Scotland celebrates leading Lancaster women in Science

20 May 2019 10:27
Professor Dame Sue Black (left) and Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE (right)
Professor Dame Sue Black (left) and Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE (right)

Two leading Lancaster women are being celebrated by Scotland’s National Academy for their role in Science.

Portraits of Professor Dame Sue Black and Professor Louise Heathwaite have been unveiled as part of a new photography exhibition by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) celebrating some of Scotland’s leading female scientists, all of whom are RSE Fellows.

The exhibition, held at the RSE’s Edinburgh offices, currently features 26 portraits of leading scientists.

The women featured were asked to bring along an item that represents their inspiration to become a scientist or their scientific journey. Objects included a female lego scientist in a lab, solar-powered cells, carbon dioxide locked up inside rocks, models of molecules, books, a sixth-year school report on biology and even a melted kettle element. A short self-penned essay next to every photo explains each woman’s expertise and what inspired them to become a scientist.

Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE, FRSE is Professor of Land and Water Science at The Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University where she has recently been appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise. She was previously Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government on Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment.

Her chosen item was a Munsell Soil Colour Book, reflecting her love of getting her hands mucky and field-based science. Professor Albert H Munsell was the first person to illustrate colour systematically in three-dimensional space, based on experimental science and it has been the official colour system for soils research since the 1930s

She said: “I guess my inspiration to become a scientist was liking a challenge and problem-solving and science just offered that opportunity to start from scratch. I often tell my post-docs and early career lecturers that the time when you’re a PhD student is one of the best, when you have three years ahead of you to ‘do your own thing’ and discover something new, which is so exciting.”

Professor Dame Sue Black FRAI, FRSB, FRSE, is a leading anatomist and forensic anthropologist. She was the lead forensic anthropologist for the UK response to war crimes investigations in Kosovo and has also served in Sierra Leone, Grenada, Iraq and in Thailand following the Asian tsunami. She is a fellow and President of the Royal Anthropological Institute and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Biology as well as the lifetime professor of Anatomy for the Royal Scottish Academy. She took up the newly-created post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement at Lancaster University in August 2018.

 In her portrait she is holding a 3D printed replica of a juvenile skull.

She said: “It is challenging for the police to investigate a death if they do not know the name of the deceased. It may be that death has been very recent perhaps in a mass fatality event, or it may be that we are examining nothing more than a handful of bones uncovered by a dog walker on

a remote hillside. All parts of the human body have a story to tell and our job is to decipher the clues of life that are written large in our bodies throughout that life. It is a genuine honour to be granted permission to study the human body through anatomical dissection.”

Speaking at the exhibition, RSE President Professor Dame Anne Glover who is featured in the exhibition said: “The RSE is privileged to have amongst its Fellowship some of the most innovative female scientists in the world today. By celebrating some of them here, we can hopefully inspire many others in realising what a wonderful and diverse career path science can be and take pride in ourselves as a nation in the calibre of scientists who choose to study, work or carry out their research in Scotland.” 

Dr Rebekah Widdowfield, CEO of the RSE said: “While our recent report, with the Young Academy, Tapping all our Talents 2018, showed some good progress in the number of women pursuing a career in science, we know that more still needs to be done to attract women to study and work in science and to retain them within the profession. The report highlighted the importance of positive role models providing the instigation for this exhibition which seeks to help increase the visibility of just some of Scotland’s fantastic women scientists demonstrating both the impact of their work and the pleasure these women gain through their life in science.”