ALD23: Professor Patrizia A Caraveo, Astrophysicist

Professor Patrizia A Caraveo

Professor Patrizia A Caraveo is an astrophysicist and Director of Research at the Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica (IASFC, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics). Her research played a key role in the discovery and understanding of Geminga, a neutron star in the constellation Gemini, through multiwavelength astronomy. She has also worked on several international space missions, including Cos-B, INTEGRAL and NASA Swift.

Caraveo graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Milan in 1977. Her first decade of research, conducted at IASFC, was devoted largely to analysing and interpreting data collected from the gamma astronomy satellite COS-B, as well as X-ray astronomy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Caraveo identified the pulsar Geminga through multiwavelength astronomy. She conducted this work with her partner and collaborator, the Italian physicist Giovanni Bignami. While the pulsar was first spotted by gamma-ray satellites in the early 1970s, it remained a mystery for years, not having been identified in visible light. Caraveo and Bignami picked up X-rays from Geminga using the powerful Einstein Observatory satellite in 1983, and  in 1992 used data obtained by COS-B to work out that Geminga was 370,000 years old. At least one news report at the time assumed that Caraveo must be a male scientist, attributing this discovery to Bignami and “Patricio Caraveo”.

Caraveo and Bignami also co-authored research showing that Geminga had the key qualities of a neutron star, and was the closest known pulsar to the Earth. These investigations made use of a huge range of space and ground-based astronomy, pre-empting a surge in the study of unidentified X-ray sources by astrophysicists around the world.

Caraveo is currently Director of Research at IASFC, a position she has held since 2002. She is adjunct astronomy professor at the University of Pavia and has worked on several international space missions dedicated to particle physics, including the European INTEGRAL mission, the NASA Swift mission, the Italian AGILE mission and the NASA Fermi mission.

Her awards include the Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society (shared with colleagues in 2007, 2011 and 2012 for their work on the Swift, Fermi, and Agile projects); the Italian National Presidential Prize in 2009 for her contributions to understanding high-energy neutron stars; and the “Outstanding Achievement Award” from Women in Aerospace-Europe in 2014. She is a member of the 2003 Group for Scientific Research and 100 Women Against Stereotypes.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @CaraveoPatrizia

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Jeanne Villepreux-Power, Marine Biologist & Inventor

Jeanne Villepreux-Power

Known as the “mother of aquariophily”, Jeanne Villepreux-Power was a French marine biologist and the inventor of the glass aquarium. At a time when women were excluded from the scientific establishment, she made revelatory discoveries about aquatic species, notably that the Argonauta octopus produces its own shells.

She was born Jeanne Villepreux in September 1794 in Juillac, Corrèze, a rural part of southern France. Legend has it that she walked all the way to Paris at the age of 18, where she eventually became a successful dressmaker and married the merchant James Power in 1818. The couple then moved to Messina in Sicily, a harbour city that would become the site of Villepreux-Power’s astonishing scientific achievements.

In Sicily, Villepreux-Power – who had no formal education but was able to read, write and sketch – could pursue her voracious interest in subjects including geology and natural history. She made careful observations and collected specimens of local flora and fauna during walks around Messina, becoming particularly fascinated with molluscs and one of their most mysterious predators: the small octopus Argonauta argo.

This cephalopod had been the subject of myth and conjecture since the time of Aristotle, who believed it may have travelled along the surface of the ocean like a boat (with its sail-like membranes propelling its shell across the water). In Villepreux-Power’s time, the prevailing theory was that the Argonauta acquired its spiral shell from a different organism, much like a hermit crab. But through groundbreaking research, she proved that the Argonauta produces its own shell.

This wasn’t a simple discovery. “As soon as [the Argonauta] perceives that it is being observed, it withdraws its membranes into its shell in the blink of an eye and flees to the bottom of the cage or the sea, reemerging to the surface only when it thinks it is safe from all danger,” Villepreux-Power wrote. And so she devised the first glass aquarium in 1832, an invention which is recognised as her greatest contribution to marine biology. Her design was a forerunner to the model still used to study marine life today and it allowed her to observe the octopus without it being aware of her presence.

