So, to continue – three examples of women shining in their fields of work.

Choosing Marie Curie is usual. So I won’t. I will look instead at Franklin.

(Found in all life on Earth, DNA contains the information by which an organism regenerates its cells and passes traits to its offspring.)

The link with womanhood and nurturing the progeny as it grows seems that bit more appropriate.

Rosalind Franklin, a chemist and x ray crystallographer whose work helped Dr Crick to understand the structure of DNA. A Natural Sciences graduate from Newnham College, Cambridge, she became a research associate at Kings College in London, where her work on X-Ray diffraction led to the discovery – the Nobel prize went to Crick Watson and Wilkins.

Franklin led pioneering work at Birkbeck College London on the molecular structures of viruses – I wonder what she would have contributed now, had she been alive.

The first ever woman president of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) is Chandrima Shaha – a cell biologist, working on the Leishmania parasite.The disease called ‘Leishmaniasis’ is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of a particular kind of sand fly.

The most common forms of it cause skin sores; visceral leishmaniasis affects several internal organs (usually spleen, liver, and bone marrow). She is looking into how the cells of this parasite die – it causes a disease which is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world (after malaria), responsible for an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 deaths each year worldwide. It weakens these vital organs and the sufferers of kala-azar (darkening of the skin) die of secondary conditions – amongst them, HIV infection.

To understand how this parasite dies, and accelerate its death would obviously save many lives.

I was so encouraged.

I did of course look at the amazing women who are working on the Indian space programme, and also at the crucial work being done by the polish woman computer security specialist Joanna Rutkowska whose work on keeping desktop computers safe could save the security status of whole countries, not just companies, if adopted wholesale. In these days of Russian hacks, women’s contributions in this field may turn out to be invaluable in preserving the nation state as an institution.

I looked closer to home for the next scientist. During these Covid months, I have undergone laser surgery to one of my eyes.

I looked for a woman whose work might have helped the two fantastic surgeons who worked on it using a super-tiny laser for upwards of an hour and a half. I found out about Donna Strickland – she won the Nobel Prize in 2018, and the reason for giving her the prize was stated as ‘ for their method of generating high intensity ultra short optical pulses.’ 

She is around my age, but she’s used her time so much better – thanks to her work, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of doctors who can help people like me to regain the full range of their eyesight and drive that bit more confidently.

What particularly appeals is that her work helps other women to become better eye surgeons. Women, strengthening the hands of other women, and doing good – that too is so positive.

Happy International Womens Day.

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