Role models

The aim of the role models page is to raise the visibility of all women in scientific, engineering and technology careers by encouraging greater awareness of their diverse contribution at all levels. These women may offer to act as some or all of the following:

  • Appointees on public bodies. There is now a directive to have a better gender balance with at least 40% women on all public bodies and committees. These women are willing to be proactively sought to apply for positions on public advisory boards and panels.
  • Media candidates who are willing to further challenge the gender imbalance when giving commentary of SET concerns on television, radio and in the press. These women may be approached to provide expertise in their area of work to the media and thus raise the profile of women in SET through breaking down the stereotypes typically used by the media.
  • Speakers, who would be willing to give a key note speech or an opening address at relevant technical events relating to their field of expertise. This is an extremely useful way of increasing the participation and raising the profile of women within SET. All event organisers need to ensure that SET conferences are a means of pushing the case for gender balance wherever possible and organisers can seek suitable speakers for their event from this database.
  • Mentors, who may be matched up with a mentee seeking specific advice, help or a person to talk to about the issues that the mentee is facing in her career development. Normally a mentor would be considered a role model to the mentee in that she is at a level in her career that the mentee would like to progress to in the future. Organisations seeking mentors can use the database as a resource for locating highly qualified individuals to support their mentees.
  • Positive role models, giving talks to groups of women considering a career in SET or a specific area of SET which the woman may specialise in. Organisations may also wish to invite role models from the database to events and careers talks to indicate that they strive towards diversity in the workplace.

We are currently extending our web-friendly database of case studies of women working in different areas of SET. Contributions are always very welcome and are a very useful resource to other women, so please contact the UKRC if you would like to send us your own story.


Mary AnningMary Anning [1799 – 1847]

An Icon for both the science of geology and for feminism

An Icon for both the science of geology and for feminism, Mary Anning was a very weak child until a flash of lightening struck an elm tree under which she was sitting with her nurse, Elizabeth Haskings and two other teenage girls. The only one to survive, Mary was unconscious when she was pulled from under Elizabeth Haskings burnt body and revived in warm water. Her nephew commented in 1847 that “after this accident she became lively and intelligent, and grew up so”.

Before she was ten years old, Mary took an active interest in her father’s searches for fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis & Charmouth, selling them to passengers of the coaches, which stopped outside The Pilot Boat Inn. Ammonites and belemnites brought in badly needed money for the family following the death of her father, Richard in 1810. Her first significant discovery was four months after her father’s death when a violent storm exposed a ‘crocodile’ on the cliffs….

cori_gerty_radnitzGerty Radnitz Cori [1896 – 1957]

Gerty Theresa Cori, née Radnitz , was born in Prague on August 15th, 1896. She received her primary education at home before entering a Lyceum for girls in 1906; she graduated in 1912 and studied for the University entrance examination, which she took and passed at the Tetschen Realgymnasium in 1914. She entered the Medical School of the German University of Prague and received the Doctorate in Medicine in 1920. She then spent two years at the Carolinen Children’s Hospital before emigrating to America with her husband, Carl, whom she married in 1920. They worked together in Buffalo and when he moved to St. Louis, she joined him as Research Associate. Gerty Cori was made Professor of Biochemistry in 1947.

Carl Ferdinand Cori was born in Prague on December 5th, 1896. His father, Dr. Carl I. Cori, was Director of the Marine Biological Station in Trieste, and it was here that young Carl spent his childhood. He received an early introduction to science from his father and this was stimulated on summer visits to the Tyrol, to the home of his grandfather, Ferdinand Lippich, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague. He studied at the gymnasium in Trieste and graduated in 1914 when he entered the German University of Prague to study medicine. During World War I, he served as a lieutenant in the Sanitary Corps of the Austrian Army on the Italian front; he returned to University, where he studied with his future wife, Gerty, to graduate Doctor of Medicine in 1920. He spent a year at the University of Vienna and a year as assistant in pharmacology at the University of Graz until, in 1922, he accepted a position as biochemist at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, New York. In 1931, he was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, where he later became Professor of Biochemistry.

The Cori’s have collaborated in most of their research work, commencing in their student days and stemming from their mutual interest in the preclinical sciences. Their first joint paper resulted from an immunological study of the complement of human serum.

