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UK’s top women scientists come to Sussex to inspire future generation
The University of Sussex has brought together internationally renowned scientists with A Level students from local schools to explore and celebrate the pioneering work of female scientists.
The Life Sciences Research Symposium, which took place on Thursday (10 September), was named this year after Rosalind Franklin, a crystallographer who was crucial to the discovery and understanding of DNA in the early 1950s.
Dr Franklin, who also pioneered work on the polio virus, was never properly credited for her work during her lifetime, but she has become an iconic figure in science since her death.
A West End play about her life and work opens this month, starring Nicole Kidman. The Noel Coward Theatre production is entitled ‘Photograph 51’ after Dr Franklin’s x-ray diffraction image of DNA, which led directly to deciphering the double helix structure of DNA.
The day-long symposium, which was also attended by more than 200 scientists and academics from the University of Sussex, aimed to highlight the work of the current generation of women scientists and inspire the next generation. Several members of Rosalind Franklin’s family also attended.
Professor Laurence Pearl, Head of the School of Life Sciences, said: “Sussex is deeply committed to supporting female scientists and, in honour of Rosalind Franklin, ensuring their discoveries and work get the recognition they deserve.
“We are delighted to welcome such an impressive array of scientists and excited at the prospect of introducing them not only to fellow scientists but also to a sizeable contingent of 17- and 18-year-olds, who will be our scientists of the future.”
The symposium featured eight different speakers – all leaders in their field of science. Louise Serpell, Professor of Biochemistry, who researches neurodegenerative disorders and who chairs the School of Life Sciences Athena SWAN equality programme, introduced the speakers.
Professor Serpell said: “Although female scientists are still very much in a minority in many areas of science, I’m proud to be part of an initiative at Sussex that is endeavouring to provide more opportunities for women academics.
“There are clearly many female scientists who are doing work which stands out in their field of endeavour and we must do more to inspire the next generation.”
The event speakers included:
- Professor Polly Arnold FRSE, the Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, who spoke about chemical imbalances
- Professor Jean Beggs CBE FRS, a geneticist and Royal Society Darwin Trust Research Professor and Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh, who delivered the Maynard Smith Lecture entitled ‘RNA at the centre of Gene Expression’
- Dr Dora Biro, Associate Professor of Animal Behaviour at the University of Oxford, who spoke on what birds and apes can teach us about living in groups
- Professor Anne Dell CBE FRS, Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry at Imperial College, who delivered the Cornforth Lecture about ‘The sweet things in life’
- Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow FMedSci, Vice-Chancellor of Kent University and President of Universities UK, who talked about women, leadership and careers in academia
- Professor Sue Hartley, former staff member at Sussex and now director of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of York, who gave a talk on how pests, pathogens and unpredictable rainfall are all threatening food supply
- Professor Giovanna Malluci of clinical neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, a consultant neurologist specialising in Alzheimer’s at the Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who spoke about cooling synapses: insights into neurodegeneration
- Professor Sheena Radford FRS, Astbury Professor and Director at the Asbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, who gave a talk entitled: ‘The amyloid cascade: New molecular insights and some opportunities’.
Chris Mason, from the Widening Participation team at Sussex, said the A Level students attending the symposium were all first-generation scholars – from communities with low participation in tertiary education or whose parents had not been to university.
Speaking before the event, Mr Mason said: “The science on offer will be at a high level – so very inspirational for the audience. There will also be lots of information about careers in science and the day will help with various A Level science modules.
“It will also look great on the students’ Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) statements, giving them a boost if they are thinking of going on to higher education.”