Fighting biases

Mentorship and communication identified as key aspects of ending gender inequalities in the energy industry

At WIN's inaugural event, attendees were asked to respond to questions about gender biases. Getty Images

Last week, female engineers and entrepreneurs from across the state gathered for the inaugural Society for Petroleum Engineers Gulf Coast Section' Women-in-Energy Congress.

Attendees were able to hear from speakers, like Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America, who delivered the keynote address, as well as opt into breakout sessions and discussions, like "The New Age of Startups."

Throughout the day, the attendees were asked to respond to questions regarding their experience as women in a male-dominated field. The results show that mentorship and communication are both keys to ending gender biases in the workplace, while things like politics and lack of female mentors hold back results.

When asked about how men could be allies in the workplace to women, over 48 percent of respondents said male coworkers could do a better job of checking their unconscious bias in themselves and in others.

More than 47 percent responded that the biggest positive impact for their careers has been a boss, mentor, or sponsor, and almost 70 percent of those polls said that direct managers or people in the C-suite had the greatest impact of eliminating gender biases in the workplace.

For women seeking support in their careers, it was clear from the event that the solution is looking to other women who may have been in similar situations. Almost 100 percent of respondents said they have considered or pursued a career change in the past — half of those wanted a career change to expand their skill set and over a third felt like they have growth opportunities in their current role.

Texas ranks as the top state for female entrepreneurs, so there is potential for success within larger companies. According to the speakers and conversations at WIN's event, there's a lot both women and men can do to end gender biases for future business operations.

Courtesy of WIN

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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