12 June 2015
The presence of 'girls' in labs
Nobel Prize-winning scientists Sir Tim Hunt has provoked outrage this week by suggesting the presence of ‘girls’ in labs was disruptive to science, primarily because of the emotional entanglements they caused. These remarks ignore substantial evidence both in contemporary science and its history of teams of men and women working together successfully, and of collaborative couples who worked together or in closely related fields. These have been well documented by the Oral History of British Science project.
Both John Charnley and Dennis Higton, who worked on early jet aircraft at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough recalled the contributions to aeronautical research and their careers made by Frances Bradfield, Beatrice Shilling and Chrystelle Fougère.
Geoff Toothill, part of the team that built the Manchester ‘baby’, the world’s first stored program computer, noted how the project benefitted from the arrival of Ida Fitzgerald as the ‘wireman’.
In his interview civil engineer Peter Head commented that in his experience mixed teams were more effective than those made up of only men.
Materials scientist Julia King recalled the practical jokes that she and her fellow PhD students played on each other, in-between getting on with their research.
The Oral History of British Science collection also contains interviews with scientists who married colleagues who worked on related research areas including Ann Dowling, Julia Slingo, Ann Wintle, Janet Thomson, Jo Shien Ng and Dick Grove. After marrying fellow geographer Jean Clark and starting a family, Grove adapted his own research agenda to collaborate with his wife and accommodate their children in fieldwork expeditions.
After his wife died, Grove edited a new edition of her book The Little Ice Age and continued to publish research that drew on their shared research interests.
By Sally Horrocks
Voices of Science is a growing web resource featuring audio and video extracts from the British Libray's oral history of science collections. The website provides links to full unedited interviews and transcripts available to users worldwide via British Library Sounds