Break for the Borders: Women in Science Awards Night

08 March 2017

By Susan Watts


Twelve women will receive awards today, International Women’s Day 2017, to recognise their scientific achievements and ability to inspire others.

Each has been nominated to “inherit” a piece of jewellery, designed and created by students at Central St Martins-UAL college of art and design. The MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (MRC LMS) initiated the awards scheme, known as Suffrage Science, in 2011.

Suffrage Science jewellery
Suffrage jewellery: Engineering & Physical Sciences group (designed by students at Central St Martins-UAL)

Today’s ceremony, hosted by science communicator Kat Arney (https://katarney.wordpress.com/), will take place at the Royal Society in London. It will include a discussion, “Science Without Borders”, which will explore boundaries in science, be those by gender, by nationality or by scientific discipline, with three panellists: Professor Sheila Rowan, Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, Dr Tamsin Edwards, climate scientist and current award holder and Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, founder of Soapbox Science.

Today’s winners will receive jewellery pieces that were given to the generation of women before them, in 2015. The winners will keep the piece for the next two years, then choose their own nominee to whom they will pass it on. The aim is to create a network of connected women that helps to inspire others to enter science, and to stay.

The evening will also include a short film about the launch late last year of a new section of the Suffrage Science scheme, to recognise women in Maths and Computing. The new group joins existing groups for women in Life Sciences and women in Engineering and Physical Sciences, whose handover ceremony is today. The launch of the Maths and Computing group (http://www.suffragescience.org/news.html) took place at Bletchley Park in October 2106 on Ada Lovelace Day, and was captured by filmmaker Kirsten von Glasow.

At today’s ceremony, Professor Marta Kwiatkowska from the University of Oxford and Professor Emma McCoy of Imperial College London will also receive awards in recognition of their help and guidance in the formation of the Maths and Computing group. The evening will conclude with a short talk from Ellen Harrison of Historic England about their initiative to raise the profile of the hidden stories and histories of female scientific endeavour through their Enriching the List project.

Winning Women

  • 2015
  • Dr Silvia Munoz-Descalzo
  • Dr Lorna Dougan
  • Prof Anne Neville
  • Prof Susan Condor
  • Prof Alicia El Haj
  • Prof Ruth Wilcox
  • Dr Anne Vanhoestenberghe
  • Dr Anna Goodman
  • Prof Lucie Green
  • Dr Patricia Bassereau
  • Dr Tamsin Edwards
  • Prof Polly Arnold
  • 2017
  • Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo
  • Dr Sarah Staniland
  • Prof Sheila Rowan
  • Dr Kerstin Meints
  • Prof Sheila MacNeil
  • Dr Cathy Holt
  • Dr Rylie Green
  • Dr Sabine Gabrysch
  • Prof Lyndsay Fletcher
  • Prof Marileen Dogterom
  • Dr Zohreh Azimifar
  • Prof Sharon Ashbrook

Speeches: Awards and Acceptance

Dr Silvia Muno-Descalzo, passing her award to Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo, said: “It is a real honour to pass on to Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo this Suffrage Award. Her commitment and altruism to promote high quality research and improve higher education in sub-Saharan Africa surely deserves this award.”

Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo, recipient, said: “I am humbled for this honour and it is difficult to find words. What do I aim to do to help make a difference for women in science? I guess... I will continue treating men colleagues the same way I treat women colleagues, even if some men may feel discriminated against simply because they are not favoured. I am also setting up a group of women in science in my institution together with some senior colleagues, and we will look for funds to bring in more women to all our programs.”

Dr Lorna Dougan, passing her award to Dr Sarah Staniland, said: “Sarah is leading an exciting and innovative research programme in biomimetic nanomaterials. In addition to her research excellence, Sarah’s energy, passion and positive nature are an inspiration and most evident in her commitment to helping those around her.”

Dr Sarah Staniland, recipient, said: “I am thrilled to receive this award. There is nothing more important than ensuring the great science of the future and diversity is key to this, so inspiring women to do and stay in a career in science is my great passion. I will use this 2 year award period as a focus to get a number of big and small initiatives actioned, from nursery care to grant funding over maternity leave, that I can’t wait to report back on in two years.”

Professor Anne Neville, passing her award to Professor Sheila Rowan, said: “It was a great honour two years ago to receive the Suffrage Science Award from Dame Julia Higgins. I thought long and hard about who to pass the brooch to. I chose a scientist who has contributed to one of the scientific findings of the century. One year ago in February 2016 an international team of physicists announced the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago. Professor Sheila Rowan led a team in Glasgow University who provided crucial instrumentation for this project. She will be an inspiration to the next generation of male and female physicists. Also, in taking her new role as Chief Scientific Officer for Scotland she will have a major impact across the wider scientific community.”

Professor Sheila Rowan, recipient, said: “I’m honoured to be in the position of ‘inheriting’ this beautiful, unique, symbol celebrating the contribution to science of women. I’ll do my best over the next couple of years to make sure that contribution continues to be recognised and supported.”

Professor Susan Condor, passing her award to Dr Kerstin Meints, said: “Professor Kirstin Meints’s Babylab at Lincoln is pioneering innovative work which brings together research on infant and toddler communicative development with knowledge of animal behaviour. Her research on how young children misinterpret dogs’ facial expressions has led to the development of successful educational tools for dog bite prevention.”

Dr Kerstin Meints, recipient, said: “I feel very honoured to receive this award! I will do my very best to inspire, encourage and mentor women in Science to speak up, be visible and reach their goals.”

