Dame Anne McLaren: From one generation to the next

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Kat Arney

When I started my PhD at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, I was an ambitious, and probably quite insufferable, young thing straight out of university. At the other end of her scientific lifespan was Anne — more formally known as the Honourable Dame Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren — who, even though in her 70s, was a regular and forceful presence in the lab and in our shared team meetings. Once I’d got over my arrogant assumption that this short but sprightly old lady had nothing to teach me, I became hugely respectful of her views and thoughts.

As a newly hatched scientist, I was learning my trade working with Professor Azim Surani. My research was embryonic in both senses of the word, as I tried to understand some of the earliest events that happen when life begins. Hour after hour I stared in fascination and frustration down a microscope watching perfectly spherical mouse...

 

 

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Penny Gowland: Tutor, mentor and pioneer

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Heather Williams

The memories of my undergraduate days at the University of Nottingham resemble a richly coloured tapestry. My mind’s eye is immediately drawn to the great contrasts: the vivid brights of elation that accompanied success, adventure, satisfaction and falling head-over-heels in love; the darker, sombre tones of rejection, uncertainty, fear of failure and constant money worries.

The figures in the foreground form a familiar pageant of forms and faces, the individuals who were my world for three years. Those I lived and worked with, laughed and cried and supported and grew with; some of my first true friends, with whom I shared my very self. Some have moved on to futures disconnected from my own, some maintain a courteous online connection, some even send me Christmas cards. Others still sit at the very centre of my life, amongst the select few I could call at 3am in...

 

 

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Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw: Puzzles, bubbles and lattices

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Katie Steckles

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw is a prolific mathematician and political figure originally from Manchester. Even among mathematicians, Kathleen Ollerenshaw isn’t a household name, but she should be: she’s made contributions to several areas of mathematics, and her work in politics included a long campaign to improve the state of education, in particular maths education, in Britain.

Born in Withington in 1912, Kathleen studied at St Leonard’s boarding school, St Andrews, where she excelled in mathematics as well as enjoying sports. Although she lost her hearing at the age of eight due to an inherited condition, she didn’t let this affect her work and studies — she could lip-read fluently. Kathleen considered mathematics to be one of only a few subjects in which her deafness didn’t put her at a disadvantage. She didn’t even reveal to her interviewers at Oxford she was deaf u...

 

 

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Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin: A life in Oxford science

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Georgina Ferry

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who began the research that made her world-famous at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, is the only British woman ever to have won a Nobel Prize for science. Not only was she a great scientist, but she attracted widespread admiration for her devotion to the cause of world peace and for her efforts to promote science and education in the developing world. At the same time, long before it was commonplace for women to work after marriage, she supported her husband in his own demanding career and brought up three children.

Dorothy dedicated her working life to finding the structures of medically important natural chemicals such as antibiotics, vitamins, and proteins. The activity of these chemicals in the body depends on the way the tens, hundreds or even thousands of atoms in each molecule are connected in a precise three-dimension...

 

 

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Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Expanding celestial horizons

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Jacqui Farnham

In February 1968, a last minute paper was rushed into Volume 217 of the scientific journal Nature. The paper detailed the discovery of a completely new kind of star, a type of celestial object that had previously been utterly unknown to astronomers. It was a revelation that shook the world of astrophysics and preceded a new way of thinking about the Universe. But the momentous discovery described in the paper was not its only surprise. Up in the top left hand corner of the front page were the names of the authors, and one of them was a woman: Jocelyn Bell. Though it was not completely unknown, a woman author on a scientific paper was quite a novelty. Science, and science journals simply were not the normal habitat of women in the 1960s. Yet Bell had made an indelible impression on this world of men almost unintentionally.

Born in 1943, Jocelyn Bell was a 25 year old P...

 

 

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