Mother wins top prize for science

May 14, 2004

Chemist Carol Robinson proved this week that women can raise a family and excel in science, when she won a Royal Society award for her work.

Professor Robinson, an expert in protein interactions based at Cambridge University, has won the £30,000 Rosalind Franklin award for outstanding contributions to science. Although now regarded as a world leader in her field, there was a time when Professor Robinson felt that having three children had shut her out of science forever.

She said: "I've had a very unconventional career, with an eight-year career break to have a family. Many people say you can't do this sort of job with children."

Professor Robinson will use part of her prize money to fund a mentoring project for female scientists and engineers. With no senior female scientists to hand, her own mentors were men. But she said their support was invaluable nonetheless: "I don't think anyone is really standing behind junior women academics saying, 'You must do this!'"

The award, launched last year, is funded by the government's Office of Science and Technology as part of its campaign to address the underrepresentation of women in science, engineering and technology.

Despite being instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA, Rosalind Franklin struggled to gain recognition in a male-dominated field.

It was her X-ray diffraction images that pointed to the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. She died in 1958, four years before the male scientists involved in the discovery - Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins - were awarded the Nobel prize.

As a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, Professor Robinson has access to Dr Franklin's notebooks, which are stored there. "I'm going to poke around them for inspiration," she said.

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