Professor Alicia Haj, passing her award to Professor Sheila MacNeil, said: “I’m going to spread the message to other women researchers – you can have it all – you just need to work very hard and share your passion for your research – to quote Vincent van Gogh – I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

Professor Sheila MacNeil, recipient, said: “I’m going to spread the message to other women researchers -you can have it all-you just need to work very hard and share your passion for your research – to quote Vincent van Gogh-I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

Professor Ruth Wilcox, passing her award to Dr Cathy Holt, said: “It is an honour to nominate Cathy Holt for this award. As well as being a highly successful academic with an international reputation for her work in motion analysis of joints, Cathy has put huge efforts into bringing the medical engineering research community in the UK together, and in promoting the development of early career researchers.”

Dr Cathy Holt, recipient, said: “I am very happy and honoured to receive a Suffrage Science nomination in recognition of academic and professional contributions. It means so much to me to be able to join such a fantastic and inspiring group of women who are role models for the next generations of engineers and scientists, both female and male.”

Dr Anne Vanhoestenberghe, passing her award to Dr Rylie Green, said: “Rylie’s work on new electrode technologies, that are safe and minimise rejection by the body, is of utmost importance in the development of bionic devices. New clinical understandings create new applications for active implantable devices, which, as engineers, we are only able to deliver thanks to Rylie’s work. We should recognise her contribution, not only to science, but most importantly, for patients’ benefit.”

Dr Rylie Green, recipient, said: “I’ll use to award to develop and grow my research and industry collaborations within the UK, with a focus on improving the outcomes of implant intervention and ultimately the quality of life for bionic device recipients.”

Dr Anna Goodman, passing her award to Dr Sabine Gabrysch, said: “Sabine is, in my experience, exceptional in the way that she combines a really strong commitment to scientific rigour with a willingness to think big, and tackle issues of human and planetary well-being on a grand scale. This is exemplified by the cluster- randomised trial that she is currently leading in 96 villages in Bangladesh, evaluating an integrated home gardening and nutrition education program that potentially could tackle chronic under nutrition in an environmentally sustainable way. I find her such an inspiration, and I know many others do too.”

Dr Sabine Gabrysch, recipient, said: “Thank you so much, Anna; it means a lot to me to get this very special award at this moment in my career. I take this as encouragement to hold up the values of solidarity and compassion against a spirit of selfishness, competition and greed sown by powerful individuals in science and politics, to continue the fight of so many brave women towards a world where no women and girls are denied their right to education, to health and to full participation in society and in science.”

Professor Lucie Green, passing her award to Professor Lyndsay Fletcher, said: “I have nominated Lyndsay because she has, for many years, been an outstanding role model for young people in solar physics. I personally admire her scientific contributions and her community leadership.”

Professor Lyndsay Fletcher, recipient, said: “The Suffrage Science award is both a public statement of our will to inspire and encourage women in science and scientific careers, and a very personal gesture from a peer, and I am touched to have been recognised by Lucie who is such an outstanding scientist, communicator and ambassador for women in physics. In the next two years, as well as being bolder in my work towards gender equality in science and beyond, I will remember the great importance of personal votes of confidence, such as this.”

Dr Patricia Bassereau, passing her award to Professor Marileen Dogterom, said: “Over the years, Marileen has developed many creative and rigorous physical approaches for understanding how cytoskeleton filaments exert forces in cells. She is a model that demonstrates that it is possible to be at the same time an excellent and world-recognized scientist and a fair, nice person.”

Professor Marileen Dogterom, recipient, said: “It’s a great honour for me to receive this Suffrage Science award. As a Department Chair, I consider it very important that young talent, both female and male, are as independent and visible as possible, so that their influence may maximized. This award motivates me to continue to push back on unwanted hurdles that still linger in the system, especially those that affect women more.”

Dr Tamsin Edwards, passing her award to Dr Zohreh Azimifar, said: “I visited Iran recently and was incredibly moved and impressed by the female scientists I met, given the extra challenges they face in both nationality and gender. I met Zohreh while I was struggling to chair a discussion session, and she exemplified the qualities I saw and admired: high achievements in engineering, computing, physics and maths; an interdisciplinary career, which also brings extra challenges; a strong commitment to improving international relations; and a calm, intelligent, friendly grace that absolutely saved the session – and me.”

Dr Zohreh Azimifar, recipient, quoted the 13th century Persian philosopher and poet, Rumi on receiving her award. Here’s Zohreh’s personal translation: “Woman is a ray of God; She is not that earthly beloved, She is creative; You might say she is not created."

Professor Polly Arnold, passing her award to Professor Sharon Ashbrook recipient, said: “I have nominated Professor Sharon Ashbrook from the University of St Andrews’ department of Chemistry. She is an outstanding scientist, who combines spectroscopy and calculations to study the atomic-scale disorder and dynamics in materials such as minerals and catalysts. In addition to being an excellent role model, she also works hard to raise the visibility of female scientists. For example, soon after being elected to the Young Academy of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, she used her new-found visibility to organise an event to raise the visibility, and highlight the career-path diversity, of mid-career female scientists in Scotland.”

Professor Sharon Ashbrook, recipient, said: “I was very surprised but obviously am very pleased that Polly nominated me for this Suffrage Science Award. Polly has been a great inspiration to many female chemists, and particularly those in Scotland, and I am honoured that she has chosen me as the recipient of her award. I am sorry I can’t be there in person to accept the award (30 undergraduate project talks have been scheduled on top of this...), but I am looking forward to attending the ceremony another year. I never really planned to be an academic (I had firm plans to be a primary school teacher), but have chosen the paths that interested me most and areas I enjoyed more. I would give similar advice to all young females thinking about a career in STEM – do what you enjoy. If you enjoy something you will generally work harder and usually achieve more. There is no reason why you can’t choose any field or career you want.“