After five years of studying the Argonauta, she concluded that it grew its own shell, which it could repair using its own substance and broken shell pieces. Villepreux-Power reported her results to multiple European scientific societies, and the respected biologist Sir Richard Owen presented her research to the London Zoological Society in 1939. Some male scientists cast doubt on her (correct) claims, but soon, they were published across Europe.

Villepreux-Power published two books about her experiments, as well as the first studies into Argonauta reproduction. Overall, her research laid the groundwork for later discoveries about octopus intelligence and consciousness. She was also interested in conservation and is considered a pioneer in aquaculture, today recognised as an environmentally responsible form of fish farming.

During her lifetime, Villepreux-Power became a member of more than a dozen esteemed scientific academies and institutions, an achievement almost unheard of for women at the time. Tragically, most of her scientific collections, writings and other materials were lost in a shipwreck in 1838. Evidence of her work survived, but she stopped publishing and divided her later years between Paris and London – returning to her hometown of Juilliac shortly before her death on 25 January 1871, aged 76.

In 1997, the Magellan probe discovered a new crater on Venus. It was named Villepreux-Power, after the woman whose own discoveries opened up new vistas of scientific understanding.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Sarah Al Amiri, Engineer

Sarah Al Amiri

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, سارة بنت يوسف الأميري, is chair of the the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency and the UAE Council of Scientists. She played a central role in the historic Emirates Mars Mission, which saw the UAE become the first Arab nation to reach the red planet in 2021.

Born in 1987, Al Amiri grew up in Abu Dhabi. Her fascination with space was sparked at the age of 12 when she saw a photo of the Andromeda galaxy. When she finished school, however, she chose to study computer science at university – believing that “higher education careers or studies in space exploration [was not] a realistic option”, as the UAE did not even have a space programme at the time.

Al Amiris’s career path opened up when she completed her master’s in 2009 and was hired as a software engineer by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (now the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre). She would later be promoted to head of research and development, working on the UAE’s first and second Earth observation satellites during her time at the centre.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) launched in 2014, and Al Amiri established a project that resulted in the successful 24-hour flight of a prototype pseudo-satellite vehicle – reaching the highest altitude of any unmanned aircraft over UAE airspace. The same year, she was named deputy project manager and science lead of Al-Amal (Hope), the UAE’s inaugural Mars mission and its most ambitious space project yet.  The goal was to send a probe to Martian orbit by 2021 to coincide with the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

The Mars mission was not Al Amiri’s only focus during these years. She was appointed head of the Emirates Scientist Council in 2016, aged just 29, and in 2017 was given her first post in the UAE government (becoming the cabinet minister responsible for the advanced sciences). A year later, she was made chair of the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term used to describe 21st century technological advancements including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and quantum computing.

The UAE’s Mars mission launched to global fanfare in July 2020. The same month, Al Amiri was appointed chair of UAESA, making her the youngest person ever to lead a space agency. When the Hope spacecraft successfully orbited Mars in February 2021, the UAE became the fifth nation ever to reach the planet.

Some of Hope’s major contributions to science include the sharpest and most precise mapping of a “discrete aurora” on Mars’s nighttime side, and the detection of dramatic variations in atomic oxygen and carbon monoxide in the planet’s dayside atmosphere. The mission has also been significant in terms of gender representation. Women made up 80 per cent of its science team, as well as a relatively high 34 per cent of the mission team.

In May 2022, Al Amiri’s governmental brief was expanded when she was made Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology. She has helped assemble a team focused on women in sciences, addressing what she describes as the “leaky pipeline” that can see women drop out of STEM programmes before beginning their careers. And she is currently overseeing work on the UAE’s next major mission: a flyby of Venus and seven different asteroids, due to launch in 2028.

For her contributions to science, technology and engineering, Al Amiri has been honoured as one of the World Economic Forum’s 50 Young Scientists in 2015; one of the BBC’s 100 Women in 2020; and on the 2021 Time 100 Next list.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @SarahAmiri1

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23 Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections between Mathematics and Literature, Sarah Hart

Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections between Mathematics and Literature, Sarah Hart

We often think of mathematics and literature as polar opposites. But what if, instead, they were fundamentally linked?

In this insightful and laugh-out-loud funny book, Once Upon a Prime, Professor Sarah Hart shows us the myriad connections between maths and literature, and how understanding those connections can enhance our enjoyment of both.

