“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can't be what you can't see.” – Sally Ride, American Physicist, Astronaut, first American Woman in Space.
As a society, we learn about the world and advance our well-being through science and engineering. Ironically, although there are more opportunities for STEM related careers, the percentage of students, especially women, pursuing a degree in STEM continues to drop precipitously. Research shows that the two main reasons why girls do not pursue STEM fields is lack of exposure at middle school level as to what STEM careers for girls really looks like and the stereotype threat, that boys are better at math than girls and the stereotypical image of a scientist as a man.
In order to promote girls advance in STEM fields, they need to get interested in STEM at primary and middle school level. Further, girls need to learn about and meet role models - someone similar to themselves who has conquered the same challenges and obtained success. To nurture love for sciences amongst primary and middle school girls, I share real life video interviews of accomplished women from various walks life who share their life stories of how they have built successful careers across diverse fields after studying STEM as well as inspiring life stories of most influential British women scientists and the challenges they conquered to become successful.
INFLUENTIAL BRITISH WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel

1750 - 1848

Caroline Herschel was born in 1750 in Hannover, Germany, but moved to England with her brother, the astronomer William Herschel, in 1772. She became William’s general assistant and helped him by writing down his observations and helping him produce reflective telescopes. Caroline occupied herself with astronomical theory and mastered algebra and formulae for calculation and conversion as a basis for observing the stars and managing astronomical distances.

Caroline joined her brother when he was appointed royal astronomer at the court at Windsor and served him as his scientific assistant. This gave her a salary of 50 pounds per year, the first salary that a woman had ever received for scientific work. Between 1786 and 1797 she discovered eight comets, as well as discovering fourteen nebulae, began a catalogue for star clusters and nebulae patches, and compiled a supplemental catalogue to Flamsteeds Atlas which included 561 stars with a comprehensive index.

Caroline returned to Hanover after her brother’s death where the world’s most important scientists sought her expertise. She was awarded numerous honours, being awarded the 1828 gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, of which she became an honorary member in 1835. At the age of 96 she was awarded the gold medal of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1846.

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Mary Somerville

Mary Somerville

1780 - 1872

Mary Somerville's first scientific investigations began in the summer of 1825, when she carried out experiments on magnetism. In 1826 she presented her paper entitled "The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum" to the Royal Society. The paper attracted favorable notice and, aside from the astronomical observations of Caroline Herschel, was the first paper by a woman to be read to the Royal Society and published in its Philosophical Transactions.

In 1827 Lord Brougham, on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, began correspondence with Mary, to persuade her to write a popularized rendition of Laplace's MecaniqueCéleste and Newton's Principia. He hoped that she could reach a larger audience by communicating the concepts clearly through simple illustrations and experiments that most people could understand. Unsure of her qualifications, Mary undertook the project in secrecy, assured that, if she should fail, the manuscript would be destroyed and only those immediately involved would ever need to know. The Mechanism of the Heavens was a great success, probably the most famous of her mathematical writings. In recognition, a portrait bust of her was commissioned by her admirers in the Royal Society.

While in Europe in 1832-1833, she largely completed her second book, which was published in 1834. With The Connection of the Physical Sciences, which was an account of physical phenomena and the connections among the physical sciences, came new scientific distinctions. She and Caroline Herschel were elected to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835, the first women to receive such an honor.

In 1848, at the age of sixty eight, Mary published yet another book. Physical Geography proved to be her most successful work yet and was widely used in schools and universities for the next fifty years.

Her last scientific book, Molecular and Microscopic Science was published in 1869 when Mary was eighty-nine.

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Mary Anning

Mary Anning

1799 - 1847

Mary Anning was an early British fossil collector and paleontologist. She spent her life working in Lyme Regis. Her skill in locating and preparing fossils, as well as the richness of the Jurassic era marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis, resulted in her making a number of important finds. These included the skeleton of the first ichthyosaur to be recognised and the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found, the first pterosaur skeleton found outside of Germany, and some important fossil fish. Her observations also played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilized faeces.

Anning's gender and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of early 19th century Britain, and she did not always receive full credit for her contributions. Despite this she became well known in geological circles in Britain and beyond, although she struggled financially for much of her life. After her death her enormous contribution to paleontology was largely forgotten.

