1st Annual Margaret Bryan Lecture in Physics

Wright of Derby ‘An experiment on a bird with an air pump’

Citizens, science and citizen science

a public lecture by

Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE, FRS

Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge and Churchill College

Wednesday 4 March 2020

6 pm – 7:20 pm

Newton Lecture Theatre INB0114 in the Isaac Newton building, University of Lincoln

Book a place

Science touches everyone, whether they like it or not, but knowledge of it and its implications is patchy amongst politicians, journalists and the general public alike.   This can be immensely damaging, as important decisions need to be made on many fronts: the energy transition, climate change, measles vaccination or the use of CRISPR technologies.  Scientists need to work harder to explain what it is they get up to and what they know, and be more sensitive to the social context in which individuals make their own decisions.  On the other hand, there is also a responsibility on others, particularly those with influence, to engage and listen to the evidence.  Some people fear science because of its perceived difficulties, and it is also thought to lack creativity; both these views, embedded in our culture, serve only as a barrier to dialogue.  I will explore some of the underlying reasons for this and the myths that have grown up, plus how and why scientists get up to surprising, exciting and creative things and how the public themselves can get involved in some citizen science projects.



Athene Donald did her first and second degrees in Cambridge. After 4 years postdoctoral experience in the USA she returned to Cambridge. She became a Professor in 1998 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999. Her research is in the general field of soft matter and physics at the interface of biology; she has published over 250 papers in these fields. She has chaired many committees within Cambridge and beyond and has served on University Council (2009-14) and as the University Gender Equality Champion (2010-14). She was (2013-18) a member of the Scientific Council of the ERC and has been a Trustee of the Science Museum until 2016 and is still a member of their Scientific Advisory Board. She chaired the Scientific Advisory Board of DCMS (2015-17) and is the Chair of REF2021 Interdisciplinary Advisory Board. As well as various prizes from the IOP and Royal Society, and the award of a number of Honorary Degrees, she won the 2009 L’Oreal/Unesco Laureate for Europe award. She was appointed DBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours for services to Physics. She took up the role of Master of Churchill College in October 2014.


This public lecture series is named after Margaret Bryan, a not well-known British natural philosopher and educator.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline Tait says:

    An absolutely fascinating lecture. I am one of many who dropped physics and chemistry as soon as possible as I found them terribly boring. I think that was down to very uninspiring teaching. The lecture has motivated me to learn more about science. I totally agree with the comments made in the lecture about the narrow nature of A levels. I think a broader curriculum would be more effective and would increase the career options on many young people.

    Like

  2. Mervyn Hobden says:

    An excellent and informative lecture highlighting the importance of understanding the history of science, but also of science education. As George Santayana said, ‘Those who do not understand their history are doomed to relive it.’ And Prof. Donald made this very clear with her analysis of the reasons for the conflict between arts and sciences in public perception. In the 18th century, the division was not so marked; members of both creative arts and science were referred to as ‘artists’. By the 19th century, because of the neglect of scientific education, both Thomas Huxley and Lyell went to Germany to complete a scientific education – Huxley later complained bitterly about the lack of any government policy towards scientific education, in contrast to Germany and France.
    She then detailed how her own research combined both theoretical and practical skills, in optical and electron microscopy to solve problems of great practical utility. You could imagine the ghostly applause of Huxley as her lecture proceeded! Modern education has tended to enhance the division, in particular with regard to women in science, even though some of our most creative scientists of the past were women, and women had an uphill battle to achieve career recognition and senior postions. Please bring Prof. Donald back for a future lecture!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. WGGreen says:

    A wide -rangeing lecture covering the scientists/publics/politicians roles and what,ideally should be their joint approach.Professor Donald is a wonderful lecturer although,to me,a non scientist ,explanations of her research a little beyond me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jean Matson says:

    Outstanding lecturer giving us an overview of the move from synthesis to conflict between the Arts & Sciences, with women being side-lined in Science along the way. Athena Donald, as a brilliant ambassador for the end to stereotypical views & imposition of a scientific curriculum by unknowledgeable politicians is working hard to solve the quashing of curiosity among our citizens of the future. An outstanding lecture!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rosemarie Dacosta says:

    Great lecture tonight and so important for science to be thought of as a creatuve subject! I wonder if we will ever see a quick training scheme for politicians in such subjects as science? I am thrilled my granddaughter is currently studying A levels at Ripon Grammar school in the varied subjects of Chemistry Art Biology and History. It will be even more interesting to see which field she chooses to study at university or should I encourage her to go into politics????

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Luc B says:

    Another excellent lecture about how science, education, policies and society do not always complete each other, and great comments also about how the current UK education systems (esp. in England and Wales) may directly contribute to such failings. The bits about the public dissemination of research and scientific pursuits were sound (never trust the media not to distort), with proper insight into making a success of this critical aspect of science through all channels now available to scientists.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Viv Wood says:

    Excellent lecture and so pertinent to the present public health problem. So little known by the public and politicians about viruses, but much hype by the media!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. David Royle says:

    An extremely interesting lecture this evening from Professor Donald.
    This lecture generated many interesting questions from the audience,with equally interesting answers. I certainly will encourage people to engage in science and attend similar events such as this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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