From searching for solutions to climate change challenges to finding cures for terminal illnesses, Latin American women innovators are using science and technology to solve many of the world’s most complex questions and threatening plights.
This week, the MIT Technology Review — the private research university’s technology magazine — published a list of the leading Latin American innovators of 2019 under the age of 35, also granting them awards for their revolutionary inventions and ideas. The awardees included nine women, who have been deemed key inventors, entrepreneurs, visionaries, pioneers and humanitarians solving international problems through tech.
While women made up just about 25 percent of the list — further evidence of their underrepresentation in STEM fields worldwide — their designs, theories and work are critical and inspiring. Here, nine Latin American women regarded for shaking up the tech sphere and using technology to improve our world.
Lucía Gallardo is the Honduran entrepreneur behind Emerge, a start-up that aims to solve social problems with emerging technologies, such as blockchain, Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).
“Through her company, Gallardo tries to bring these types of tools to people who work on social impact projects, especially in impoverished countries such as her native Honduras. One of Emerge’s main sources of support is women and marginalized communities, who are driven by both technology and advice,” MIT Technology Review writes.
María Alexandra Tamayo
María Alexandra Tamayo is a 24-year-old inventor from Colombia who is purifying water in a country that has the second-most water resources but where just 8% of households have access to drinking water. This leads to avoidable diseases and deaths that the biomedical engineer wants to lessen.
“This is how NanoPro was born, a device ‘capable of eliminating fungi, viruses and bacteria from the water without affecting its taste, smell and color,’ the engineer explains. … The filter can be applied in both rural and urban populations, since it is incorporated both in faucets and in thermoses for those areas whose supply network does not reach homes. With her creation, Tamayo seeks to democratize access to drinking water in areas where, although available, it is not suitable for human consumption.”
Maria Angélica de Camargo
In Brazil, 32-year-old molecular biologist Maria Angélica de Camargo created a dengue test that accelerates treatment for the viral disease and reduces mortality.
“After the arrival of the Zika virus in America, the efficiency of dengue diagnostic tests collapsed due to the molecular similarity of the ailments. Camargo details, ‘It is important to identify whether it is dengue or Zika before starting treatment. That is why we made a protein that was totally specific for dengue.’ By developing this exclusive test, false dengue positives are avoided in people with Zika and vice versa. In addition, the cost of the Camargo test is very low when compared to current molecular tests capable of differentiating between one disease and another.”
In Mexico, Marcela Torres, 32, is helping refugees and immigrants access employment and better integrate themselves into society.
“A few years ago, the young Marcela Torres realized that in Mexico there were not enough people with the necessary knowledge for the software developer positions that were offered in the country, so she decided to take advantage of the technology to solve the problem. This is how Holacode was born, a start-up that offers software development courses for the migrant community in Mexico. … The educational program of Holacode lasts five months, and its objective is that technology education becomes more democratic and accessible. The start-up allows these jobs to be filled by especially vulnerable people such as migrants.”
María Isabel Amorín
Guatemalan chemist María Isabel Amorín, 28, discovered an innovative way to clean sewage.
“In addition to emissions and resource consumption, another major negative impact of global industrial activity is water pollution. Specifically, the textile industry not only uses large quantities for the production of clothing, but its wastewater also contains a large number of contaminants. These include dyes, which are very resistant and difficult to eliminate, that create a problem so serious that the government of Guatemala has already fined textile companies for polluting rivers.
Aware of this situation, Amorín synthesized a polymer from shrimp shells that’s capable of retaining the dyes used in the textile industry. … The filter works by recirculating and retaining the dye used to dye clothes. This project is especially intended for artisanal textile production, since the technologies available to treat the waters are very expensive. Now, the young woman is in the process of patenting her ecological method of filtration and hopes to scale production.”
Mariel Pérez Carrillo
Mexican biochemical engineer and entrepreneur Mariel Pérez Carrillo, 27, helps farmers increase their crop production.
“The world’s population will be around 9.7 billion people in 2050, according to the United Nations. With a more populated planet, producing enough food for everyone is a growing challenge and that is also aggravated as a result of the climate crisis. Aware of this problem, the biochemical engineer and co-founder of the company dedicated to the creation of technology in the agricultural area Innus Technologies, Pérez decided to get down to work to avoid the impending food crisis.
The young woman remembers, ‘I went to the countryside to learn from the farmers and I realized that they don’t know how their crop is. They also don’t know what state their soil is in.’ This is how Enviro was born, a device that identifies soil conditions and climate in real time and, from them, offers recommendations to improve crop yields.”
At just 26 years old, chemical engineer Sara Landa discovered a way to reduce fertilizer use in Mexico.
“Symbiotic Labs … is a biotechnology start-up that optimizes nutrient absorption, saves fertilizer consumption and increases crop productivity. … The motivation to create Symbiotic Labs is to fight hunger worldwide and meet the growing demand for food without having to deplete all available land. The young woman details, ‘Current agricultural practices are a disaster and are not sustainable in the long term. Around 30% of the land in Mexico is already losing fertility due to chemical misuse, but at the same time, the demand for food is growing. This leads to increasing use of chemical fertilizers that give immediate results but eventually poison the land.'”
In Argentina, 29-year-old Barbara Tomadoni is also reducing fertilizers in agriculture.
“Faced with a climate crisis that brings more droughts and more heat waves, water becomes even more key to feed a growing world population. In order to alleviate this problem, chemical engineer and food engineer Barbara Tomadoni works to create materials of natural origin that help reduce water consumption in agriculture.
This young scientist from the Thermoplastic Composite Materials Group of the Materials Science and Technology Research Institute of Argentina says, ‘Development of biodegradable biogels for soil moisture control.’ Its objective is to replace the current hydrogels, which can contaminate land and crops, with bio-based alternatives based on polymers of natural origin, such as sodium alginate from marine algae and chitosan, present in the shellfish exoskeleton.”
Inés Benson, 26, is an Argentine developer improving the pesky autocorrect for Spanish speakers.
“Argentina’s Inés Benson has created the free app Guará, an automatic corrector installable on Android keyboards that uses a database of more than 40,000 words typical of the Argentine dialect. That is, an Argentine autocorrector. Although Benson launched her Guará start-up to end this problem in her country, she soon realized that the situation was repeated in other regions of South America. So she decided to develop another free app called Dora, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze oral presentations and give advice to improve them, in addition to transcribing text to speeches. This last creation also adapts and recognizes the different dialects and oral forms of Spanish.”