Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale determined the crystal pattern of molecules using X-ray crystallography, part of a lifetime of fundamental contributions to the study of the of molecules using x-rays.
Kathleen Lonsdale was a remarkable person and a world-class scientist. She started off in mathematics, moved to physics and ended up as professor of chemistry, despite saying that she knew very little chemistry, and no organic chemistry. She was encouraged to work in the new field of X-ray crystallography by W. H. Bragg, who with his son W. L. Bragg, did much to remove the barriers to women entering the physical sciences in the 1920s and 1930s. But Lonsdale made the most of this opportunity and her abilities, despite her family background and the heavy demands of her own family life. She said in her characteristically humble way: ‘My own research life has been greatly enriched by having been broken into by periods of enforced change. I was not idle while I had my three children; far from it. But it gave me the opportunity of standing back, as it were, and looking at my work. And I came back with new ideas’.
She achieved many firsts in the arena of professional science and broke through several glass ceilings, blazing a trail that many women have followed, particularly in crystallography, where women are still strongly represented. These include being one of the first two women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society, the first woman professor at UCL, the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and the first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
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