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Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

1836 - 1917

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a pioneering physician and political campaigner. She was the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor.Female physicians were unheard of in 19th century Britain and her attempts to study at a number of medical schools were denied. In 1865 she passed the Society of Apothecaries examinations and gained a certificate which enabled her to become a doctor. The society then changed its rules to prevent other women entering the profession this way.

In 1866 she established a dispensary for women in London and in 1870 was made a visiting physician to the East London Hospital. Despite obtaining a medical degree from the University of Paris, the British Medical Register refused to recognise her qualification. In 1872, Anderson founded the New Hospital for Women in London (later renamed after its founder), staffed entirely by women.

Anderson's determination paved the way for other women, and in 1876 an act was passed permitting women to enter the medical professions. In 1883, Anderson was appointed dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, which she had helped to found in 1874, and oversaw its expansion.

In 1902, Anderson retired to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. In 1908, she became the mayor of the town, the first female mayor in England. She was also a member of the suffragette movement and her daughter Louisa was a prominent suffragette.

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Hertha Ayrton

Hertha Ayrton

1854 - 1923

HerthaAyrton (née Marks) attended Girton College, Cambridge University where she studied Mathematics and received a B.Sc. degree from the University of London.After University she worked as a private mathematics tutor for a time. She began her scientific studies by attending classes in physics at Finsbury Technical College given by Professor William Ayrton, whom she married in 1885.

Aryton assisted her husband with his experiments in physics and electricity, becoming an expert on the subject of the electric ark and published several papers from her own research in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London and The Electrician. She published her widely acclaimed work The Electric Arc in 1902.

Ayrton was elected the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1899. In 1902 she became the first woman nominated a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, although because she was married she could not be elected to this distinction.

In 1904 Ayrton became the first woman to read her own paper before the Royal Society on ‘The origin and growth of ripple-mark’. She received the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal for her investigations in 1906.

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Dorothy Garrod

Dorothy Garrod

1892 - 1968

Dorothy Annie Elizabeth Garrod, (5 May 1892 – 18 December 1968) was a British archaeologist who was the first woman to hold an Oxbridge chair, partly through her pioneering work on the Palaeolithic period.Garrod was the daughter of Sir Archibald Garrod, the physician, and was raised at her family home in Melton, Suffolk by a number of governesses.

In 1913, she entered Newnham College, Cambridge where she was one of very few women students. Garrod left Newnham with a second class degree and undertook war work until she was demobilised in 1919. By this time she had lost three brothers. She then went to Malta where her father was working and to occupy herself she took an interest in the local antiquities.

When her father was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, Garrod decided to read for a Diploma in Anthropology at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, where she was taught by Robert RanulphMarett. It was Marett who inspired Garrod to be a prehistorian and she was then able to spend two years with the leading French prehistorian AbbéBreuil. Breuil had already visited Gibraltar and he recommended that Garrod investigate Devil's Tower Cave which was only 350 metres from Forbes' Quarry where a Neanderthal skull had been found previously. Garrod discovered the important Neanderthal skull now called Gibraltar 2 in this cave the early 1920s.

Between 1925 and 1926 she excavated in Gibraltar and in 1928 led an expedition through South Kurdistan that led to the excavation of HazarMerd Cave and Zarzi cave.

Garrod undertook excavations at Mount Carmel in Palestine where, working closely with Dorothea Bate, she demonstrated a long sequence of Lower Palaeolithic,Middle Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic occupations in the caves of Tabun, El Wad, EsSkhul, Shuqba (Shuqbah) and Kebara Cave. Her work was a major contribution to the understanding of the prehistoric sequence in the region.

The chronological framework established by her excavations in the Levant remain crucial to the present understanding of that prehistoric period. Her excavations at the cave sites in the Levant were conducted with almost exclusively women workers recruited from local villages, although she worked with fellow archaeologist Francis Turville-Petre at Kebara Cave, the type-site for the Kebaran culture.

After holding a number of other academic posts she was made Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge in 1939, a post she held until 1952, aside from a gap towards the end of the Second World War when she served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Dorothy Garrod was the first female professor at Cambridge. The first women University Teaching Officers were appointed to Cambridge University in 1921, and in 1926 Cambridge University women first gave women the titles of degrees but without associated privileges (i.e. no participation in University government). It was not until 1947 that full membership for women was granted by Cambridge University.

