THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

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.

Sir John Charnley

Dennis Higton talks about working with Miss Shilling

Sir John Charnley discusses Miss Fougere

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’.

Geoff Tootill talks about the arrival of Ida Fitzgerald

In his interview civil engineer Peter Head commented that in his experience mixed teams were more effective than those made up of only men.

Peter Head talks about mixed offices

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.

Julia King recalls the practical jokes that she used to play during her PhD

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.

Dick Grove: picnic fieldwork

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

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