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Science Saturday Zurich mathematician wins prize for pioneering women researchers

Bouvel won the prize for excellence in her chosen maths field of combinatorics. 

(SNSF/ )

The Swiss National Science Foundation has selected University of Zurich researcher Mathilde Bouvel to receive this year’s Heim-Vögtlin prize and CHF25,000 ($25,523) for her work in an emerging mathematics field.

Bouvel, from France, is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Zurich (UZH) Institute of Mathematics. Her field of combinatorics, which is closely related to statistics and probability theory, deals with the enumeration, combinations and permutations of defined sets of objects within a larger whole. The 34-year-old’s research especially focuses on pattern avoidance in permutations, which has specific applications to other scientific fields including genomics, computing and physics.

According to a statement from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), Bouvel is “positioned at the leading edge of this rapidly developing field” and “has become increasingly influential” over the past decade for her inspirational work. In addition to publishing in prestigious journals, Bouvel also contributes to the mathematics and broader scientific communities as an organiser of the international “Permutation Patterns” conference.

Balancing career and family

The Marie Heim-Vögtlinexternal link (MHV) Prize is awarded annually to one recipient of an academic grant of the same name. For the last 25 years, the MHV grant has been awarded by the SNSF to highly qualified “female doctoral students and postdocs in Switzerland who had to interrupt or reduce their research activities due to family commitments”. Grantees receive salary support for up to two years, and the funds can also be used to cover research and childcare costs.

Bouvel, who has two children and recently returned from maternity leave, received the MHV grant to support the continuation of her scientific career after she left a research post at the Bordeaux Computer Science Research Laboratory in France when her husband was offered a professorship at UZH.

She will receive her prize on November 16, following a UZH ceremony to mark 150 years since Russian student Nadezhda Suslova became the first woman to obtain a doctorate in Switzerland.

Both the MHV prize and grant are named for the first Swiss woman to attend the University of Zurich. Marie Heim-Vögtlin was admitted in 1868 to study medicine, and after earning a PhD, she became the nation’s first female physician when she opened a gynaecology practice. Heim-Vögtlin went on to balance her professional career with family life following the birth of her two children.

Beginning this autumn, the MHV grant will be replaced by a new, larger SNSF funding scheme entitled Promoting Women in Academia (PRIMAexternal link).


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