Women of Discovery: Q&A with Beate G. Liepert

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala in October. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. We begin our series with Beate G. Liepert, who discovered the climate change phenomenon of global dimming, and will receive our Earth Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

BGL: I don't think there was a singular moment in my life that put me on a track of science and exploration. I was always a very curious person, who loved the unknown, the abstract and the elegant even as a child. I was fortunate to grow up in Germany in the 1970s and 80s. Education was free and not obsessive about testing back then. I would not have gone to college otherwise. As a teenager I had these lofty dreams of doing something good for the world and for others, and the environmental movement attracted me. But I was too geeky for politics. I audited all kinds of classes at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and meteorology felt right. I loved math and physics, and took classes in environmental philosophy, history and fine arts. The discovery of global dimming was my masters and doctoral thesis. I almost wasn't granted my PhD because nobody believed my results. Only the director of the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg Hartmut Grassl supported me. A year later my thesis was cited in the first United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climatic Change Report. Unemployed, broke, and single again, I got the opportunity to go to New York for a postdoc at Columbia University to work on the same subject here in the U.S. I often visited the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology where I worked with climate models. I left academia in 2009 and joined NorthWest Research Associates, a research cooperative in Seattle. Now I am working on a new endeavor and started my own company Lumen. I develop software for new designs of photovoltaic systems to harvest solar energy. This new project combines my artistic and my scientific sides. I got sick of being the bearer of bad news and end of the world scenarios. Instead I want to work on solutions. The WINGS award is a blessing and I will put it towards my new ideas.

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

BGL: My feminine qualities were not needed and my male qualities were not strong enough in my field of physics and climate research. I felt my scientific qualifications, work ethics, and professional attitude were secondary. I always had to go out of the field and connect with other groups or fields to feel whole as a person. I chose to enroll in a certificate program for the fine arts at Parsons School of Design while working as a scientist at Columbia University. It was time consuming and demanding but I couldn't do without it. I needed another environment. I think not feeling whole in my field of science may ring true to many people and not just me as a woman. I always thought: wouldn't it be nice if I could be my true best self in science.

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

BGL: The greatest barriers in science in my opinion is scientific tribalism. I think of science a being dominated by tribes that stick to their tribal rites. The tribal thinking in science leads to a lack of diversity, especially intellectual diversity in traditional scientific institutions. Protectionism stifles creativity. You are confronted with rituals you are not familiar with that makes everyday work life hard. These rites do not make sense for somebody outside the tribe. In my opinion it takes more than just hiring women and minorities into the junior ranks to break these tribal behaviors. I hope in future, there will be more alternatives for scientists to work in non-traditional settings where they can feel at home and be creative. 

 WWQ: What is the most serious threat the world faces?

BGL: In my opinion the largest threat we are facing is increasing indifference and lack of empathy, towards other humans and the world in general. I could say global climate change is the largest threat, but this is only one symptom of the general lack of empathy that I see from my arguable limited perspective.

WWQ: Describe yourself in three words. 

BGL: I strive to be a curious, creative optimist.



You’re Invited to Our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala

Tickets to our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala have officially launched.

We invite you to join us as we induct six new fellows, women who are at the top of their fields and are making contributions to science through exploration.

At the Gala you'll have the opportunity to learn about their cutting-edge research, as well as meet and mingle with some of our other inspiring Fellows.

We’ll also be hosting a silent and live auction, during which you can bid on adventure trips around the world, jewelry, art, personalized tours and much more.

The Awards Gala was established in 2003 to honor and recognize the work of the women explorers who inspire us every day. To date, 73 women have received the Woman of Discovery Award and over $500,000 in grants.

What: Women of Discovery Awards Gala

When: Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, New York City

This year’s Awardees are:

Juliana Machado Ferreira, Courage

Conserving biodiversity by ending wildlife trafficking.

Hope Jahren, Leadership

Inspiring a new generation with passionate writing about research in geobiology and gender issues in science.

Beate G. Liepert, Earth

Discovered the climate change phenomenon of global dimming.

Kristen Marhaver, Sea

Restoring the essential marine habitats that reef corals need to survive.

Sheila Ochugboju, Humanity

Developing and leading pioneering African science, technology and  innovation projects.

Marla Spivak, Conservation

Protecting and enhancing the health and diversity of the world’s declining honey bee population.



Recognizing Our Fellows Who Protect Wildlife

By Vickey Chauhan. Used with permission via Wikimedia Commons.

By Vickey Chauhan. Used with permission via Wikimedia Commons.

National Wildlife Day was founded in 2005 to bring awareness to the need to protect animals in the wild, especially those that are in danger. It also commemorates the anniversary of the death of “The Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

The holiday also highlights the people and organizations who are working to save the animal kingdom and educate the public of the need for environmental stewardship around the world.

Protecting wildlife is a cornerstone of the work of many WINGS Fellows. To mark the day, we are recognizing five of these Women of Discovery:


Elizabeth Bennett

Elizabeth Bennett, who received our 2006 Courage Award, is a wildlife biologist and the vice president of Species Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society. She has long been vocal about the threat that over-hunting and wildlife trade pose to wildlife. Her research concerns what drives unsustainable wildlife trade and how to address it.