Did you know, for instance, that Moby-Dick is full of sophisticated geometry? That James Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness novels are deliberately checkered with mathematical references? That George Eliot was obsessed with statistics? That Jurassic Park is undergirded by fractal patterns? That Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie created mathematician characters?

From sonnets to fairy tales to experimental French literature, Once Upon a Prime takes us on an unforgettable journey through the books we thought we knew, revealing new layers of beauty and wonder. Professor Hart shows how maths and literature are complementary parts of the same quest: to understand human life and our place in the universe.

Order the book on

About the author

Sarah Hart is a respected pure mathematician and a gifted expositor of mathematics. When promoted to full professor of mathematics at Birkbeck College (University of London) in 2013, she became the youngest STEM professor at Birkbeck and its first-ever female mathematics professor, as well as one of only five female mathematics professors under the age of 40 in the United Kingdom. Educated at Oxford and Manchester, Professor Hart currently holds the Gresham Professorship of Geometry, the oldest mathematics chair in the UK. The chair stretches back in an unbroken lineage to 1597. Professor Hart is the 33rd Gresham Professor of Geometry, and the first woman ever to hold the position.

You can follow Sarah Hart’s work here:

Twitter: @Sarahlovesmaths
Linktree: Sarahhart1 

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge, Chemist and Physiologist

Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge

Dr Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge was a pioneering chemist and physiologist whose research laid the foundation for the creation of standardised hearing aids. A renowned scientist and educator whose work spanned fields including medicine, physiology and otology in the 1920s and 30s, she played a key role in establishing hearing aid clinics for the deaf. She is also notable for her invention of the miniature pH electrode and her work on artificial respiration.

Kerridge was born Phyllis Margaret Tookey in April 1901 in Bromley, Kent (Kerridge was her married name). She studied chemistry and physics at University College London (UCL), obtaining her honours degree in 1922.

Her first major scientific achievement came in 1925, when she was conducting research for her PhD in biochemistry. Kerridge created the miniature pH electrode, a glass tool that could fit into narrow layers in living tissue to analyse biochemical samples such as blood. She completed her PhD in 1927.

In addition to lecturing in UCL’s department of physiology, Kerridge studied medicine at University College Hospital, qualifying in 1933. She began working with scientific instrument maker Robert Paul, conducting rigorous physiological tests on an early life support device (later known as the Bragg-Paul respirator). Kerridge’s tests and recommendations helped make the device more efficient, comfortable, smaller and simpler, so it could be rolled out into hospitals and even used on newborns.

Later in the 1930s, Kerridge began working at the Royal Ear Hospital in London. Her research – initially on the hearing of London schoolchildren, then expanded to include adults – revolved around the ‘silence room’ at University College Hospital. A large soundproof space equipped with a pure-tone Western Electric Audiometer, this became the centre of Great Britain’s first clinic where people could access free and impartial advice on hearing aid prescriptions. In first-of-their-kind studies, Kerridge used the audiometer to quantify data on hearing thresholds. She said she conducted this research not in pursuit of “new facts, but for measurements, as precise as human material and physical instruments would allow”.

Further clinical tests by Kerridge produced data that was used to improve the Post Office’s amplified telephone service for people with hearing loss. Her research promoted the idea that hearing could be objectively assessed, enabling the NHS to start prescribing standardised hearing aids in 1948. The design of the Medresco, the first NHS hearing aid, was based on phonetic tests co-created by Kerridge.

Kerridge approached her work on deafness with empathy as well as scientific curiosity. She didn’t just want to help people with hearing loss communicate; she wanted them to be able to enjoy socialising and listening to music, too. She was known for striving to include the lived experiences of patients in the prescription of their hearing aids, and worked to design new devices that would give people more autonomy over hearing tests.

Over her long career, Kerridge worked at the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth; the Physiological Laboratory, Cambridge; the Carlsberg Chemical Laboratorium, Copenhagen; the Medical Unit of the London Hospital; and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. When the Second World War broke out, she was seconded from University College Hospital to serve the Emergency Medical Service at a hospital in Epping, where she and her colleagues created an improvised laboratory for work in pathology and blood transfusions.

Sadly, it was at this hospital where she contracted an unknown illness. She died on 22 June 1940, aged just 38.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.