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) and Elsevier Foundation. OWSD fields applications and chairs a panel of distinguished scientists to select the winners, and the Foundation awards a cash prize for each winner of USD $5,000, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a relevant conference in the awardees' field to provide them with vital networking opportunities; in 2024, awardees will attend the International Water Week in Singapore. The winners will also have the opportunity to publish their work in STAR Protocols, an open access, peer-reviewed journal from Cell Press which offers structured, transparent, accessible, and repeatable step-by-step experimental and computational protocols from all areas of life, health, earth and physical sciences.

Past award winners have been invited to meet their country's presidents, and have been celebrated by local, national, and international media, while other winners have gone on to receive other prestigious awards and fellowships including L'OREAL-UNESCO's For Women in Science Fellowships, and to hold influential scientific leadership positions including as National Secretary of Science and Technology.

Notes for editors

Short bios of the 2024 winners:

Augustina Clara Alexander, Tanzania

Augustina Clara Alexander is a civil and water resources engineer from Tanzania. Her research focuses on the areas of water supply and treatment, hydrological modelling, climate change and land use impact assessment, water resources evaluation and management. Augustina is part of Unlocking Resilient Benefits from African water resources (RESBEN), a project looking for a holistic understanding of processes and relationships of factors involved in sustainable water resource management and development while focusing on the novel research theory, methodologies, and practice.

Tasrina Rabia Choudhury, Bangladesh

Tasrina Rabia Choudhury is a chemist from Bangladesh, with expertise ranging from water quality improvement to environmental restoration, from climate change to risk assessment and environmental modeling, and more. She is working to pioneer novel approaches in the remediation techniques of toxic elements from wastewater and drinking water, ensuring the delivery of safe drinking water to underserved communities. Tasrina has actively engaged with local communities, implementing awareness campaigns that educate them about the importance of hygiene and efficient water use.

Shirani Manel Kumari Widana Gamage, Sri Lanka

Shirani Manel Kumari Widana Gamage is a plant virologist from Sri Lanka. Her main research focus is on various aspects of microbiological applications, including bioremediation of polluted soil and water environments, biofertilization and bioherbicides. She has developed a new platform to monitor cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater with a remote sensing-based model, to monitor and predict the risk of bloom and toxins formation for the first time in the country - supporting local communities at high risk of exposure to cyanotoxin-contaminated water.

Lidia Antonella Rivera Peñalva, Honduras

Lidia Antonella Rivera Peñalva is a biologist from Honduras. She has a multidisciplinary research background that ranges from analyzing the management of larval dispersal, to the use of perception research to assess the adaptive capacity of coastal communities. Her Mesoamerican Reef Regional Water Quality Monitoring Program - an initiative across 3 countries, 90 sites and over 20 institutions - established a unified monitoring protocol and provided invaluable data on key contaminants in principal tourist zones. Currently, Antonella works on generating research to support science-based decision-making in fisheries and water quality.

Zubeda Ukundimana, Uganda

Zubeda Ukundimana is a chemical and environmental engineer from Rwanda, working as lecturer and environmental impact assessment consultant in Uganda. Her research has focused on assessing the wetland vulnerability to wastewater and developing treatment processes for abating pollutants concentration to protect receiving water bodies. Currently, Zubeda coordinates the North-South Alliance for inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene - bringing together international partners to confront challenges of water supply and sanitation through mutual co-operation.

To find out how the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award helps shape our understanding of the global South, read more about the 2023 winners here.

About OWSD

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world. OWSD has more than 10,000 members and runs various programs, including the 25-years-running PhD fellowship programme with over 360 successful graduates from Least Developed Countries and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an Early Career fellowship programme providing research grants, with over 100 alumnae, and a new Master's scholarship for refugee women scientists launched in 2024. OWSD is the only international forum to unite women scientists from the developing world with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership. OWSD is affiliated with The World Academy of Science (TWAS), a program unit of UNESCO, and is based in Trieste, Italy, with 54 national chapters throughout the developing world.

About The Elsevier Foundation

The Elsevier Foundation contributes over $1.5 million a year to non-profit organizations through partnerships which incubate new approaches, highlight inequities, and catalyse change toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Funded by Elsevier, a global information analytics company specializing in science and health, the Elsevier Foundation is part of Elsevier's wider corporate responsibility program. By leveraging Elsevier's networks and unique insights in content, data and analytics, the Elsevier Foundation is able to expand its impact in gender, health, climate action and reduced inequalities. Since 2005, the Elsevier Foundation has contributed over $16 million in grants to over 100 partners in 70 countries around the world. In addition, the Elsevier Foundation offers a special fund to support disaster relief, matching employees' donations, and volunteering to enable employees to work closely with Foundation partners and support their communities.

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray's Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundation, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit

Media contact

Rebecca Clear
+44 (0)7919 396403

To view the source version of this press release, please visit