This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with  Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, is a professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at Asian Institute of Technology. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

How would you describe your work on emissions impact to an audience unfamiliar with this field? Why is this work important?

My research focuses on air pollution and its effects on public health, crops, and climate. Air pollutants are released from a variety of sources – stoves, indoor heating, vehicles, and heavy industry.  Outdoor fires such as burning of household trash or agricultural wastes in the field, like rice straw, also contribute. These pollutants directly affect our health. They may also be toxic to food crops, affecting the availability and price of the food we eat.

Some small sources of pollution can actually be quite significant. For example, smoke from indoor cooking and heating contains many toxic pollutants, including fine particles, gases such as carbon monoxide, and many carcinogens. Women and young children, who often stay indoors, have a higher chance of contracting respiratory diseases due to inhalation exposure.

Cleaner cooking stoves emit less smoke and have more effective ways to vent the dirty smoke out of kitchen than traditional cooking methods. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations are now working to produce and distribute cleaner and more effective cookstoves throughout the world.

Describe your career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I am grateful to my mother.  Although she did not get a chance to attend school formally, she understood the value of education, and always encouraged her children to study. She believed that with education we would have a better life. That has certainly been true for me and my siblings.

Prof. Kim Oanh training her students in a modeling class. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

I received my first engineering degree in meteorology from Odessa Hydrometeorology University, Ukraine.  After that, I came back to Vietnam and became a lecturer at Hanoi University. I was given scholarships to pursue my Master’s and PhD in Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), which presented a great opportunity for me to further advance my scientific training.

Now, as a professor at AIT, I enjoy educating young people about environmental research and encouraging them to use their knowledge to work for a better environment for us and for future generations. I particularly try to encourage female students to be confident, and to believe that, with dedication and hard work, they can excel in their research. Women have just as much potential to achieve scientific success as men.