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Dr Phylicia Ricketts: Pioneering research on mercury exposure

Dr Phylicia Ricketts, lecturer in the faculty of Science and Technology, Physics, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, was always determined to make her mark in physics, an area of science that is still male dominated.

Male dominance remains in this area despite the growing number of women involved in the sciences.

For Ricketts, it is important that more women get involved in physics so they can specifically tackle issues that are of interest to women. This, she said, was important since females make up roughly half the world’s population.

Ricketts became fascinated with physics while she was a student at the all-girl Immaculate Conception High School. After leaving high school she went on to complete a PhD at the UWI in Applied Physics with a specialisation in Medical Physics which involves linking concepts in physics to medicine. The UWI lecturer noted that the linkages are obvious and can be seen in MRs, CT scans, X-rays and ultrasounds. She explained that concepts in physics are applied to these different imaging modalities.

In explaining why she was so drawn to physics and why she was so intent on figuring out how things worked, Ricketts said: “I had an aunt that passed away from cancer. During the whole treatment process I was interested in the different types of treatments such as chemotherapy, X-rays, etc. That sparked my interest in nuclear physics".

That interest would see Ricketts assisting in the development of BSc and MSc nuclear science programmes at the UWI, Mona in 2020 to increase knowledge and competency in nuclear science applications in Jamaica. Her work is also regional as was evident in 2017 when she developed a fish consumption advisory for pregnant women in the Caribbean. Specifically, the advisory tells pregnant women how much mercury is in the fish they consume. A fish lover herself, her advisory points pregnant women to the fish with the least amount of mercury and the most nutrients that they can safely consume.

Speaking about the research that she was involved with that led to the creation of the advisory, Ricketts said: “Starting this research in Jamaica, I realised that this was worldwide; everyone is concerned about prenatal mercury exposure”.

Photo caption: Science and Technology Minister Daryl Vaz presents a plaque to S&T XXtrordineers honouree Dr Phylicia Ricketts at the launch of the recognition programme on July 14.

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Published on 12 Sep, 2022

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