Women researchers and scientists around the world face many challenges in their research careers. They suffer from marginalization, unequal opportunities, and inequality compared to their male counterparts in the scientific community. The Newton-Musharraf Fund aims to address this issue by empowering women in scientific research communities by providing capacity-building support and implementing their research projects.

This article presents four stories of inspiring Egyptian women researchers who have been able to establish distinguished research projects that contribute to achieving sustainable development. Hopefully, their stories serve as a guiding light for a better future for women in the fields of scientific research and innovation.

Polymers from sugar cane for environmental protection

In support of the fifth objective of Egypt Vision 2030 for sustainable development - to preserve the rights of future generations by enhancing the resilience of the ecosystem, Irene Samy, Researcher at the Egyptian Nile University, is developing environment-friendly biodegradable bags through an innovative research project in partnership with the University of Nottingham, UK.

Egyptians use a huge amount of plastic bags for various purposes. Plastic bags are widely spread due to their low cost. This has serious environmental consequences as plastic is non-biodegradable. Irene's research project aims to use naturally available biopolymers as an alternative to harmful plastics, which can be achieved by improving the performance of these materials and producing them at a low and affordable cost.

'We manufacture food storage bags and packaging materials using sugarcane pulp and making them available at competitive prices. Sugar cane pulp has distinct analytical properties that make it a suitable alternative to the Styrofoam (plastic) currently in use. Our innovative method of manufacturing bags and packaging materials reduces the amount of energy and water required by about half. Thus, the cost of production decreases, and we can make the best use of the product in Egypt,' Irene explained.

The environmental impact of this research project is not limited to finding alternatives to the plastic used in bags, but it also strengthens efforts to combat climate change. Relying on biopolymers from the sugar cane pulp for making bags would encourage the expansion of sugarcane cultivation, which is characterised by its enormous ability to store carbon - by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This could reduce carbon emissions by up to 5.2 per cent.

Irene also adds that the support she received from the Newton-Musharraf Fund for her research project was a milestone in her career. The Fund is building bridges between scientific research, industrial challenges, and government policies; thus, helping to develop both scientific research and industry in Egypt. This contributes to establishing a strong and clear framework that ensures the achievement of the SDGs adopted by Egypt and the United Kingdom.

Low-cost clean energy to support Egyptian tourism

Providing low-cost clean energy to tourist facilities in Fayoum is what Susan Abdul Hadi, Researcher at Fayoum University in Egypt, tries to achieve through a research partnership with Imperial College London. This project, funded by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, aims to develop an ideal design for hybrid renewable energy systems.

The sustainable development of the tourism sector in the Egyptian city of Fayoum is essential to support the local community in that governorate. One way to achieve this is to provide clean, low-cost electricity. Therefore, this project evaluated the efficiency of the use of biomass as well as wind and solar energy in the production of clean electricity within the city. Moreover, it attempted to build a prototype for hybrid renewable energy systems for tourism institutions for to demonstrate the idea and conduct the necessary experimentation.

Through her research project, Susan Abdul Hadi was able to develop a local prototype of a 10-kilowatt hybrid renewable power generation system, which relies on the exploitation of wind and solar power to generate clean, environment-friendly electricity.

'The project provided Egypt Electricity Company technical solutions for the integration of hybrid renewable energy systems with the existing electricity grid on a small scale, which will allow the future expansion of the use of renewable energy,' Susan pointed out.

The project also contributed to the development of the capabilities of the current Smart Grid Energy Management Research Laboratory through the implementation of renewable energy studies. Moreover, the project led to the establishment of a meteorological station at the Fayoum University Regional Training Centre near Lake Qarun.

Susan explained that her research project, supported and funded by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, contributes to the achievement of a number of sustainable development goals, foremost of which is Goal seven about ensuring access to affordable and clean energy, Goal 11 about the sustainability of cities and communities, as well as Goal 13 about climate action. This is done by supporting the provision of sustainable energy solutions that enhance the efforts of the Egyptian tourism sector, and concurrently combating climate change.

Hind Abdel Barr, a researcher at the National Authority for Drug Control and Research in Egypt, aims to find an effective treatment for different types of cancer

Developing an effective and innovative treatment to fight cancer

Cancer is one of the world's most deadly diseases, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of all deaths in the middle- and low-income countries. Finding effective treatments to combat the disease is the goal of a research project conducted by Hind Abdel Barr, Researcher at the National Authority for Drug Control and Research in Egypt, in partnership with King's College London in the UK.  

This research project funded by the Newton-Musharraf Fund aims to develop a new treatment for malignant tumours. This can be achieved by an innovative method that integrates both gene immunotherapy and chemotherapy, with the aim of finding a more effective and efficient therapeutic approach to fighting cancer.

'Immunotherapy is a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment,' Hind explains. 'Therefore, I'm working on nanoparticles that can be used to deliver the nucleic acids needed to implement immunotherapy mechanisms for tumours with different cancer types such as colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, and brain cancer,' she clarified.

It is known in medical circles that immunotherapy is more successful in getting rid of the disease than traditional chemotherapy. It enhances the body's overall natural immune response against tumors, supporting the generation of a long-term immune memory that prevents patients from relapsing into cancer. Immunotherapy is an innovative solution that may in the future eliminate malignant tumors irreversibly.

Hind Abdel Barr's grant contributed to the development of her research career. It enabled her to dedicate her research lab in Egypt to nanotechnology, which aims to develop these innovative cancer treatments. It has also helped her acquire many of the materials and tools that enabled her to conduct her research. Such materials and tools are usually unattainable.

'My character has evolved a lot through working with the UK's most distinguished researchers, and the grant has paved my path to research collaboration,' Hind stated. She then succeeded in obtaining other grants to fund her research projects. This enabled her to publish several research papers in prestigious scientific journals that pushed her research career toward new horizons. 

Hind believes that the cooperation and exchange of experiences between the Egyptian and British research bodies lead to obtaining good results and reaching innovative solutions. This in turn supports the development of radical solutions to the health risks associated with cancer, and thus the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Developing educational systems to achieve sustainable development

In support of the Newton-Mosharafa Fund for women's empowerment in scientific research, Zainab Al-Madawi, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University in Egypt, was awarded the Innovation Pioneers Fellowship in the UK, through her project aimed at forming a startup company to develop educational technology targeting young learners in Egypt and some other countries.

The Innovation Pioneers Fellowship is a programme organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. The fellowship aims to help participants develop their entrepreneurial expertise and build a global network of innovators and entrepreneurs interested in technology. This helped Zainab significantly in implementing her project and achieving its objectives.

Zainab project aims to establish an educational platform that blends the direct interaction between the learner and the teacher with electronic educational systems, in addition to building an application aimed at promoting the concept of the circular economy - which is closely linked to sustainable development - among children and adolescents in both Egypt and the United Kingdom as well as other countries. Her project proposal won first place in the final competition of the Innovation Pioneers programme.

'I was able to include my project in the UN SDSN (2020): Accelerating Education for the SDGs in Universities: A guide for universities, colleges, and tertiary and higher education institutions, which is available in six different languages. This has contributed positively to my career,' Zainab pointed out. 

In addition, she was able to join the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany, as an expert in digital learning innovation, a job that allowed her to apply what she learned during the Newton-Mosharafa Fund Fellowship Programme.

Zainab explains that her project contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by the United Nations, especially with regard to education for sustainable development and global citizenship, and the pursuit of more sustainable consumption and production patterns. This is also in line with Egypt Vision 2030.