Garrod was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1952. In 1965, she was awarded the CBE. She felt it was important that archaeologists travel and therefore left money to found the Dorothy Garrod Travel Fund.

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Kathleen Lonsdale

Kathleen Lonsdale

1903 - 1971

Kathleen Lonsdale was an early pioneer of X-ray crystallography, a field primarily concerned with studying the shapes of organic and inorganic molecules.In 1945, Lonsdale was the first woman, along with microbiologist Marjory Stephenson, admitted as a fellow to the Royal Society. She was the first female professor at University College, London, the first woman named president of the International Union of Crystallography, and the first woman to hold the post of president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She accepted her achievements as a pioneering woman scientist with characteristic humility. In 1966, the "lonsdaleite, " a rare form of meteoric diamond, was named for her.

Lonsdale was born January 28, 1903 in Newbridge, Ireland, but grew up in England and won a scholarship to attend County High School for Girls in Ilford. At the age of 16, she enrolled in Bedford College for Women in London, where in 1922 she received a B.S. in mathematics and physics. William Henry Bragg, the 1915 Nobel Laureate in Physics, was so impressed with her academic performance that he invited her to work with him and a team of scientists using X-ray technology to explore the crystal structure of organic compounds. Londsdale worked with Bragg intermittently until his death in 1942.

Lonsdale and her husband, Thomas Jackson Lonsdale were committed pacifists. They worked toward world peace, as well as prison reform. During World War II, she and her husband gave shelter to refugees, and in 1943 Lonsdale spent a month in jail for refusing to register for war duties and then refusing to pay a fine of two pounds. In 1956, she wrote a book in reaction to extensive nuclear testing by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain entitled Is Peace Possible?

In 1956, Lonsdale was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1957 she received the Davy Medal of the Royal Society. In 1966, she became the first female president of the International Union of Crystallography, and in 1968 the first woman to hold the post of president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Elsie Widdowson

Elsie Widdowson

1908 - 2000

Elsie Widdowson grew up during the First World War in London. She studied Chemistry at Imperial College London and took the BSc examination after two years. As a graduate she worked with Helen Archbold (later Helen Porter, FRS) who steered her into one of the most remarkable scientific careers of the century. She took doctorates at Imperial College and at the Courtauld Institute of Biochemistry, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976 and in 1993 a Companion of Honour.

Widdowson specialised in the scientific analysis of food, nutrition and the relationship between diet before and after birth and its effects on development. She entered into a 60-year partnership with Professor RA McCance in 1933. Their joint recognition that contemporary nutritional tables were substantially wrong cemented a highly creative partnership, which revolutionised the way the world assessed nutritional values, how it investigated problems of dietary deficiencies and how mammalian development was perceived.

Famously, Widdowson became involved in nutritional problems faced in Britain during the Second World War, particularly experimenting with minimal diets. Over long periods of self-deprivation McCane and Widdowson showed that health could be maintained on a diet so small that others believed starvation would be inevitable. She was also consulted on the careful dietary policy needed to remedy the effects of gross starvation suffered by Nazi concentration camp victims and later investigated the effects of different types of bread on the recovery rates of malnourished children in the general population of Germany.

Widdowson spent most of her working life in Cambridge, at the Medical Research Council Unit of Experimental (later Investigative) Medicine and at the Dunn Nutrition Unit.

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Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin

1910 - 1994

Dorothy Hodgkin (née Crowfoot) read for a degree in chemistry at Somerville College, University of Oxford in 1928. In 1932 she moved to the University of Cambridge to carry out doctoral research. In physicist John Desmond Bernal’s laboratory, she extended his work on biological molecules, including sterols (the subject of her thesis), and helped him to make the first X-ray diffraction studies of pepsin, a crystalline protein. She returned to Oxford in 1934 where she remained until her retirement in 1977. Crowfoot established an X-ray laboratory in a corner of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and almost immediately began work taking X-ray photographs of insulin.

