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We celebrate our women in science

On this day each year, UNESCO shines a light on the key role women and girls are playing in advancing science and technology.

Science and innovation are helping to drive Imperial's transformation, supporting our commitment to make a meaningful contribution to tobacco harm reduction.

To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke to two of our passionate female scientists – Dr Fiona Chapman, Senior Regulatory Science Writer, and Dr Sarah Jean Pour, Regulatory Toxicology Coordinator – who, among many others, are helping Imperial substantiate the harm reduction potential of our next generation products (NGP).

But how did they take their first steps into their current fields?

Fiona’s love of chemistry and biology at school initially led to a degree in Natural Sciences. “I loved the mixture of scientific disciplines,” she explains. “However, during my undergraduate final year laboratory project I was introduced to the world of toxicology. 

“This inspired me to undertake a PhD in genetic toxicology, looking into how to make chemical exposures to cells in the lab more relevant to real-life human exposures, and how compounds interacted with DNA and cellular machinery. I’ve been a scientist ever since.”

Sarah’s journey involved a little more chance. “I actually registered for a lottery in which unallocated study places were distributed – and ended up in biology! As the course progressed, I discovered my love for cellular and molecular biology. Latterly, I completed my doctorate as a biologist in the field of medicine.”

Today, Fiona is based in our Group Science function in Bristol, while Sarah works in our Biology & Toxicology laboratory in Hamburg.

Fiona’s role involves extracting data from biological, chemical, clinical and behavioural studies, before writing it into scientific dossiers to support our NGP regulatory submissions. “I also like being able to apply my technical expertise through defining and designing studies, interpreting data and writing up for peer-reviewed publication,” she adds. 

“It’s also rewarding to work on our Alternatives to Animal Testing initiative, which aims to ensure our toxicological testing approaches are as consumer-relevant as possible – while avoiding the need to experiment on animals.”

Sarah’s role involves the coordination of the lab work. “Alternating between my desk and the lab is great. My role also allows me to think and work creatively, whether it's establishing new toxicological assays, improving existing methodologies or solving problems.”

Finally, we asked Fiona and Sarah what valuable lessons science has taught them:

Fiona: “You never stop learning and there’s always something new to discover!” 

Sarah: “Stay curious, scrutinise things and never give up.”

Dr Josie Williams, Imperial's Head of Operational Science, said: “Making a positive impact on consumer health through tobacco harm reduction is at the forefront of Imperial’s transformation, so I’m delighted to see this wider recognition of the crucial impact talented female scientists are having in terms of pushing scientific and technological boundaries.”