In America, they first studied the fate of sugar in the animal body and the effects of insulin and epinephrine. The presence of glycolysis of tumours in vivo was demonstrated. Their work on carbohydrate metabolism passed from studies of whole animal to isolated tissues and, later, tissue extracts and isolated enzymes, some in crystalline form, were studied. In 1936, they isolated glucose-1-phosphate, «Cori ester», and traced its presence to the activity of the phosphorylase, which catalyzes the breakdown and synthesis of polysaccharides: this discovery made possible the enzymatic synthesis of glycogen and starch in vitro. Subsequently, phosphorylase and other enzymes were crystallized.

The Cori’s have been consistently interested in the mechanism of action of hormones and they have carried out several studies on the pituitary. They observed that the marked decrease in glycogen and lowering of blood sugar in hypophysectomized rats occurred with a concomitant increase in the rate of glucose oxidation. Subsequently, by a study of the action of hormones on hexokinase, they observed that some pituitary extracts inhibit this enzyme in vivo and in vitro and that insulin counteracts this inhibition.

In addition to their own highly original personal work, the Cori’s have always been a source of inspiration to their colleagues at the active centres of biochemical research which they have directed. They have contributed many articles to The Journal of Biological Chemistry and other scientific periodicals.

Carl Cori is a member, and Gerty Cori a late member, of the American Society of Biological Chemists, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society and the American Philosophical Society. They were presented jointly with the Midwest Award (American Chemical Society) in 1946 and the Squibb Award in Endocrinology in 1947. In addition, Gerty Cori received the Garvan Medal (1948), the St. Louis Award (1948), the Sugar Research Prize (1950), the Borden Award (1951) and honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Boston University (1948), Smith College (1949), Yale (1951), Columbia (1954), and Rochester (1955). Carl Cori, a Member of the Royal Society ( London) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also received the Willard Gibbs Medal (1948), the Sugar Research Foundation Award (1947, 1950) and honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Western Reserve University (1946), Yale (1946), Boston (1948), and Cambridge (1949). He was President of Fourth International Congress of Biochemistry (Vienna, 1958).

Carl and Gerty Cori married in 1920 and had one son. They became naturalized Americans in 1928. They have always been fond of outdoor hobbies.

Dr Gerty Cori died on October 26th, 1957.

stewart_aliceAlice Stewart [1906 – 2002]

Alice Stewart, who has died aged 95, achieved worldwide fame, and changed medical practice, through her tenacious investigations and demonstration of the connection between foetal x-rays and child cancers. She went on to attract the enmity of the nuclear and health physics establishments – and the hostility of the British and American governments – by insisting that her studies showed that the adverse effects of exposure to low-level radiation were far more serious than had been officially accepted.

She was also the first woman member of the Association of Physicians, and only the ninth (and youngest) to become a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Stewart’s entire life and career were devoted to social medicine, to the improvement of the lives of others, and to the bitter battles that have to be fought to ensure that findings contrary to policy or received wisdom – however important these may be to public or worker health – are investigated in a balanced and adequate way and, where necessary, acted upon.

Her pioneering work in industrial epidemiology, and on the effects of low-level radiation, earned her the 1986 Right Livelihood Award, the so-called “alternative Nobel prize” which is awarded by the Swedish parliament the day before the real Nobel, and the 1991 Ramazzini Award. In Britain, her findings on low-level radiation were regarded as so controversial that the British embassy even refused to send a car to collect her at the airport when she flew to Stockholm to receive the Livelihood prize.

Stewart was a brilliant student who matured into a gifted, decisive, tough, fearless and dedicated researcher. But she was also a lover of home, garden and countryside who, at a time of hostility toward professional women, managed to bring up a family while also carving out a career that reached international stature.

Born in Sheffield, where both her parents were doctors known for their interest in child welfare, she went from school to Girton College, Cambridge, to study medicine. She was, however, one of only four women among 300 men on her course, and recalled having to run the gauntlet of hostile male students stamping their feet in protest at the women’s attendance at lectures.

Because, at that time, the Sheffield medical establishment did not accept women as hospital residents, Stewart went from university to the Royal Free hospital, in north London, for her clinical training. There, she mopped up the prizes, and revealed outstanding gifts for the diagnosis of rare conditions. After spells at the Manchester children’s hospital and the London School of Hygiene, she became registrar in general medicine at the Royal Free, largely on the basis of her student record. It was an appointment without precedent, made, she later said, because she was “something of a whizz kid”.

