A few weeks ago, I had to give a short presentation to a group of business women. We were all asked to suggest to the group a woman that we considered inspirational, and that we admired.

I chose a scientist, of course. I would like to introduce you to her.

She is Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE, FRS.

She is Professor of Experimental Physics, and Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. That alone is impressive, but that isn’t particularly why I admire her.

Athene Griffith was born in 1953 and went to Camden School for Girls. She then went to Cambridge and graduated with a BA in Natural Science (Theoretical Physics) and followed this with a PhD with the title ‘Electron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems’.

While Athene Donald was working on her doctorate, I was working on my own A levels. In the 1970s, the gulf between the number of girls in science compared to the number of boys was very different to today. I was one of 3 girls in an A level physics class of 30, although the ratio in A level chemistry was slightly higher, and that in biology higher still – the number of girls in my class actually had the edge over the boys. So, she made it to the top in a subject that, in those days, wasn’t considered a suitable choice for women. But that alone, inspirational and admirable in its own right, still wasn’t the reason why I chose her.

From the outset, Athene Donald has been a champion of women in science, and has done much to level the scientific playing field. At Cambridge, she was the first to hold the title of Gender Equality Champion. Outside of Cambridge, she has been involved in many working groups pushing for gender equality in science and in the wider academic world. Women in science have much to thank her for.

Her personal views can be found in her blog, Occam’s Typewriter, and I cannot recommend her writing enough to any young woman about to embark on a scientific career.


Image from The Institute of Physics using a Creative Commons License: Professor Athene Donald gives a brief speech of thanks after her portrait is unveiled.