In 1939 when Australian pathologist Howard Florey and his colleagues at Oxford succeeded in isolating penicillin, they asked Hodgkin to solve its structure. By 1945 she had succeeded, describing the arrangement of its atoms in three dimensions. Hodgkin’s work on penicillin was recognized by her election to the Royal Society, in 1947, only two years after a woman had been elected for the first time. In the mid-1950s, Hodgkin discovered the structure of vitamin B12.

Nominated more than once for the Nobel Prize, she won in 1964 for her work on penicillin and vitamin B12. The following year she was made a member of the Order of Merit, in recognition of her contribution to science.

Hodgkin devoted much of the latter part of her life to the cause of scientists in developing countries, especially China and India, and to improved East-West relations and disarmament. From 1975 to 1988 she was president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

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Mary Leakey

Mary Leakey

1913- 1996

Mary Douglas Leakey was a paleoanthropologist who is best known for making several prominent archaeological and anthropological discoveries throughout the latter half of the 20th century. She was born Mary Douglas Nicol on February 6, 1913, in London, England. The daughter of an artist, at a young age, Leakey excelled at drawing—a talent that she later used to enter into the field of paleoanthropology. When she was just 17 years old, she served as an illustrator at a dig in England.

In the 1930s, Mary Leakey was asked to illustrate a book entitled Adam's Ancestors (1934), authored by Louis S.B. Leakey, an archaeologist and anthropologist. The pair hit it off quickly and soon developed a personal relationship. They married in 1937, forming one of science's most well-known husband-wife teams. The couple moved to Africa when Louis embarked on an excavation project.

Mary Leakey made her first big discovery in 1948. She found a partial skull fossil of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans that later evolved into the two distinct species. Her find was truly remarkable; the fossil, believed to be more than 18 million years old, was the first species of the primate genus to be discovered from the Miocene era.

Mary Leakey further helped to unravel the mystery surrounding the origins of humankind with her 1959 find. That July, while Louis was resting, recovering from a bout of the flu, Mary discovered the partial skull of an early human ancestor. Early analysis of the artefact—initially named Zinjanthropusboisei after Louis Leakey's financial sponsor, Charles Boysey showed that this species was equipped with a small brain but massive teeth and jaws, and muscles so large they had to be anchored to a ridge at the top of the skull. It was later determined that Zinjanthropusboisei was nearly 2 million years old, showing how long the species had been in Africa.

In 1960, the Leakey team made its next major discovery; fossils of Homo habilis, a species that is believed to be between 1.4 and 2.3 million years old, and to have originated during the Gelasian Pleistocene period. Their find also provided evidence that the species were adept in making stone tools—making them the earliest known experts in that field.

After Louis Leakey died in 1972, Mary continued to research and hunt for fossils. Nearly two decades after finding Homo habilis, in 1979, she discovered a trail of early human footprints at Laetoli, a site in Tanzania. The find was the first in the history of science to provide direct evidence of physical activity by humankind's apelike ancestors, changing previously held assumptions about primates.

Throughout her decades-long career as a paleoanthropologist, Mary Leakey's projects were funded in part by the National Geographic Society, through dozens of grants. Mary Leakey died on December 9, 1996, in Nairobi, Kenya. Today, Mary Leakey's work continues through both the Leakey Foundation and the younger generations of the Leakey family.

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Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

1920 - 1958

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a British biophysicist, physicist, chemist, biologist and X-ray crystallographer who made contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite. She went to Newnham College, Cambridge in 1938 and passed her finals in 1941, but was only awarded a degree titular as women were not entitled to degrees at that time. She received a PhD from Ohio University in 1945.

Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA. Her data was a part of the data used to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Unpublished drafts of her papers show that she had determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix. Her work supported the hypothesis of Watson and Crick and was published third in the series of three DNA Nature articles. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses. Franklin died from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, four years before Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on DNA. Franklin was unable to receive the prize as Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches. Although Franklin’s contribution to the ‘discovery’ of DNA is now widely recognised, there remains a lingering sense that her contribution was unjustly overlooked and undervalued. Her contribution was not recognised in many science books until the 1990s.

