Cape Town. 150325. Adriana Marais is one of the first persons whom will possibly inhabit the planet Mars. Pic COURTNEY AFRICA

Durban – Prospective Mars adventurer Adriana Marais, a PhD student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has been named one of 15 promising young female scientists from around the world.

Marais received the accolade at the 17th annual L’Oréal-Unesco “For Women in Science” Awards held in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne University in Paris last week.

The event acknowledges the achievements of women in science who are at the cutting edge of research in their fields.

Marais’s PhD research is on the “quantum effects in photosynthesis”.

She is one of 100 candidates worldwide short-listed for a one-way expedition to Mars through the Mars One project. A group of 24 people will leave in 2024.

The private initiative hopes to send a human settlement to Mars and raise money through a reality TV show filming contestants in the build-up to their departure from Earth.

Marais will know by the end of next year if she is one of those destined for extraterrestrial travel.

L’Oréal Foundation chief executive Jean-Paul Agon said the foundation was not celebrating “women scientists”, but exceptional scientists who happened to be women, and scientists like Marais were the future.

“Marais is a prime example of why initiatives like this should be freeing the creative force of half of humanity,” he said.

Marais was featured for her research in quantum biology. She said she enjoyed this research area as it questioned the origins of life.

“It is a fantastic honour to be recognised for my research. I am driven by curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. As a researcher, I feel extremely lucky to be spending my days trying to answer questions I have about the world around me.

“While we have not yet discovered ‘what life is’, we are certainly lucky to be alive during such an exciting time in the history of life on Earth.”

Marais said she hoped her achievements would inspire and encourage curiosity in young girls and boys, and let them know that science was an exciting career option.

“I hope the awards will achieve the goal of inspiring more women to get involved and stay in science, and show them some of the opportunities for funding and support.

“A society with only men doing science can do only half the science that could be done if women were more involved.”

Marais will graduate with a PhD at UKZN next month.

The Mercury