A University of Auckland chemistry researcher investigating new inorganic polymers that could one day produce novel materials has been named the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science New Zealand Fellow.
A lecturer in the University’s School of Chemical Sciences and the founder of the Leitao Lab, Dr Leitao will use the $25,000 prize money to continue her independent research career.
“I’m really delighted to be awarded this prize and very grateful that L’Oréal has chosen to support my work,” Dr Leitao says.
“This area of chemistry has significant potential and could one day help put New Zealand on the global map as a key player in main-group polymer chemistry.”
Most research in the area of synthetic chemistry focuses on creating materials with predominantly carbon atoms. Dr Leitao’s work is targeted at creating new polymers by making use of inorganic elements such as silicon, phosphorus, nitrogen and oxygen.
Alternatives to carbon are in high abundance and have real potential to produce materials with unexplored properties and reactivity. Atoms are linked by the use of a catalyst that speeds up reaction but the chemistry of linking main-group atoms together is not well developed.
University of Auckland Dean of Science Professor John Hosking offered his congratulations to Dr Leitao.
“This is a wonderful achievement for Erin and I am delighted to be able to congratulate her on this award and to see important work by our early career researchers being recognised and supported in this way.”
Executive General Manager of L’Oréal New Zealand, Martin Smith, said research and innovation was at the heart of the company’s business and it was proud to provide the opportunity to ensure women were fairly represented at all levels of science.
“Erin’s research is fundamental and time consuming and it is essential that we play our role in supporting new research solutions to help solve some of the world’s most complex questions.”
Born in Canada, Dr Leitao gained her PhD from the University of Calgary before taking up a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Bristol. She joined the University of Auckland School of Chemical Sciences in 2015 and set up her own research laboratory, the Leitao Lab.
She is the mother of two young children and hopes to inspire other young women to raise a family while also pursuing an academic career.
“I have had some wonderful support and encouragement in my career and my hope is that governments and universities will continue to work towards recognising the importance of helping women with families to achieve their goals.”