Hillcroft LRC

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale

Posted on: March 30, 2016

 

Kathleen Lonsdale

Do you love science? Do you want to follow in the steps of an inspirational figure? What about Dame Kathleen Lonsdale?

Kathleen Yardley was born on 28 January 1903. She came to Britain with her Irish family when she was 5 years old. She excelled in mathematics, physics and chemistry but as these were not taught at her girl’s school, she had to attend the local boy’s school.

She continued to do well and attended Bedford College for Women (part of the University of London) where she graduated in 1922 with the highest marks in physics for 10 years. This success brought her to the attention of Sir William Bragg at University College London (UCL) who was at the forefront of X-ray diffraction. She subsequently gained a Masters degree from UCL in 1924 and continued working with Bragg when he moved to the Royal Society. He provided her with considerable support and encouragement.

In 1927, Kathleen married another researcher, Thomas Lonsdale and they moved to Leeds when he had an employment opportunity there. She joined the physics department of Leeds University and built her own experimental equipment enabling her to analyse hexamethylbenzene using x-ray crystallography. This was her first major discovery. Between 1928 and 1934 she had three children but continued to work. She gained a Science Doctorate in 1936. She published at least 200 research papers during her lifetime. She was the first female professor of Chemistry at UCL (1949 – 1968).

She was a religious woman practising as a Quaker and as Europe headed towards war in the 1930s, she considered this an evil activity. When war was declared in 1939, she was informed of her civil defence duties as her young children exempted her from war work. She refused this work, or pay the necessary fine and was sent to Holloway prison for one month. When she left prison, she began to support prison reform groups.

She took other stands against the war – as a scientist joining the Atomic Scientist Association and as a woman joining the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1945/6 she was one of two women allowed to join The Royal Society and ten years later she was created Dame of the British Empire. She died at the age of 68 on 1 April 1971.

References

Text materials on Kathleen and X-ray crystallography in our LRC:

Cambridge Dictionary of Scientists 2nd edn. by Millar

Oxford Dictionary of Chemistry 6th edn. by Daintith

skullsinthestars (2015) Kathleen Lonsdale: Master of crystallography. Available at: http://skullsinthestars.com/2015/04/06/kathleen-lonsdale-master-of-crystallography/ (Accessed: 29 March 2016).

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