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Anne McLaren

Anne McLaren

1927 - 2007

An exceptional scientist, Anne McLaren made fundamental advances in genetics which paved the way for the development of in vitro fertilisation. Her groundbreaking work led to the birth of the first test-tube baby. She was the daughter of a wealthy family of industrialists and was awarded a scholarship to read Zoology at Oxford, where she studied the genetics of rabbits.

As a researcher in London she worked with mice, studying the effects of super ovulation on fertility. Working with John Biggers, she produced the first litter of mice grown from eggs that had developed in tissue culture and then been transferred to a surrogate mother, paving the way for embryo transfer in human IVF. She worked at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh for 15 years, before returning to London as Director of the MRC Mammalian Development Unit, developing projects on reproductive immunology, contraception and chimeras. Aside from her scientific achievements, she was committed to negotiating the ethical and legal implications of genetics research. She encouraged honest discussion and believed science needed to engage the public to gain its trust. Later, at the Gurdon Institute, she continued research on stem cells.

She became the first female officer of the Royal Society in 331 years, when she was appointed as their Foreign Secretary between 1991-1996 and travelled widely, becoming a role model for women in science. She was also a research fellow at King's College, Cambridge. Dame Anne spent the next 15 years at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh, where she continued researching the reproduction, growth and genetics of mice.Her greatest achievement came in 1958, with the first successful delivery of mice that had grown as embryos outside the mother’s womb. This groundbreaking work paved the way for the world’s first test-tube baby in 1978.In the 1960s and 70s, Dame Anne was involved in pioneering research into immuno-contraception, DNA hybridization and chimeras. From 1974, she was director of the MRC Mammalian Development Unit at UCL until her retirement in 1992.

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Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

1943 - Present

Jocelyn has set a great example for other women. She is a bright and talented woman in one of the most male-dominated fields, Science. She is a British astrophysicist who is famous for her discovery of the first radio pulsars with her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Martin Ryle.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born on July 15, 1943 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her father was an architect for the Armagh Observatory, where Jocelyn spent much time as a child. From a young age, she read a number of books on astronomy and her interest in the subject was encouraged by the staff of the Armagh Observatory. She attended Lurgan College and went on to earn a Physics degree at Glasgow University, Scotland in 1965. In 1969, she completed her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, where under the supervision of Antony Hewish, she also constructed and operated a 81.5 megahertz radio telescope. She studied interplanetary scintillation of compact radio sources.

In 1967, while analyzing literally miles of print-outs from the telescope, Bell noted a few unusual signals which she termed as “scruff”. These “bits of scruff” seemed to indicate radio signals too fast and regular to come from quasars. Both Jocelyn and Hewish ruled out orbiting satellites, French television signals, radar, finally even “little green men”. Looking back at some papers in theoretical physics, they determined that these signals must have emerged from rapidly spinning, super-dense, collapsed stars. The media named these as collapsed stars pulsars and published the story.

In 1968, soon after her discovery, Bell married Martin Burnell (divorced 1993). Her husband was a government worker, and his career took them to various parts of England. She worked part-time for many years while raising her son, Gavin Burnell. During that period she began studying almost every wave spectrum in astronomy and gained an extraordinary breadth of experience. She held a junior teaching fellowship from 1970 to 1973 at the University of Southampton where she developed and calibrated a 1-10 million electron volt gamma-ray telescope.

Jocelyn did not share the Nobel Prize awarded to Hewish for the discovery of pulsars, but has received numerous awards for her professional contributions. She was first chosen as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969 and has served as its Vice President. Among many of her awards she received the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1987 and the Herschel Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1989. She also won the Oppenheimer Prize and The Michelson Medal. She is currently a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Mansfield College.

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Mary Archer

Mary Archer

1944 - Present

Dame Mary Doreen Archer, (née Weeden; born 22 December 1944) is a British scientist specialising in solar powerconversion. MaryWeeden was born in Epsom, Surrey in December 1944. Her father, Harold, was a accountant. She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College, before going on to study chemistry at St Anne's College, Oxford and physical chemistry at Imperial College London.

After a brief period teaching at Oxford University, Mary Archer worked as a scientific researcher under the Nobel prize-winning scientist Sir George Porter at the Royal Institution in London. It was during this period that she became interested in photo electrochemistry, and she has both written and lectured extensively on the subject. In the mid-1970s, she was appointed to the Board of Directors of the International Solar Energy Society.

