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Elisar Barbar

Women scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19

By Vrushali Bokil

Biochemistry Professor Elisar Barbar in her lab.

In recognition of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, held on February 11, we acknowledge the women faculty, students and alumnae of the OSU College of Science. The world’s population is 50% women, and yet only 30% of scientists identify as women.

“Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development.” (Source:

The UN main event will take place online. Additionally, the 6th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly will be held at the United Nations Headquarters virtually.

The UN theme for 2021 is “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19”. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women academics, including women scientists, who may face significant career damage, extending the gender gap in science and highlighting unequal effects and existing systemic inequities. In fact, if we are to learn from past pandemics, women are most affected by pandemics.

The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) endorsed an open letter, published by the European Women in Mathematics which emphasized the unequal effects of this pandemic on all women academics, especially untenured women and caregivers. They offered suggestions for universities, government and funding agencies to proactively support their most vulnerable populations.

"We did not experience the crisis equally. Untenured faculty lost more. Women lost more. Caregivers lost more. The more vulnerable the population, the greater the disadvantage. No one chooses a pandemic, but now we can choose how to respond." -- the EWM Standing Committee and the EWM Working Group on the Corona Crisis

It is also important to recognize that we cannot fold the experiences of all women into one. Covid-19 has its deadliest effects at crossroads of differing axes of oppression. To meaningfully address issues of equity and inclusion requires that we respond to the unequal effects at the intersections of race & ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, among other social axes of oppression.

And yet, women have made critical contributions to understanding and combating the virus and mitigating its effects on disadvantaged populations.

During this International day of Women and Girls in Science, we take the opportunity to highlight the contributions of OSU College of Science women, both alumnae and current faculty and students, to the fight against Covid-19.

Science faculty, students and alumnae making a difference

Dr. SreyRam Kuy

Dr. SreyRam Kuy

Dr. SreyRam Kuy (Microbiology '00) was honored with a 2020 Alumni Fellows Award (as an OSU Honors College nominee) at the OSU Alumni Association’s awards virtual ceremony on October 20, 2020. The award recognizes eminent alumni who have distinguished themselves in their professions and communities. Kuy is a practicing general surgeon, healthcare executive and quality improvement researcher. She currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Texas and is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine.

As the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, Kuy developed a Covid-19 Preparation Tool to help healthcare facilities, businesses and communities rapidly gauge their preparedness for the outbreak, identify areas of weakness and strategically target resources for their greatest impact. She partnered with industry to deploy the free tool widely.

"I had such amazing support at OSU. My teachers and advisers took genuine interest in me and helped and encouraged me. It was a pivotal point in my life that helped me get into medical school and become a doctor,” — SreyRam Kuy

Elisar Barbar

Biochemistry Professor Elisar Barbar

Elisar Barbar, professor and head of the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, has received a two-year $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue research on the SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The research project is aimed at understanding how the N-protein of the SARS-CoV-2 performs its essential functions in viral infection and transmission.

The award was made by the NSF EAGER (Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research) program, which supports new, exploratory and potentially transformative research ideas or approaches that involve the application of new expertise and novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

“My lab is one of the few labs in the world that works on disordered proteins in viruses using NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy). This is an opportunity for us to lead and make an impact. We cannot afford to be spectators." — Elisar Barbar

Dr. Eva Galvez

Dr. Eva Galvez

Dr. Eva Galvez (Biology ’99), a family physician at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, was honored with the 2020 Alumni Fellows Award

The daughter of immigrants, Galvez and her twin sister, Olivia, graduated from the College of Science’s biology program and went on to pursue careers in medicine. Galvez regularly speaks on panels to educate the public around health disparities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Galvez has become a vocal advocate for mitigating health risks for Oregon’s seasonal farm workers and has addressed the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in the House of Representatives.

"Much of our society has this belief that health is something that we have control over — that if we as individuals can just eat the right food and exercise the right amount and take the right medications you will be healthy. ... The reality is only about 20% of our health is determined by healthcare and our individual choice. And the rest is shaped by social factors, otherwise known as social determinants of health, and those include cultural beliefs and your values.” — Eva Galvez

Carrie Manore

Mathematics alumna Carrie Manore

Mathematics alumna Carrie Manore (Ph.D. ’11) is at Los Alamos National Laboratory working as part of the Covid-19 modeling team. Manore is a mathematical epidemiologist in the Information Systems and Modeling Group at LANL since 2013. Her work focuses on modeling mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, chikungunya, dengue and West Nile virus. The LANL Covid-19 forecasts are part of the modeling New Mexico Department of Health officials have been using since April to prepare for and tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has placed mathematical models in the spotlight as they have become central to public health interventions, planning, resource allocation and forecasts. OSU mathematics alumni have made important contributions to Covid-19 modeling and research at both national and regional levels.

"I got a really strong background in math at OSU, which not only helped me acquire mathematical skills, but also a way of thinking. It prepared me to work on real problems in the world like I am doing now.” — Carrie Manore

Rachael Aber

Integrative Biology graduate student Rachael Aber

Rachael Aber, Integrative Biology graduate student, has been involved in the TRACE-COVID project that involves door-to-door community surveillance to gather the information that is essential to slowing the spread and minimizing the impact of the disease. She recently spoke at the ARCS Foundation Virtual Event - Science is the Solution about her experiences. She talked about the importance of scientists interacting with the public. Aber received the ARCS Foundation Oregon Chapter Scholar Award.

She was drawn to the Department of Integrative Biology because of its strong tradition of support for interdisciplinary approaches to urgent research questions. She hopes to focus her doctoral research on investigating issues at the intersection of disease ecology and population biology in the lab of Benjamin Dalziel.

“Working in a lab that employs methods from various fields of study will be invaluable to my progress as a science professional.” — Rachael Aber

Elizanette Lopez

Microbiology graduate student Elizanette Lopez

Recent microbiology master’s program graduate Elizanette ‘Nette’ Lopez (Microbiology, M.S. '20) was selected to participate in the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellowship program. Lopez was offered a position at the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) Biorepository in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Her graduate studies were partly funded by a diversity grant from the NIH. During her time at OSU, Lopez advocated for underrepresented minorities and was an active member of the Microbiology Graduate Student Association, Ethnic Minorities United in STEM and a founding member of the Women of Color Caucus. Toward the end of her graduate studies, the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruptions globally. However, the crisis also provided an opportunity for Lopez to gain experience in public health microbiology as a volunteer for the TRACE-COVID-19 project.

As a volunteer, Lopez helped process thousands of swab samples collected from participants in the field. As an ORISE Fellowship recipient, Lopez will soon process SARS-CoV-2 samples and help organize other collections in the biorepository in Atlanta, Georgia.

Katherine McLaughlin

OSU statistician Katherine McLaughlin

Katie McLaughlin is an assistant professor of statistics and co-Principal Investigator of the TRACE-COVID-19 project. McLaughlin is an applied statistician specializing in sampling methodology and social network analysis, particularly for hidden populations at high risk for infectious diseases. The pandemic has led to volumes of data which require statistical interpretation. The data gathered and analyzed by TRACE researchers provide important guidance for local and state officials deciding which public health actions make the most sense in protecting their communities.

“Thanks to all of the support we continue to receive, and thanks to Oregon State’s overarching spirit of collaboration and service, we’re able to play a key role in helping communities stay safe.” — Katie McLaughlin

In addition to the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this month, the International Women’s Day is on March 8, 2021. The UN announced the theme for 2021 is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, which is aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and calls for the full participation of women, gender equality, elimination of violence against and empowerment for all women and girls. Activities planned around this event will be announced.