Meet the winners of the 2023 Women in Science Motivational Prize

Meet the winners of the 2023 Women in Science Motivational Prize

This year’s Women in Science Motivational Award winners are working to improve soil health. Clockwise from top: Julia Jansson, Claudia Christine Avila, Elizabeth Koziol, Lydia Jennings, and S. Pearl Egendorf. (Credit: Kate Brennan)

The Story Exchange today announced the winners of its third annual Women in Science Incentive Award – a $25,000 grant program that supports innovative female scientists working to combat the devastating effects of climate change.

This year, the hottest on record, the focus is on women leading efforts to improve soil health. “Whether it’s rising sea levels or more frequent wildfires, the land we walk on is increasingly vulnerable,” said Victoria Wang, co-founder of The Story Exchange. “We impressed these scientists with their innovative solutions and commitment to vulnerable communities, because we know that soil health is also an environmental justice issue.”

Extreme conditions affect soil, which has long been overlooked as a home for microbes, plants and animals. Soil resilience is crucial for agriculture and food production, but also for public health, as soils can emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.

While soil is an important filter of water, reduces the effects of rainwater and serves as a growth medium for plants, it can also store dangerous pollutants such as arsenic and lead. “Access to clean soil, like healthy air and water, is critical for individuals and communities alike,” said Sue Williams, co-founder of The Story Exchange. “World leaders may be too slow to take action, but these women are working urgently to repair the damage and prevent more from happening.”

The five winners were selected after a two-pronged submission process, following rigorous scientific review by judges from multiple universities and evaluation by The Story Exchange editors. To be eligible, applicants must hold advanced degrees in engineering, environmental science, or closely related fields, and work in the soil field as researchers or entrepreneurs. Each winner will receive a $5,000 grant to continue their work.

Story Sharing, which aims to amplify women’s voices, started the Women in Science Catalyst Award in 2021 to specifically recognize the work of female scientists, who often face discrimination and feel isolated in their work. That year, grants went to women water workers, while last year grants went to women leading efforts to improve air quality.

Below are this year’s grant recipients, in alphabetical order.


Claudia Christine Avila, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, works with farmers in Southern California who are concerned about declining water availability.

Claudia Christine Avila

In her work, Claudia Christine Avila collaborates with farmers in Southern California to study how soils are transformed by drought and fires. She believes her early interest in gardening, inspired by her Mexican-born mother, led her to a career in environmental science. “It’s a really powerful thing for people to connect to the land, and to actually listen to what the soil is telling you,” she says. That’s why I decided to teach students about “the thin crust on which life on Earth depends.”

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At Pace University, S. Pearl Egendorf studies urban soils and helped develop the Clean Soil Bank in New York City.

S. Pearl Egendorf

At Pace University, S. Pearl Egendorf Urban soils—particularly those of New York City, and their intersections with food and climate justice. Egendorf is raising money to build a solar-powered truck that can test urban soil and bring soil science to residents — young and old alike. Soil is “the interface between the living world and the non-living world,” Egendorf explains.It’s really important to uphold justice, especially in cities where many of us grow up feeling like nature exists elsewhere.

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Julia Jansson and her team provide farmers a way to monitor what’s happening in their fields in real time.

Julia Janson

Research by soil scientist Julia Jansson gives new meaning to the term “field” work. In North Carolina, a doctoral candidate is spending time with farmers to understand how rising sea levels and rising salt concentrations in the soil affect them Carbon cyclingMicrobial diversity and crop productivity. Its state’s valuable farmland is known to be flat and fertile, and generations of farming families still harvest there. “Being able to connect with them and spend so much time there was really amazing,” she says.

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Lydia Jennings, who goes by the name “NativeSoilNerd” on social media, plans to convert her Covid-19 rapid response unit into a mobile soil laboratory.

Lydia Jennings

A desert child, Lydia Jennings grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the Pueblo people. There were no rivers or water in sight, only land to play on. “It helped me see soil in a very complex way,” Jennings says. While people often think about the air they breathe or the water they drink, they often forget about soil, especially if they have little interaction with it. Now at Duke University, she is leading efforts to improve Indigenous lands crossed by gas pipelines and suffering from the effects of mining.

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Elizabeth Koziol, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, has spent two decades researching fungi in nature.

Elizabeth Koziol

For Elizabeth Koziol, it was awe My joint Mycorrhizal fungi – a type of fungus that attaches to plant roots, providing nutrients and water – which led to the founding of her startup MycoBloom. When viewing fungi Under the microscope”“They’re really beautiful,” she enthuses. “Lots of yellow and red and beautiful colours. And they’re full of fat, so they look like crystal balls. It’s counting on The ability of fungi to enhance soil resilience to combat the harmful effects of agriculture, land development and climate change.

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