Science prize lifts women's profile

April 4, 2003

A female chemistry professor from King's College London has been awarded £30,000 to promote the work of women in science, engineering and technology, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Susan Gibson, who heads a team of about 40 scientists in the traditionally male-dominated field of synthetic chemistry, has been named the first winner of the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklin Award for Excellence in Science.

Professor Gibson will use her prize money to assemble a group of top female chemists from around the world to tour British universities promoting careers in chemistry to undergraduates. The tour will finish with a university symposium.

She said: "I am very pleased to have won the first ever Rosalind Franklin award. I just wish there were more medals for my colleagues - there are many good female scientists out there who deserve this kind of recognition."

Professor Gibson is particularly concerned that many chemistry students do not appreciate how many exciting international opportunities will be open to them if they decide to pursue a career in the subject.

"My students often don't realise until they are postdoctorates that it's a thrill - and that is really too late," she said.

The £30,000 award, which was donated by the Department of Trade and Industry, will enable Professor Gibson's international scheme to run for three or four years. After that, she hopes to win further funding from industry to allow the project to continue.

She said: "We will need to look widely for female chemists or we will run out very quickly, as there are so few."

Rosalind Franklin, who also worked at King's College, encountered considerable chauvinism in her male-dominated field. Her contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA has not always been recognised. 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.

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