Between 1976 and 1986, she was a lecturer in Chemistry at Newnham and Trinity Colleges in Cambridge. In 1988 Mary Archer joined the Council of Lloyds Insurance Company, becoming chair of the Lloyds Hardship Committee the following year.

From 1988 to 2000, she was chairman of the National Energy Foundation, which promotes improving the use of energy in buildings. She later became its president. She is also president of the UK Solar Energy Society (UKISES). Mary Archer is a Companion of the Energy Institute and was awarded the Institute's Melchett Medal in 2002.

In 1994, Mary Archer was a non-executive director of Anglia Television at a time when it was the target of a takeover bid. Following reports from the London Stock Exchange, the Department of Trade and Industry appointed inspectors on 8 February 1994 to investigate possible insider dealing contraventions by certain individuals, including her husband. No charges were brought.

Mary Archer was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to the National Health Service.

Since January 2015, she has been chair of the trustees of the National Science Museum Group.

She married Jeffrey Archer in July 1966, having met at Oxford University, where Jeffrey had been studying for a Diploma in Education. They have two children. The Archers live in the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, near Cambridge, the former home immortalised by Rupert Brooke in a poem of that title.

Between 1967 and 1974, she supported her husband's political career, first when he became a member of the Greater London Council, then from 1969 when he was elected as MP for Louth, Lincolnshire. She later supported him during his tenure as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–86), and again during his ultimately ill-fated campaign to become London Mayor in 1999.

In the summer of 1974, the Archers were struck by a financial crisis, when Jeffrey lost over £400,000 in a bad investment. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, the Archers were forced to move out of their five-bedroomed house in The Boltons.[18] Mary Archer took up a teaching post at Cambridge University, which, together with her husband's eventual success as a novelist, saved them from financial ruin.

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Athene Donald

Athene Donald

1953 - Present

Donald was born Athene Margaret Griffith in London and educated at Camden School for Girls and Girton College, Cambridge. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Natural Science (Theoretical Physics) followed by a PhD in 1977.She worked at Cornell University as a postdoctoral associate, where she switched working on metals to polymers, before returning to Cambridge (Department of Materials Science) in 1981 and to the Cavendish Laboratory in 1983.

She became Professor of Experimental Physics in 1998. Her major domain of study is soft matter physics, particularly its applications to living organisms and the relationship between structure and other properties.Her research has applied microscopy, and in particular Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy to the study of both synthetic and biological systems, notably protein aggregation.

Here she was able to demonstrate the ubiquity of the so-called banded texture after shear of LCP's and study the underlying packing of the molecules by electron microscopy showing how they followed a serpentine trajectory in several thermotropics.

Donald's mid-career launch into biological physics followed naturally from this polymer work leading to the physics of food and thereafter to starch. The starch granule structure and its changes during different processing histories were brilliantly analysed using a novel X-ray scattering technique. Structural changes during cooking, with the amylopectin molecule imaginatively treated as a side chain liquid crystalline polymer, brought understanding to different processing treatments.

Donald's impressive achievements in biological physics are strongly based on the imaginative use of environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), neutron and X-ray scattering, optical microscopy and infrared spectroscopy. With ESEM in particular her success is supported by her many earlier pioneering investigations of its basic physics. To maintain this vital interchange between soft matter physics and biology, Donald has founded a well-resourced Biology and Soft Systems (BSS) Group at the Cavendish.

Donald was a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge from 1981–2014, when she became Master of Churchill College. From 2009–14, she served as a member of the Council of Cambridge University.

Donald was the first chair of the Institute of Physics Biological Physics group from 2006–10 and coordinated the writing of lecture notes in Biological Physics.[28] From 2006–08 and 2012–15 she served on the Council of the Royal Society and from 2010–14 she chaired their Education Committee. For 2015–16 she was President of the British Science Association.

In 1999 Donald was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for her work relating mechanical properties to the structure of polymers. She was one of the five recipients of the 2009 L'Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science award. She also won the UKRC’s Women of Outstanding Achievement's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2010 Queen's Birthday Honours. In 2012, Professor Dame Athene received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the Universities of East Anglia and Exeter.

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STEM CAREERS INTERVIEWS