Malaria research leader supports STEM stars of the future

Professor Kathy Andrews at the launch of her children's book

Professor Kathy Andrews is busy leading the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery and her own research team battling malaria – the world’s biggest tropical parasitic disease killer – but the next generation of female science stars are never far from her focus, especially on International Women’s Day.

She’ll be on the expert judging panel for the Queensland Women in STEM prize, to be announced during World Science Festival Brisbane(March 20-24), and will join Griffith University colleague Dr Peta-Anne Zimmerman, an international infection prevention and control expert, for a signature festival event:Pandemics and Epidemics: Preparing for the Ultimate Travel Bug (March 22).

Professor Andrews, who is a 2017 WIT (Women in Technology) award winner, former ARC Future Fellow and winner of a Queensland Premier’s award for medical research (2008), will discuss her team’s exciting research into anti-malaria drugs and appeal for a humanitarian and holistic approach to the devastating disease, with many people immune to the statistics.

“I can say that a child dies every two minutes from malaria and it often doesn’t register with people — it becomes a number that doesn’t mean anything,” Professor Andrews says.

While hopeful of the potential for a vaccine, she says there is likely to be a jigsaw puzzle of solutions, including better vector control, public health measures, vaccines and anti-malarial drugs.

Professor Andrews’ commitment to education and engagement comes from her underlying passion to help fight malaria by inspiring a new generation of biomedical scientists.

Science is RAD!

She continues to lead Griffith’s That’s RAD! Science STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) engagement initiative that she started two years ago, when she authored the first in a series of three books encouraging Queensland kids to follow female scientists into STEM careers.

As a children’s author Professor Andrews is happy to talk about creepy parasites (malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted by certain types of mosquitoes) and discuss cool topics like head-lice and poo parasites — all in the name of science engagement!

“My book is aimed at primary school aged children (5-9 years). My aim is to show children that STEM can be fun and a great career option.”

Released during National Science Week Queensland in 2017, My Mum is a Parasite Scientist. That’s RAD! , has since been followed by fellow Griffith researcher A/ProfQin Li’s book Our Mum is a Nanotech Scientist. That’s RAD!, focused on the exciting world of nanotechnology, and Police Senior Sergeant Donna Stewart’s book Our Mum is a Forensic Scientist. That’s RAD!, both published last year and produced by Professor Andrews.

Production has been a largely female project with members of Griffith’s School of Education and Professional StudiesProfessor Donna Pendergast, Dr Mia O’Brien and Dr Georgina Barton editing the series, and students Britney Azzuri and Mayen Walken providing design. Cartoonist Brian Doyle added his creative flair to the colourful picture books.

The accompanying website features activities, educational resources and pictures promoting STEM careers and the team has taken the books and the STEM message to thousands of children, including into Queensland school and council libraries.

“We are working on new books at the moment to add to the series” says Professor Andrews. “There are amazing women in STEM roles in Queensland and I would love to pass on the message to children that anyone can pursue a career in STEM.”

Expect the next installment in the series to explore the exciting science of crystals.

The first three books in the That’s RAD! Science series were supported by the Queensland Government through and Engaging Science grant, the Australian Society for Parasitology, the Queensland Nano- and Nanotechnology Centre, the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society and Griffith University.