Carol Amore

Carol Amore, who has worked as a leadership consultant and filmmaker, was among our first Fellows and won the Film and Exploration Award in 2003. She has designed interactive museum exhibits on tigers and created a film about a Bengal tiger and her cubs. She is also the author of the Independent Publisher Book Award-winning 20 Ways To Track a Tiger, a collection of her photos from the wild.

Katy Payne

Katy Payne is a researcher in the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology. She got her start with a bachelor’s degree in music. She studied the songs of the humpback whale until 1984 when she and two colleagues discovered infrasonic calling in elephants. She then founded the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell. Payne received our 2004 Earth Award.

Leela Hazzah

Leela Hazzah has dedicated her life to protecting lions. She founded Lion Guardians, which develops solutions to allow humans and lions to co-exist in Kenya and Tanzania and trains East Africans to protect the lions in the wild. Leela was named one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes of 2004, and she received our 2009 Field Research Award.

Aparajita Datta

Aparajita Datta is a Senior Scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation in India. Her list of accomplishments is lengthy: She has focused more than two decades on hornbill conservation, discovered two species of deer and a new species of monkey, was appointed to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, and is one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers. She was the recipient of the 2009 WINGS Humanity Award.



Honoring WINGS Fellows in Support of Women’s Equality Day

Photo from the National Library of Congress via Wikimedia.

Photo from the National Library of Congress via Wikimedia.

In 1878, the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was first introduced in Congress. It wasn’t until 41 years later that the amendment passed, marking a pivotal moment in the modern women’s rights movement.

Congress designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1971, commemorating the 1920 anniversary of the certification of the amendment.

The day highlights the need for the continued support of women and the assurance that rights and privileges are afforded to all citizens, regardless of sex.

At WINGS, we support the continued fight for women’s quality. To celebrate the day, here are five pieces of advice from WINGS WorldQuest Fellows about finding success:

Ignore what others say about what you can’t do and follow your heart. The true success of a person is measured by how close she gets to fulfilling her childhood aspirations.
Ana Cristina Pinto

Follow your heart and take as much math as you can.
Eugenie Clark

Everyone is afraid at times. Learn to use your fear – it can fuel you to do more than you ever imagined possible.
Jayne Poynter

Follow your convictions; seek out ways to advance in your field and show leadership because you are needed.
Susan D. Shaw

Keep getting out of the tent.
Felicity Aston



National Honey Bee Day: Learn About Marla Spivak and Her Fight to Save Honey Bees

Photo courtesy of Marla Spivak.

Photo courtesy of Marla Spivak.

In honor of National Honey Bee Day, we’d like to recognize Marla Spivak, a leading entomologist who has worked diligently to protect honey bees.

Spivak will be recognized with the WINGS WorldQuest Conservation Award at our Women of Discovery Awards gala in October.

Spivak is known for her work in breeding bees that are able to detect and eliminate diseased larvae and pupae. Her more recent work includes research on the benefits of propolis, a substance collected by honey bees from trees, and the health of commercial honey bee colonies.

Bees are a critical piece of the world’s ecosystem and are responsible for pollinating most of the crops grown for human consumption. They contribute billions of dollars in food production in just the U.S. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the numbers of honey bees around the world, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. The disappearance of bees has been linked to the use of insecticides.

Spivak is a MacArthur Fellow and a McKnight Distinguished Professor of Entomology at the University of Minnesota.

To learn more about Spivak and her work, watch her 2013 TED Talk: 



Ethiopia Trip to be Postponed Because of Political Unrest

Canopy Meg stands with a Coptic Priest in Ethiopia. Photo by Lyndia Ball.

Canopy Meg stands with a Coptic Priest in Ethiopia. Photo by Lyndia Ball.

Meg Lowman, who had planned to begin an expedition this week in Ethiopia, will unfortunately have to postpone her trip because of political unrest in the country.

The purpose of Lowman’s trip is to survey the biodiversity of Ethiopian forests, to assist with local environmental education and to work alongside Coptic priests to develop a regional conservation plan for the small patches of forests that remain there.

The Church Forest Project provides local communities the resources they need to build stone walls around their forests, thereby protecting the forests from stray cattle and plowing while simultaneously improving the agricultural yield in their fields.

Lowman had planned to lead a team of eleven in the Gondor region of Ethiopia.

According to reports from Amnesty International, at least 97 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured last weekend when Ethiopian forces fired at protesters in Oromia and Amhara.

At least 30 people were killed in one day in the city of Bahir Dar, according to the organization.

The news of the bloodshed illustrates the ways in which political upheaval can derail the missions of those with peaceful intentions, like Lowman. It also highlights the importance of international collaboration and the stewardship of natural resources.

Lowman plans to reschedule the trip for January, during which time she will carry the WINGS flag.

For more information about Lowman, visit her website, To learn more about the Church Forest project, visit the Tree Foundation website at