Celebrating Female Ingenuity: Talented ASEAN Women Inventors

By Linh Nguyen

Time flies, and World Intellectual Property Day – held annually on 26 April – is just around the corner. This year’s theme is “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity”.

For years, women were not expected to contribute to male-dominated fields such as technology and science. However, over time, many women have defied prejudice by proving to the world that they can and do excel in these fields. While men’s inventions tend to receive fanfare, recognition and praise from the masses, women’s inventions have been overlooked, attributed to men, or receive such quiet recognition that it is unknown to the public. Therefore, to celebrate and highlight the importance of women innovators, let’s take a walk around the world to uncover women inventors who have made significant contributions to our daily lives.

When naming famous female inventors, American and European women are often thought of first. Prolific inventors of the 20th century, such as Americans Beulah Louise Henry (over 100 inventions with 49 US patents for practical items such as a can opener, umbrella, dolls, and office equipment to complex devices such as the bobbin-free sewing machine and vacuum ice cream freezer) and Marion Donovan (20 patents, including one for her game-changing disposable diaper), or Polish Stephanie Kwolek (inventor of Kevlar, the material used in protective gear such as bulletproof vests) come to mind.

However, it is not only countries like the United States with their advanced science and technology that nurture talented female inventors. Other countries around the world have also produced remarkable female inventors. Join us as we honour some of these amazing ASEAN woman inventors:

1. Datuk Dr. Choo Yuen May (Malaysia)

Devoting her whole life to the palm oil industry, Dr. Choo has filed more than 70 patents, published almost a thousand scholarly papers, and obtained more than a hundred national and international honours and awards in recognition of her contribution to the industry. She is one of the pioneering researchers in successfully developing environmentally-friendly biodiesel from palm oil, alongside novel, efficient and green processes for the palm-oil industry, in addition to playing a role in the formulation of carotene enriched red palm oil. She received the WIPO gold medal for Best Woman Inventor and an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of South Wales, UK in 2014.

2. Maryam Muzamir (Malaysia)

The statement “talent doesn’t wait for age” aptly describes the story of young Maryam, who, at just 11 years old, invented a notable product to address global food waste and promote a greener environment. She formulated YAM 2.0, a sustainable livestock feed using seafood shells such as ground shrimp and sea snail shells, as a way to reduce common food waste. Maryam has received three international awards for her invention at the International Invention Innovation Competition 2021 in Toronto, Canada including a gold medal, the Canadian Special Award and the Best Young Inventor Award.

3. Carina Citra Dewi Joe (Indonesia)

During the pandemic, when the line between life and death was blurred, Covid vaccines appeared, giving us hope and signaling “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Dr. Carina Joe was a researcher at the Jenner Institute (Oxford University) and a main contributor to developing a method for mass production of the AstraZeneca vaccine. She is also the inventor of two other international patent applications related to the method of cultivating and purifying viruses.

4. Adi Utarini (Indonesia)

Dengue, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes, can be deadly in severe cases and is widespread in tropical and sub-tropical climate areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa and Central and South America. Public Health Professor Utarini pioneered a breakthrough solution by infecting mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria which is harmless to humans but prevents mosquitoes from transmitting dengue. The bacteria, already naturally present in 60% of insect species, reduces the chances of mosquitoes passing the dengue virus on to humans. This effort is considered a victory in eliminating dengue on a global scale.

5. Fe del Mundo (Philippines)

Dr. Fe del Mundo was a pediatrician and inventor who was instrumental in the transformation of the child healthcare system in the Philippines and the improvement of healthcare access to families living in poverty. Her research led to the invention of the incubator and device to treat jaundiced newborn babies, which helped save countless lives. Along with pioneering work in pediatrics, she had an active medical practice, made significant advancements in immunization, and founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines, The Children’s Medical Centre, in 1957.

6. Pussana Hirunsit (Thailand)

Dr. Pussana Hirunsit is a scientist with the National Nanotechnology Centre, which operates under the National Science and Technology Development Agency of Thailand. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Hirunsit developed an innovative approach that uses molecular simulations to identify and develop catalysts that convert carbon dioxide into useful chemicals and renewable energy sources. In recognition of her contributions to the field of nanocatalysis, Dr. Hirunsit was presented with the 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science National Award.

7. Jackie Y. Ying (Singapore)

Prof. Ying is an accomplished nanotechnology scientist known for her research on the biomedical and catalytic applications of nanostructured systems and materials. With a vast IP portfolio, she holds more than 190 primary patents, out of which 41 have been licensed to startups and multinational companies for a diverse range of applications including nanomedicine, drug delivery, medical implants, cell and tissue engineering, bioassays, and medical devices. Prof. Ying has received numerous honours and awards, including election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2021 and the King Faisal Prize in 2023.

8. Le Thi Phuong (Vietnam)

Working as a researcher in Institute of Applied Materials Science under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Dr. Phuong and her colleagues have obtained four patents in Korea and US, focusing on novel biomaterials that support effective disease treatments. One of her notable inventions is multi-functional hydrogel with a variety of applications in treating bone diseases, especially in terms of promoting osteoblast differentiation and having anti-bacterial properties.

9. Le Thi Xuan Thuy (Vietnam)

Dr. Thuy, a lecturer in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Science and Technology of Vietnam, has obtained four patents and utility solutions in Vietnam which are practical and supportive of community efforts to protect environment, such as treating wastewater and water contaminated with heavy-metal ions, filtering groundwater, and more. Dr. Thuy attributes all her achievements to her concern for the environment and shared that all of her ideas and inventions were dedicated to addressing environmental issues. Her inventions have been applied widely in urban areas in some localities nationwide and in many rural areas in the province of Quang Nam, Vietnam.

There is still a large number of talented female inventors that a short article can barely cover – do you have a favourite ASEAN female inventor?

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