Three trailblazing Canadians: creating a safer, cleaner environment.
May 1, 2024

Ask a scientist why they pursued a career in science, and they will likely tell you it was it was because they saw an opportunity to solve a challenge and make the world a better, safer place for everyone and not necessarily because they loved algebraic equations or chemical laws.

The 3M 25 Women in Science cohort is no different. Not only does their work have positive impacts on their local communities, but it has the potential to impact our environment globally. 

The 25 Women in Science Program

Through various initiatives, 3M is committed to supporting groups that have been historically underrepresented in scientific fields. With the aim of recognizing the role of women in these areas, we created the initiative 25 Women in Science, which, after three years in Latin America, came to Canada for the first time in 2024.

This year, the program is recognizing and celebrating women whose work in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is changing the world through a focus on environmental sustainability.

“Science thrives on diversity. To solve the real environmental challenges we face, people of all backgrounds must come together. Significant milestones have been achieved in attracting young women to study in the fields of STEM, but we still have a way to go in representing women in STEM leadership. That is why 25 Women in Science is an important program - because visibility and representation of women leaders in STEM matters.”

  • Marie-Claude Brandys, PhD, Managing Director, 3M Canada

2024 Canadian winners

In its inaugural year in Canada, three Canadian women were selected to participate in the 25 Women in Science program. Their innovative work is contributing to a sustainable future by diverting sea waste, protecting drinking water and making wastewater into something more valuable.

Mussel Power: No waste in sea waste

As a high school student, Francesca Kerton fell in love with Chemistry because it satisfied her never-ending desire to know why. At the same time, she was becoming aware of environmental injustices, including access to clean water, pollution, and climate change – driving her to want to make the world a more equitable place through science. 

Now a Chemist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Francesca focuses on systems that support a circular economy. Currently, she leads a research team that is taking on waste and pollution created by the seafood processing sector.

In Newfoundland alone, shellfish production was 3,731 tonnes in 2021, with a value of $16M - increases of 38% and 34%. In most regions, the waste shells and protein enter the landfill and decompose, producing greenhouse gas emissions, or disposed of at sea, contributing to an overgrowth of algae and harming the full ocean ecosystem.

Francesca leads a team that takes the discarded shells from seafood processing and, using environmentally friendly technology, finds new uses by turning them into something new.

This involves removing the remaining protein from waste mussel shells, which can then be used as a fertilizer or fish food. That leaves clean shells, which are primarily calcium carbonate. To close the loop and to make this a cost-effective waste disposal solution for seafood processors, her team is identifying high value commercial uses for the calcium carbonate materials. The possibilities are exciting, ranging from uses in energy storage devices or biomedical applications.

Francesca advocates that more women need to enter the STEM field to help solve critical issues related to sustainability, climate change and clean water. These issues can only be tackled with the cooperation of diverse scientists working together - and including women. In addition to teaching science to her students, she considers part of her job to be empowering them to make a difference through their work.

Protecting drinking water from the threats of climate change

Martha Dagnew, Associate Professor at Western University in London, Ontario and was born in Africa and had an early calling to want to help solve issues with drinking water.

Today Martha works on a water source protection project, which seeks to develop frameworks, technologies, and processes for the protection of water sources under climate change.

Her research proposes to develop a holistic framework to address water pollution and scarcity in a changing climate and develop smaller footprint technologies for existing systems.

Martha is recognized for pioneering the early days of work on anaerobic membrane bioreactors for wastewater treatment. The technology combines traditional anaerobic process technology with membrane technology. It is used for water treatment using a smaller footprint with an added value of energy production and nutrient recovery.

Martha conducts experimental and computational research on energy-efficient, clean, and smaller-footprint water treatment processes and technologies for emerging and conventional contaminants in urban, Indigenous, and remote communities; climate adaptation of existing urban and remote water infrastructure; and water and nutrient recovery from point and non-point sources.

As a scientist and a leader, her mission now transcends professional success; it is about empowerment and representation. Martha aspires to be a role model for young girls, demonstrating through her own story that women can do whatever they put their mind to - and make a positive impact along the way.  

Taking the taboo out of wastewater

Now an Environmental Engineer at Toronto Metropolitan University, Rania Hamza recalls one professor who impacted how she approached science. Dr. Joo Hwa Tay, from the University of Calgary, taught her that understanding why things happen is as crucial as knowing how they happen. This prompted her to approach challenges with a focus on both root causes as well as solutions. 

Beyond the common view of wastewater, a taboo topic no one wants to talk about, Rania believes it is a valuable resource waiting to be harnessed. Her research focuses on cleaning wastewater and extracting valuable resources from it, essentially transforming treatment plants into biorefineries. 

Through process development, optimization, and innovative bioreactor design, she aims to maximize resource recovery while ensuring sustainable practices. By improving wastewater treatment efficiency, reducing chemical use and enhancing pollutant removal, Rania’s project contributes to environmental sustainability and benefits public health.

(image available in English only)

As a scientist, Rania aims to leave a legacy of innovation and impact in the field of environmental engineering. She wants to leave a cleaner, healthier planet for future generations by addressing global challenges like water scarcity and pollution. As a woman in science, being a role model is important to her to show other women and underrepresented groups that they can do anything they put their mind to. 

The value of representation for Women in Science

For Francesca, Martha and Rania, representation is one of the biggest challenges - and opportunities - for women in science.

Francesca recalls having only one female professor throughout her time as an undergraduate and graduate student. Martha describes attending a conference and out of the more than forty attendees, being the only woman and Rania describes the challenges she overcame being a mother and overcoming the demands a family can bring to achieve her goals. These experiences amount to a shared truth - that sometimes being a woman in STEM can be an uncomfortable place to be.

The women agree, to be successful in their fields, courage is just as crucial as capability.

Francesca, Martha, and Rania take their roles as mentors seriously. Each dedicates time to mentorship with the goal of raising the visibility of women in STEM and attracting young girls into the sciences. 

The goal of the 25 Women in Science program is to highlight, amplify and provide further visibility for the selected 25 women scientists and their projects. The recipients will receive recognition from 3M, visibility for the projects in the media and inclusion in the digital book 25 Women in Science 2024. To date, the Women in Science digital books have been downloaded more than 25,000 times.

In good company

Highlights of past participants from across Latin America can be found here, including projects aimed at tackling global nutrition, combating forest fires and a technology that cleans our air from viruses. 

Other Topics

Contact Media Relations

Contact Media Email

These contacts are intended only for the media. If you are not a member of the media, please call 1-888-3M HELPS (1-888-364-3577).

We will get back to you within one business day.

Email Alerts

Subscribe to receive automatic updates via email for 3M news & stories.