Imperial College London

Ada Lovelace Day: Event review


Fran Scott (Photo by Paul Clarke)

This year's headline Ada Lovelace Day event at Imperial College London, opened by self-proclaimed geek songstress Helen Arney, did not disappoint.

The STEM-studded line-up gathered a demo genius, Member of Parliament, bioengineer, professor of laughter, geologist, biochemist, comedian and tech enthusiast. An audience of over 500 people came to see the spectacle, including school groups. They enjoyed a drinks reception along with some science busking  and the 100 women 100 visions exhibit.

Helen Arney

Self-proclaimed geek songstress Helen Arney acted as compere

First to take the stage was science translator Fran Scott, someone who looks at science rather differently. After announcing her arrival by setting fire to butane with a Van der Graaf generator and a stick, Fran’s demos got increasingly more daring and reached a highpoint with the launching of home-made rockets using her tinfoil-covered witch’s finger (her finger covered in tin foil).


Fran Scott sets fire to butane with a Van der Graaf generator


Imperial’s own bioengineer Professor Molly Stevens took us on a whistle stop tour through the history of biomaterials and their evolution – from the first baby steps with bioinert intraocular lenses to the current array of bioresorbable and bioactive biomaterials. She finishing by talking about her own research on the regeneration of bone using the periosteum (the membrane that covers the outer surface of our bones), and the surprising interest it has attracted from an American football team. 

Leila Johnston To Leila Johnston ‘interestingness is everything’ and as a consequence she never thought that her passion for technology was in any way unusual. She outlined her three reasons why women should do technology, namely, it is inherently interesting; we associate it with good things; and it can be calming and enjoyable. 

The first half was concluded by Professor Sophie Scott making us laugh in the name of science. Her research into all matter relating to mirth is both amusing and fascinating at the same time; indeed we found out that laughter is an important social behaviour in all mammals. Professor Sophie Scott

The second half event got underway with a cryogenically frozen love song by compere and Imperial Physics graduate Helen Arney. 

Hazel Gibson, a geologist from Plymouth University then shared why she thinks rocks, minerals and fossils are amazing — not least because the diamonds sometimes found inside meteorites are the oldest thing that we will ever see apart from the stars. She encouraged us all to head to the Fossil Festival held annually in Lime Regis and highlighted pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning and aspiring 5 year old fossil hunter Daisy Morris, who recently had a species of pterosaur named after her.  

Dr Bernadette Byrne, a biochemist at Imperial spoke about the secret life of fat and how understanding this key building block of cells can help us investigate how phospholipids and integral membrane proteins work and the applications of the research for antihistamine treatments.  

In an inspiring address Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central and shadow minister in the cabinet office rounded off a fantastic event. Chi, who studied Electrical Engineering at Imperial, spoke about her passion for engineering and politics (she joined the Labour Party at 16), and how she never saw a disparity between the two. She was saddened that the percentage of women studying Electrical Engineering from 1984 and 2013 had remained static at 12%.

Chi Onwurah MP

Chi Onwurah MP

 Chi encouraged us to promote more women in STEM because women have so much to offer ICT, engineering and science. Through her work as Shadow Science Minister Chi has personally questioned industry about the male to female ratios and from those that responded there was a real desire to improve the balance. STEM is a key part of our future and we need to understand it in order to improve that future.

All photography by Paul Clarke (


Jenna Stevens-Smith

Jenna Stevens-Smith
Institute of Clinical Sciences

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