Young Turkish women building the future

Young Turkish women building the future

The MIT Technology Review announced the 35-under-35 list for 2015. There are three Turkish people in the list. They are all women and currently they are all working abroad. 

MIT described the list as such: All 35 of these people are doing exciting work that could shape their fields for decades. But they’re solving problems in remarkably different ways. We consider some of them to be primarily inventors; they’re immersed in building new technologies. Others we call visionaries, because they’re showing how technologies could be put to new or better uses. Humanitarians are using technology to expand opportunities or inform public policy. Pioneers are doing fundamental work that will spawn future innovations; such breakthroughs will be taken up by tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, people who are building new tech businesses.

Canan Dağdeviren, inventor 

According to Julia Sklar of the MIT Technology Review, Dağdeviren is a master of flexible sensors and batteries and sees opportunities for a new class of medical devices. What do you do when your mother complains that she can’t tell if her skin cream is working? If you’re Turkish materials scientist Dağdeviren, you build a device that can measure changes in skin quality too slight to be detected by human touch. While working with dermatologists to develop the instrument, however, Dağdeviren found that it could be put to a more significant use: screening for skin cancer, either to catch it earlier or to help patients avoid unnecessary biopsies.

Duygu Kayaman, humanitarian 

Ayla Jean Yackley writes that Turkey is a tough place to live without sight. A dearth of social services and education for blind children means families often seclude them at home. Daily activities are riddled with peril; in cities, shoddily built sidewalks are littered with broken paving stones and sudden drop-offs. Gainful employment is a distant aspiration for many. Kayaman lost her vision to an optic nerve tumor at the age of two-and-a-half. Growing up in Istanbul, she was determined to attend school with sighted students, but a lack of textbooks for the blind made it hard for her to compete. Her parents spent evenings and weekends dictating lessons into a tape recorder to help her keep up.

Those homemade audio books later inspired Kayaman to develop a mobile-phone application call Hayal Ortağım (My Dream Partner) to make daily activities easier for the visually impaired. 

Gözde Durmuş, pioneer 

Katherine Bourzac writes that Durmuş has invented a simple, fast method for detecting cells’ telling physical characteristics by making them levitate in a magnetic field and measuring how high they rise. White blood cells, red blood cells, cancer cells, and different bacteria each rise to a different height, because they have a characteristic density that determines the balance between the pull of gravity on the cell and the push of the magnetism. And Durmus has found that when a bacterial cell has responded to an antibiotic, it tends not to rise as high in the magnetic field as it did before. This change can be detected in about an hour, instead of the day traditionally required to determine how a microbe responds to a drug.

I felt so happy and sad at the same time when I saw the list. I am happy because out of 35, three are Turkish women. It is a remarkable success. But instantly I became a bit depressed too. If it wasn’t for the MIT Technology Review, I wouldn’t have known about these amazing women. Turkey has become a bitter place with constant conflicts and barriers to freedom of speech. The situation of women is getting worse year after year. In the meanwhile, all our cabinet thinks and talks about is death and being a martyr. 

Let these most outstanding young women be a reminder to us all. A reminder that given the opportunity and the resources they deserve, Turkish women are capable of changing the world. It is up to us as a society to determine how we will include more women in our work force and empower them. I hope that the authorities will focus on providing a better future to us all instead of wishing to be martyrs, just like Energy Minister Taner Yıldız.