The Department of Earth Science and Engineering (ESE) is committed to continually supporting and developing a vibrant, diverse, inclusive community.
To this end, our Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Culture (EDIC) Committee and Athena SWAN self assessment team drive forward our objectives in-line with our Departmental Values:
Supportive | Excellence | Integrity | Innovative | Inclusive | Inspiring
As we celebrate International Women's Day (8 March) and Women at Imperial week (8–12 March), our teaching staff took the opportunity to highlight female figures they have drawn inspiration from throughout their life and career, and to share these stories with their students.
Without further ado: who inspires ESE staff?
Inspiration for ESE
Katia Krafft (chosen by Senior Teaching Fellow Dr Emma Passmore)
French volcanologist Katia Krafft completed fearless and pioneering work on active volcanoes – including direct sampling of volcanic gases and ejecta, and exquisite photography – to expand our understanding of unpredictable and dangerous volcanic phenomena (such as pyroclastic flows). She also consulted with governments to assess volcanic risk and advise on evacuation procedures, helping to mitigate the impact of volcanic hazards, and contributed to scientific education through a PBS documentary (‘The Volcano Watchers’) and various published books. She was sadly killed, alongside her volcanologist husband Maurice and many other observers, while studying pyroclastic flows in Japan in 1991, during the eruption of Mount Unzen.
Laura Sylvester (chosen by Professor Gary Hampson)
Laura Sylvester completed the ESE MSc in Petroleum Geoscience in 2020 with Distinction, after having initially had to postpone her studies due to a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which came in 2014 after more than a decade of unrecognised symptoms and health issues. Since her diagnosis, Laura has acted a Patient Advocate for the Ehlers-Danlos Society and founded Mind Body EDS – a charity providing support for those affected by EDS through advocacy, education, financial grants, and contributions to clinical research. She has received pioneering surgery on both sides of the Atlantic whilst living with EDS, and works as a Consultant Exploration Geoscientist at Horizon Energy Partners.
Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (chosen by Professor Peter Allison)
In 1938, South African museum official Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer publicised the catch of a living coelacanth by local fishermen, a fish known as a 'living fossil' as it is thought to have evolved into its current form hundreds of million years ago. Before Marjorie’s work, coelacanths were thought to have been extinct for tens of millions of years. She preserved the fish for science and enabled its identification, and was credited via the species name: Latimeria chalumnae, after Marjorie and the Chalumna River where the fish was found.
Considered by many eminent contemporaries as a significantly important and gifted mathematician, German mathematician Emmy Noether worked on abstract algebra and mathematical physics, and discovered an important theorem in mechanics. Noether’s theorem explains the relationship between the mathematical ‘symmetries’ of the governing equations, and the conservation laws of physics. In 1933, Noether was fired from her position at the University of Göttingen by Hitler’s government for being Jewish, and subsequently emigrated to the USA to take up a position at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania.
Chien-Shiung Wu (chosen by Postgraduate Admissions Officer Ying Ashton)
Chinese-American experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu is known for her contributions to nuclear physics, work on the Manhattan Project, and for the Wu experiment — an experiment that demonstrated that parity was not conserved for the weak interaction. The 1957 Nobel Prize in physics was given to the result, but to two male colleagues rather than Chien-Shiung. Her role in the discovery was honored some years later in 1978, when she was given the first Wolf Prize in Physics for her exploration of the weak interaction.
A virtual exhibition
Alongside these wonderful and diverse highlights, our Senior Strategic Teaching Fellow Dr Alan Spencer opted to highlight a number of women in palaeontology – both past and present – via a virtual exhibition space.
View a recording of a quick-fire walkthrough of the exhibition:
These female scientists have either contributed massively to our current understanding of evolution of life on Earth, or are younger trailblazers in their respective fields. A few of these figures are highlighted below.
Mary Anning was a female English fossil dealer, collector, and palaeontologist famous for discovering the Jurassic marine reptiles in the cliffs of the English Channel around Lyme Regis (Dorset). During her lifetime many of her discoveries were reported and described in the scientific literature – but all were attributed to male scientists of the time. Efforts to highlight her importance have occurred more recently: in 2012, the plesiosaur genus Anningasaura was named for her, and the species Ichthyosaurus anningae was named for her in 2015. Mary not only stands on her own as a scientist of international importance, but as a symbol for hundreds of women that have been wiped from history by patriarchal societies past.
Mary was also highlighted by Professor Peter Allison as an inspirational figure due to her situation as a non-monied woman in a scientific environment dominated by monied men, all of whom did not need to work for a living.
Sanaa El-Sayed is an Egyptian palaeontologist, Vice Director of the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Center (Egypt), Assistant lecturer of Stratigraphy and Paleontology (Mansoura University, Egypt), and a Fulbright Fellow at the Museum of Paleontology (University of Michigan, USA).
Tsiory Andrianavalona is an expert on fossil sharks and rays from Madagascar and is based at her home country’s University of Antananarivo. Madagascar is perhaps best known for its unique land plants and animals, and, alongside key hands-on science education contributions, Tsiory’s work has provided important new information on how marine ecosystems have changed over the past 40 million years.
Bolortsetseg Minjin is a Mongolian paleontologist known for her work in fossil repatriation and dinosaur-themed science outreach. She is a recipient of the WINGS WorldQuest Women of Discovery Award for Earth, National Geographic Explorer, and TEDx speaker. She also is the founder of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs. She is best known for her activism in repatriating illegally collected fossils, a key example being a fossil skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus-like dinosaur Tarbosaurus bataar that went up for auction in 2012. Bolortsetseg recognised it as a Mongolian specimen and reported the auction to Mongolian authorities, helping them stop the dinosaur from falling into the hands of a private bidder. The case became known as United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton.
Alongside these brief highlights, ESE Staff called attention to figures including Marie Curie, Jane Plant, Boudicca, Mary Seacole, and Gertrude Ederle — so please do read more about these talented women, who were trailblazing in their fields in especially difficult or even dangerous times for gender equality.
For more information on Imperial’s events for International Women’s Day and Women at Imperial Week — and to enjoy recorded events, resources, portraits of women within our community and history, and details of our Athena SWAN gender quality work — explore our Equality Diversity and Inclusion pages. You can also engage with our IWD event, "Who gets to speak?", which took place on 10 March, via recording:
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