The Suffrage Science scheme celebrates women in science for their scientific achievement and for their ability to inspire others. It encourages women to enter scientific subjects, and to stay. This public engagement scheme was initiated in 2011, by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC), a biomedical research institute of the UK’s Medical Research Council. It was launched by the Director of the institute, Amanda Fisher, and by science broadcaster Vivienne Parry.
Since the start of the Suffrage Science scheme, students on the BA Jewellery Design course at Central Saint Martins-UAL have created the winning designs, with direction from course tutor, Giles Last and course director, Caroline Broadhead. Once the two winning designs have been chosen, these are crafted into actual pieces by jewellery-maker, Martin Baker. The two existing groups, engineering and physical sciences and life sciences, each have their own pair of science-inspired items of jewellery. These “science heirlooms” have been handed on to create several “generations” of awardees.
For the new maths and computing section, the students designed pieces inspired by themes such as beauty, simplicity and the search for ‘truth’ in mathematics, and the worlds of secret codes and machine language of computer science, as well as drawing on research into the history of the Suffragette movement. Many of the students visited the Museum of London, which houses a collection of jewellery and clothing used by the Suffragettes. Others watched the recent film, Suffragette, to get to know the prominent personalities of the movement and to better understand their cause.
Some of the students said they were inspired to portray the elegance of the female form, and the strength and power of the Suffragettes. A common theme in the designs is the hardship and struggle of the women, with some pieces inspired by the Suffragettes’ medals and banners, which carried slogans such as “Through thick & thin we n’er give in”. Many designs feature the green, purple and white colours of the movement, for example with gemstones set into metal, sand dyed to match, and juxtaposed layers of coloured material. Others said they had looked to the freedom and creativity of women, both the Suffragettes and those alive today.
The jewellery for the new maths and computing section of the Suffrage Science scheme emerged through creativity, but also through competition. It began with a “Be Inspired” morning at Central Saint Martins-UAL at King’s Cross in early May 2016. Course tutor, Giles Last, described the history of the scheme and its aims, and set out the students’ mission. In the space of just a few weeks, they would be expected to research, design and construct prototypes of their jewellery pieces, he explained. Last also discussed the various types of materials they might consider using in the construction of the jewellery pieces, and highlighted some constraints for example that the designers should ensure that the final piece would be wearable.
Advisors for the new section, Marta Kwiatkowska, Professor of Computing Systems at the University of Oxford and Emma McCoy, Professor of Statistics at Imperial College London, talked to the students about their passion for the subjects. They described some of the patterns, shapes and graphic features they encounter in their professional lives, and how inspiring these can be in the creative process they encounter in the everyday conduct of computing and of mathematics as a career. Mid-way through their allotted timeline, each of the 39 students involved was asked to deliver a two-minute presentation on their thought-process so far. Then came the final judgement day. The scheme advisors, organisers and CSC institute director, Amanda Fisher, joined staff at Central Saint Martins-UAL for the enjoyable but difficult process of selecting two winners and ten runners-up. In the pages that follow you will hear from those winners, and glimpse something of the thinking behind the pieces that made it through to the final stages in designing the maths and computing “science heirloom” jewellery.