World war two found her working at the Elizabeth Garret Anderson hospital, in London, and then setting up an emergency clinical unit at St Albans. A trail of accidents and vacancies brought her to the Nuffield department of clinical medicine at Oxford, where, for the medical research council, she investigated the effects on workers of exposure to TNT in munitions factories, the effects of carbon tetrachloride, and the mysterious prevalence of tuberculosis among workers in the boot and shoe industry.

These studies revealed Stewart’s brilliance in epidemiology and social medicine, and led, inevitably, to her involvement with the Oxford child health surveys, which had collected information on hundreds of thousands of children across Britain for 30 years.

Shortly after the war, she became involved in the Oxford child cancer studies. The incidence of child leukaemias was increasing in Britain at the time and, in 1955, it was suggested that there might be an environmental cause. Through analysis of the Oxford survey information, Stewart showed a clear connection between leukaemia before the age of 10 and the mother’s exposure to x-rays during early pregnancy.

Resisted briefly by the medical profession, this finding later led to dramatic changes of practice. But it was aggressively opposed by many physicists and radiobiologists, by the committees of the international commission for radiation protection (ICRP), and by the powerful nuclear lobbies, within and outside government, that ICRP appeared to serve. The Oxford findings implied that low-level radiation – being imposed on nuclear workers and the public by fallout and nuclear-waste disposal – could be far more serious in its effects than had been officially admitted.

Stewart survived opposition and, already a professorial fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, became director of the Nuffield institute of social medicine. Further analyses of the Oxford childhood cancer survey strengthened her initial findings. In the early 1970s, on the basis of these and other studies, she further infuriated the establishment by pointing out that, until the nature of radiation damage to genes was understood at the molecular level, predictions of second-generation and long-term genetic effects were premature.

While visiting the United States to discuss the Oxford survey findings in 1974, Stewart and her statistician, George Kneale, were invited by Professor TF Mancuso to become consultants on a major investigation he was directing for the US government into the health of nuclear workers at Hanford, the weapons complex that had produced plutonium for the Manhattan Project. Designed to parallel that of survivors of the Japanese A-bombs, this long-term study became known as the Hanford survey.

At that time, it was the largest of its kind into the long-term health effects of low-level radiation on workers in the nuclear industry. Since the industry was required by law to work within the exposure levels laid down by the ICRP, the study was seen as a test of these standards, as well as an investigation of worker health. The Stewart-Kneale analysis revealed roughly 10 times the cancer incidence predicted from A-bomb survivor studies.

An immediate and damning official outcry ensued. Mancuso was deprived of his directorship by the US government; the first full survey results were never published in their original form; and the use of outside consultants was promptly banned.

In spite of this, the Hanford survey, and Stewart’s collaborative studies, continued. Information was added year by year, many of the early criticisms of the study were eliminated, and the findings, although modified, remained largely unchanged. They suggested adult sensitivity to radiation broadly in line with the findings of the Oxford child cancer survey – roughly 10 times the official figures.

Much of this work was carried out after Stewart’s retirement from Oxford, when she became senior research fellow in the department of social medicine at Birmingham University. Her unit was housed in a caravan; she was deprived of research support from British sources; and, although her findings increasingly gathered approval elsewhere in the world, she and her work were subjected in Britain to professional isolation – and often to malicious, and unjustified, attacks.

However, grants continued to flow from the United States and elsewhere. With characteristic energy and brisk determination, Stewart commuted up the motorway year after year from her cottage in Oxfordshire to continue the study and reanalysis of the growing body of information. It was difficult, but she always smiled when asked why she went on when recognition eluded her in her own country. “Good people are seldom fully recognised during their lifetimes, and here, there are serious problems of corruption. One day it will be realised that my findings should have been acknowledged.”

In her later years, because of official recalculation of radiation doses to the Japanese bomb survivors, she was able to nod knowingly as ICRP guidelines on permitted levels of radiation for the public were reduced by two thirds. New evidence of the highly localised molecular damage produced by radiation in genetic material also reinforced her findings of high sensitivity during foetal development and of second-generation effects.

Sitting in her cottage or, preferably, out in its leafy garden where, when they were young, her grandchildren would play before having tea with home-made jam, Stewart would reflect quietly that the world was beginning to learn. “Plants get all their energy from the sun and so should we,” she would say. Then she would smile wistfully, for she knew how very long that learning curve might be.

She married her husband Ludovick in 1933; they divorced in the 1950s. She is survived by her daughter, a doctor in general practice; her son predeceased her.

Anthony Tucker
Friday June 28, 2002
The Guardian