The pandemic has given us all time to focus on our values and what's important to us.
It has polarised us, yes. We've seen that in the American elections. However, on the positive side big issues such as black lives matter, sexual equality and women's empowerment and sustainability, have all been key topics that have arisen in the last year.
In celebration of International Women's Day this year, I wanted to highlight the role of women in science. Whether you think the UK has handled the pandemic well or badly, there is one person who is at the heart of Britain's successful mass vaccination programme, and it’s a woman.
Professor Sarah Gilbert is a virologist from Oxford University, who's research and team designed and successfully developed the AstraZeneca vaccine in record time. As a result of the incredible work she has been featured on The Times' 'Science Power List,' BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific and the BBC's 100 Women announced on 23 November 2020.
So, in celebration of her outstanding achievements and others in whose footsteps, she has followed, I have painted a series of women in science. A homage to women who have changed our lives.
May we continue to challenge the sexism and chauvinism that has so been so prolific through the sciences, in maths, in engineering. All subjects that are predominantly male-dominated throughout history.
On International Women's Day let's celebrate and appreciate the very different approach and thinking a woman brings, and to encourage our daughters and the next generations to pursue careers in the subjects in which they excel. Professor Sarah Gilbert is a shining light and example for generations of young women who are interested in science.
Here's to the women who changed the world and saved millions of lives.
My father will turn 90 this year. He is a botanist and cytologist and although we're so sad not to be able to visit him we do call often. He can get a bit down about the pandemic especially as he's living on his own. His mind is still very active and he lights up if you mention anything about science.
He's also a feminist and gets upset about the historic chauvinism within science and loves to sing the praises of women who have made or been pivotal to groundbreaking world-changing discoveries.
Also, my late mother, when she was young, wanted to study medicine and her parents didn't think it was a suitable career. She had all the right traits, smart, curious, very methodical, analytical and also incredibly caring. She would have been amazing at it if she had been allowed.
Women in science abstract figurative portrait series
This series is a homage to women scientists past and present who have somehow made a breakthrough that changed the world in which we live, yet were many times overlooked.
Portrait Marie (Curie) Polish-French physicist. November 1867 – 4 July 1934
Nobel Prize Physics1903 and Chemistry 1911. Here, in contrast, this woman struggled to be recognised for her achievements throughout her career. We all know about her contributions to science now, from history classes, yet her journey through science was beautifully told in the recent film Radioactive. It gave her amazing discoveries of Radioactivity, Polonium and Radium context, and a glimpse into what it meant to be a woman in science at that time.
Frances Hamilton Arnold (born July 25, 1956) is an American chemical engineer and Nobel Laureate. Arnold is the daughter of Josephine Inman (née Routheau) and nuclear physicist William Howard Arnold. After high school, she applied as a mechanical engineering major and was accepted, then went on to do a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Arnold's work has been recognised by many awards. In 2016 she became the first woman to win the Millennium Technology Prize, which she won for pioneering directed evolution and the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She has joined President Biden’s President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. What an amazing mind.
Jennifer Anne Doudna is an American biochemist known for her pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing Doudna has made fundamental contributions in biochemistry and genetics and received many prestigious awards and fellowships, including the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Charpentier.
Emmanuelle Marie Charpentier is a French professor and researcher in microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry. In 2020, Charpentier and American biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the development of a method for genome editing".
Their teamwork on CRISPR gene editing is now considered one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology. This was the first science Nobel ever won by two women alone. That says everything.
Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. In her last year at Cambridge, she met a French refugee Adrienne Weill, a former student of Marie Curie, who had a huge influence on her life and career and helped her to improve her spoken French
She died at the young age of 37 from cancer. Her achievements were engraved on her tombstone. " her research and discoveries on viruses remain of lasting benefit to mankind" Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.
After finishing her work on DNA, Franklin led pioneering work at Birkbeck on the molecular structures of viruses. Her team member Aaron Klug continued her research, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. A life of genius cut short.
Flossie Wong-Staal August 27, 1946 – July 8, 2020) was a Chinese-
American virologist and molecular biologist. She was the first scientist to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes, which was a major step in proving that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
Flossie was born in Guangzhou China, where my family originates from, and moved to the USA in 1952. Her achievements are even more incredible because of her background and ethnicity.
In 2007, The Daily Telegraph heralded Wong-Staal as #32 of the "Top 100 Living Geniuses". For her contributions to science, the Institute for Scientific Information named Wong-Staal "the top woman scientist of the 1980s". In 2019, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 2020, she was selected for the #20for2020 list of extraordinary achievements by women from shift7, Amy Poehler Smart Girls and The Female Quotient. What an incredible woman.
Though-out my career I've always been sketching and drawing. Although I work mainly in abstract art, I have a love of figurative and portraiture as well. That comes from my background in fashion, where capturing and essence and movement are key. My mother used to paint and was a very talented potter. I have a very precious wooden box that she handed down to me. It's full of calligraphy brushes and Chinese inks. It was such a pleasure doing this series and getting to know the story behind these women.
I love that within a few strokes, within a few lines you can spontaneously capture personality.
My favourite from the series has to be Rosalind Franklin. She was born in London just around the corner from where I used to live in Nottinghill into an affluent Jewish family. They used their money for many good causes.. Her father was a liberal merchant banker. Her family was actively involved with the Working Men's College, where her father taught the subjects of electricity, magnetism, and the history of the Great War in the evenings, later becoming the vice-principal. Her uncle was another prominent figure and involved in the suffrage movement.
Thankfully her family were hugely supportive through her very short career in science. The breakthrough discovery using X-ray diffraction techniques to the structure of DNA uncovered its double helix structure. That's been the key to our genetic make-up.
I can't imagine many women have achieved such a lot in science in a very short career.
The series is available to view in person at Gloucester Room
Find out more about my work and the new series of paintings and other works here.
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