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Suffrage, art and science

An artful event hosted by the UK's Medical Research Council celebrates the role of women in research

By | March 11, 2011

The first International Women's Day was held on March 19, 1911, to call attention to the fact that women the world over had limited (if any) rights to work, to vote, to be trained, or to hold public office. Campaigners aimed to bring an end to the discrimination. A hundred years on, women are still underrepresented at the highest levels of science, despite there being equality in the numbers of PhDs and post-docs, at least in the life sciences. The Medical Research Council (MRC) has published a book, Suffrage Science, to celebrate the centenary and the achievements of women scientists. On Wednesday night (March 9), as part of the book's official launch, the MRC held a debate, entitled "Are Women Changing Science?" and reception at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London. A panel of remarkable women discussed the role of women in science, the problems they have personally faced, and how, hopefully, attitudes might be changing.

Vivienne Parry, Liliane Lijn and Dame Sally Davies
Photo credit: Matthew Bishop
MRC Clinical Sciences Centre

Dame Sally Davies (Britain's first woman Chief Medical Officer), linkurl:Uta Frith;http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/Staff-Lists/MemberDetails.php?Title=Prof&FirstName=Uta&LastName=Frith (Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, at University College London), linkurl:Carol Robinson;http://research.chem.ox.ac.uk/carol-robinson.aspx (University of Oxford chemist and Royal Society Professor), linkurl:Mary Collins;http://www.ucl.ac.uk/stemcells/researchers/MC (Dean of Life Sciences at UCL) and artist linkurl:Liliane Lijn;http://www.lilianelijn.com/ participated in a lively panel discussion. Science writer and BBC Radio 4 broadcaster linkurl:Vivienne Parry;http://www.vparry.co.uk/ moderated the debate and kept everyone entertained with quips about "loose women," helping children with science homework, and the need for balls. I got Lijn, Frith, Parry and Collins to say a few words to camera, along with Nobel laureate (and Collins's husband) Tim Hunt:After the debate, silver jewelry designed by Benita Gikaite and Anya Malhotra, first year students in Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins College, was presented to UCL cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Davies, Collins and Parry.

Vivienne Parry with brooch by Anya Malhotra
Photo credit: Matthew Bishop
MRC Clinical Sciences Centre

The jewelry features the three symbolic colors of the suffrage movement -- green, white and purple, which signify hope, purity and dignity. A dome of glass forms the center of Malhotra's brooch, with the words "creative," "invention," "discovery" and "innovation" inscribed around the outer circle, which is capped with purple, and "power" on the inner, finished with a green ring. The inner ring can extend to reveal the engraving -- and also makes the brooch into a usable magnifying glass! The egg-shaped pendant designed by Gikaite is based on a Masonic charm, symbolizing man's power, but given to women, represented by the use of stones of each of the three colors: amethyst, peridot or white pearl. The charm has three leaves which open out to reveal three engraved dates: 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union for Women's Suffrage; 1903, celebrating the first female Nobel laureate Marie Curie; and 1918, when British women first got the right to vote. These pieces of "Suffrage Heirloom Jewelry" were fashioned by craftsman Martin Baker, from the students' designs, and a total of 13 pieces will be awarded to leading women in Life Sciences (see the MRC's book for a full list). They will be passed on to young female scientists in the years to come. Second year students at St Martins were also tasked with creating textiles to celebrate the achievements of women scientists. Kyung Young Jeon, who won ?100 for her bracelet designs, said she was inspired by the work of the only British woman to win the Nobel Prize, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. Her bracelets were awarded to Frith and Robinson. You can listen to Jeon, some of the other students, and to Mandy Fisher from the MRC describing the idea behind Suffrage Science in this film:
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Our Science, Our Selves;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57454/
[June 2010]*linkurl:Are Women Better PIs?;http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/6/1/71/1/
[June 2010]*linkurl:Help women stay in science;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53655/
[27th September 2007]*linkurl:Say it with molecules;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/50696/
[9th February 2007]

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