Dr Sam Giles Awarded 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO International Rising Talent Fellowship

At a gala dinner in Paris on March 21 2017, Dr Sam Giles, Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, was presented with a L’Oreal-UNESCO International Rising Talent Fellowship for her work on examining vertebrates’ braincases to find out more about their evolution.

The prestigious Fellowship, awarded annually to fifteen of the most promising female scientists from around the world, consists of an award of 15,000 euros to be spent on continuing the recipient’s research. Dr Giles intends to spend this money on supplementing her research plans, buying new equipment to further her work, and travelling to international conferences.

The L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards, which have now been running for 19 years, are part of an initiative set up by the L’Oreal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO with the aim of increasing the number of women working in scientific research, an area that is still dominated by men. The For Women in Science programme acknowledges and supports women researchers at key points in their careers; five Laureates are awarded each year, to eminent female scientists, while fifteen young female researchers who are in the process of completing their doctoral thesis or post-doctoral studies are recognised for their promise, honoured as ‘International Rising Talents’. The fifteen Fellowships are given to women selected from the winners of the national and regional fellowship programmes, with one regional winner from each country, 280 in total, nominated for the International Fellowships, after which the fifteen winners are chosen.

Dr Giles’s research is centred around paleaobiology and evolution, using fossil evidence combined with modern imaging techniques to understand the evolution of life on earth. Her focus is vertebrate palaeobiology, using x-ray tomography (CT scanning) to ‘virtually’ cut through fossils in order to view both their internal and external features, and in doing so to create a 3D reconstruction of their anatomy. She is particularly interested in looking at the anatomy of vertebrates’ brain and braincase (a bony structure within the head, housing the brain and sensory organs), and comparing key living and extinct animals in order to contextualise major evolutionary events and answer questions regarding evolutionary change in vertebrates.