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Meet the Norwich women making waves in science...

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:44 11 February 2020

Professor Dame Caroline Dean's  32-year research career at the John Innes Centre has focussed on two central questions in plant biology    Picture: John Innes Centre

Professor Dame Caroline Dean's 32-year research career at the John Innes Centre has focussed on two central questions in plant biology Picture: John Innes Centre

John Innes Centre

Today marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so we thought it appropriate to shine a spotlight on some of the great work by women in science on our doorstep at Norwich Research Park, where some of the major global challenges facing humankind are being solved.

Professor Anne Osbourn is a professor of biology at the John Innes Centre    Picture: John Innes CentreProfessor Anne Osbourn is a professor of biology at the John Innes Centre Picture: John Innes Centre

Professor Caroline Dean DBE

Caroline Dean is a strong advocate for women in science and a committed role model and mentor. Her 32-year research career at the John Innes Centre has focussed on two central questions in plant biology: why certain plants have to pass through winter before they bloom, and how plants remember that they have been exposed to cold temperatures.

Answering these questions will unlock a greater understanding of how to increase the yield of agricultural crops in temperate climates.

In recognition of her globally significant work, Caroline received a 2018 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate and has recently won the 2020 Wolf Prize in Agriculture. "I was fascinated by marine biology TV programmes like Jacques Cousteau, so decided to do a marine biology degree," she explained. "I was introduced to biochemistry in my first year of study and I enjoyed it so much I switched to a biology course which opened up the world of plants to me."

Dr Anne Edwards is a researcher at the John Innes Centre and was involved in the early studies of Ash dieback disease in 2012    Picture: John Innes CentreDr Anne Edwards is a researcher at the John Innes Centre and was involved in the early studies of Ash dieback disease in 2012 Picture: John Innes Centre

Caroline believes it's important to encourage more women into science: "It's fantastic career, combining a job with a hobby. If you have a passion for science then my advice is to stay in science, no matter what."

Professor Anne Osbourn FRS OBE

Anne Osbourn is a professor of biology at the John Innes Centre. Her pioneering work into plant natural product biosynthesis has had major beneficial impacts on both agriculture and medicine, so much so that her efforts were recognised by the award of an OBE in the most recent New Year's Honours List.

Sam Fox is the founder of the annual Women of the Future conference, which raises aspirations and widens horizons for girls in STEM, and the Youth STEMM Award   Picture: Sam FoxSam Fox is the founder of the annual Women of the Future conference, which raises aspirations and widens horizons for girls in STEM, and the Youth STEMM Award Picture: Sam Fox

Anne is very active in creating new routes into science for people. She set up the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Trust, a science education charity that uses intriguing scientific images to initiate activities in practical science, creative writing and visual arts.

"Science is a rich source of stunning and intriguing images, often only found by looking down a microscope," said Anne. "Nearly every laboratory you go in holds fantastic images from their work. We thought it was a great way to get more people, especially younger people, interested in science."

Anne is also keen to bring more women into science, saying: "Diversity brings a richness in the way we think and work because we all look at things in different ways. Together we can draw on our strengths and differences to make scientific discoveries and to translate our findings for the benefit of society."

Aleena Mushtaq is a PhD student at Quadram Institute investigating gut microbes, diet and health   Picture: Quadram InstituteAleena Mushtaq is a PhD student at Quadram Institute investigating gut microbes, diet and health Picture: Quadram Institute

Dr Anne Edwards

Anne Edwards is a researcher at the John Innes Centre and was involved in the early studies of Ash dieback disease in 2012, when the disease had decimated 60-90pc of ash woodland in Denmark and was about to invade the UK.

Anne's interest in science can be traced back to her primary school's nature table. "We were encouraged to bring in all sorts of treasures - feathers, seeds, skulls, and leaves - and carried out rudimentary plant biology, including growing cress on cotton wool and watching the shoots and roots emerge from runner beans in jam jars," she explained.

"At university, one of my practicals involved collecting samples from our student kitchens and plating on selective bacterial media. I was the only one in my year to isolate a Salmonella - one of my proudest moments!"

Dr Kirsty Culley is the science engagement manager at Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, – the organisation that runs Norwich Research Park    Picture: Anglia Innovation Partnership LLPDr Kirsty Culley is the science engagement manager at Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, – the organisation that runs Norwich Research Park Picture: Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP

On following a career in science, Anne said: "Nothing can beat the elation felt when you discover something new. To encourage more young women into science we need to give them the opportunity to visit science research establishments and get involved in interesting and exciting research."

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Samantha Fox, John Innes Centre

Sam Fox has recently completed a PhD at the John Innes Centre, researching how a ball of cells transforms into a complex leaf shape during plant development.

"It's important to understand how cell division and growth is coordinated so that we can potentially develop better, more efficient plants in the future," she said.

Sam's involvement in science began as a child. She loved asking questions and listening to her father explain how things worked. She studied Biological Sciences at UEA and was particularly enthralled by the lectures given by scientists at the John Innes Centre, who she ended up working with.

Sam is also working with the next generation of female young scientists and founded the annual Women of the Future conference to raise aspirations and widen horizons for girls in STEM, as well as the Youth STEMM Award (the extra M is for medicine).

"We need to keep working hard to update the stereotype of what a scientist is, does and looks like," she said. "I launched the award to provide a framework for young people to develop key skills required in the STEMM areas."

Aleena Mushtaq

Aleena Mushtaq is a PhD student at Quadram Institute investigating gut microbes, diet and health. Her research has found that a lifelong low fibre diet can lead to a leaky gut, allowing pathogenic bacteria to enter the bloodstream which can damage the liver. In contrast, a high fibre diet can increase beneficial bacteria and help prevent metabolic diseases such as liver disease and diabetes.

"By working in science, I knew I would get the opportunity to tackle some of the big problems facing our society and help to improve our quality of life for the future," she said.

"Women have an important part to play in developing that future through science by increasing the diversity of new ideas and breakthroughs."

Aleena herself has represented the Royal Society of Biology at high school career events to talk about her life as a PhD student and encourage girls to pursue a career in biology. She has also taken part in the Pint of Science programme, which involves presenting her research to the general public.

Dr Kirsty Culley

Kirsty Culley is the science engagement manager at Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP - an organisation that collectively manages the Norwich Research Park on behalf of all its Partners. Her role is to help facilitate scientific collaboration, acting as a key interface between science and innovation, and helping to promote the Park's world-leading research.

Kirsty's background is in human disease research. She completed a degree in biological sciences and a PhD in molecular biology at UEA and continued her training in New York where she researched the underlying causes of osteoarthritis.

"I was lucky to have two fantastic female science teachers, at Acle High School, who helped me fall in love with the subject," said Kirsty. "I didn't realise how fortunate I was to have female role models in science, so it never crossed my mind that science wasn't a place for women!

"Young women need to know early in their lives that science is an option. This can start at school, at home and through exposure to great science activities such as the Norwich Science Festival, Year 10 Science Camp and Women of the Future event."


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