A PROFESSOR who has won a prestigious $100,000 award recognising women in science has dedicated the award to Oxford, the city where she launched her career.

Prof Pratibha Gai has been named the 2013 European Laureate at the 15th annual L’Oreal-Unesco For Women in Science Awards.

It celebrates the work of female scientists from around the world.

She said: “I want to dedicate this award to the people of Oxford for making this possible.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and greatly honoured to receive this prestigious award. It is very humbling for me.”

The award recognises her achievements in modifying her electron microscope so she could observe chemical reactions occurring at surface atoms of catalysts.

This helps scientists in their development of new medicines, or new energy sources.

Prof Gai, who lives near Eynsham, started her career at Oxford University.

She works at the University of York and is following in the footsteps of Oxford University professor Frances Ashcroft, who won the award last year for her diabetes research.

Prof Gai said: “I want to take this opportunity to encourage women scientists.

“We need more of them to benefit science as a whole.

“What happens is that society, even today, has ideas about what is acceptable for women to do in life and often that excludes science.

“But what I tell girls is to aim high, you can do whatever you want to do. Science teaches you about the world you live in.”

She added: “Fifty per cent of the population are women, so science should reflect that, though things are getting better.”

The prize money will be awarded at a ceremony on March 28 next year at the Unesco headquarters in Paris.

Awards were handed out to four other exceptional female scientists, one from each continent.

The awards jury was chaired by Prof Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Linus Pauling, chair professor of chemistry and professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Unesco director-general Irina Bokova said: “These five outstanding women scientists have given the world a better understanding of how nature works.

“Such key developments have the potential to transform our society.

“Their work and their dedication serves as an inspiration to us all.”