Posted Wednesday 2 February 2022
A computer science expert whose research could lead to potentially lifesaving early and better diagnosis of certain cancers and heart disease has been named the second annual winner of the Kingston University Woman in STEM Award.
Sarah Barman, Professor of Computer Vision in the University's School of Computer Science and Mathematics, was nominated by colleagues in recognition of the impact of her research, being an ambassador for research excellence and inspiring colleagues and academics around the world.
The annual accolade, awarded by the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing, recognises a woman academic or professional staff member whose outstanding work has made a real difference in their field.
"I've always followed my passion and interest within physics and computer science and feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunities to undertake research and teach within these fields. I feel proud to be able to contribute towards advancing science," Professor Barman said.
The leading academic's research projects include exploring how artificial intelligence can be used to analyse images of the mouth and blood vessels in the eye to detect the early signs of oral cancer and predict the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Her work, alongside the contributions of her collaborators at St George's, University of London, could lead to life-saving earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment.
Having developed a passion for science from a young age, Professor Barman outlined the importance of encouraging girls and young women to study subjects that were traditionally male dominated, if that was what interested them. "I remember enjoying how science provided explanations for understanding the world and found it fascinating. I was also fortunate that many of my teachers and lecturers were supportive and encouraged my interest," she said.
"It is important that women like me, researching and working in STEM subjects, are more visible so that it normalises women being science researchers. Initiatives such as this award, along with other work we are doing to remove barriers, such as running mentoring schemes within the institution and undertaking outreach work with local schools, all help to challenge stereotypes and hopefully help inspire other women to explore similar career paths."
Professor Barman developed a keen interest in computing when she had to write computer programs as part of her physics research. This led her to join Kingston University's Department of Computer Science in 2000.
Her research in this area has focused on the development of computer vision techniques to analyse images of the eye and inside of the mouth to support decision-making by clinicians. One of her research projects, in collaboration with Cancer Research Malaysia and funded by the Medical Research Council, involves using artificial intelligence to detect mouth lesions from the oral images of people in rural regions of developing countries who do not have easy access to specialist healthcare.
Although at an early stage, Professor Barman's work might one day lead to better diagnostics in the NHS and other healthcare systems abroad, helping to treat disease earlier and potentially save lives.
"Together with my colleagues at St George's, we are trying to answer some important questions in healthcare, such as how can we diagnose disease earlier, how can we diagnose better, and even how disease develops," she explained. "I feel I am doing work that in the long-term could make a significant difference to people's health.
"I also thoroughly enjoy teaching and mentoring. It is rewarding to see the researchers I supervise develop their own ideas and conclusions and I also enjoy encouraging my students to overcome challenges and help them as they progress to the next stage of their studies or career journeys."
Professor Jean-Christophe Nebel, Director of Research and Enterprise in the University's School of Computer Science and Mathematics who nominated Professor Barman for the award, said she was an inspiration to all who worked with and were taught by her.
"Sarah is world-renowned for her pioneering work, particularly in the field of retinal imaging, and leads major international projects," he said. "She demonstrates a real passion for her research, while at the same time remaining very accessible to her colleagues and students. She is always keen to support and encourage them, often acting as a valuable and generous mentor."