Celebrating women in science on Ada Lovelace Day

3 min read

On Ada Lovelace Day 2022, we’d like to celebrate the efforts of former MRC Harwell researcher, Pam Siggers, to recognise the important work of a number of female scientists by naming new roads in Didcot in their honour.

After having worked as a technician at the University of Oxford, Pam came to MRC Harwell as a research associate in Andy Greenfield’s group in 1996, where she embarked on research into mammalian sex determination and development and went on to obtain her PhD through the Open University. Over her 25 years with the group, Pam made some seminal contributions to the field, including the discovery of a new sex determination pathway involving MAP kinases, and trained many postdocs and PhD students in the very fine dissection of developing gonads, in vitro organ culture, and many other techniques. This commitment to the group provided the continuity required for the many long-term projects she was involved with and assured the success of many careers.

Pam is now Mayor of Didcot for 2022-2023, having previously been voted onto Didcot Town Council in 2017. When first elected to the council, Pam joined the Planning and Development Committee, which has responsibility for suggesting names of new roads to the district council. She had noticed that some roads in Didcot were named after scientists, and other notable people, but that all were male. So, when they were asked for ideas for road names in the new Ladygrove development, she saw a perfect opportunity to address this imbalance.

“I remember thinking of Mary Lyon and wondering if local people knew of her and what an absolute genius she was!”

Initially, she primarily wanted to recognise two scientists who she had personally come into contact with and been inspired by: Mary Lyon, who she remembered from her early days at MRC Harwell, and the developmental biologist Rosa Beddington with whom she had shared a lab when she was a technician at Oxford.

“Rosa was scary in her intellect, but so friendly and generous with her time, and such fun to be around.”

Some new signs on Didcot roads named for important female scientists
Some of the new roads in Didcot that have been named after important female scientists

The mainly male council took some persuading, but, in the end, they put together a long list of new road names honouring female scientists, including Beddington Avenue and Lyon Close, for Rosa and Mary; Hodgkin Way, for the chemist, X-ray crystallographer, and Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin; Franklin Gardens, for the chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, best known for her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA; McLaren Way, for the developmental biologist Anne McLaren; Herschel Street, for the astronomer Caroline Herschel; and Lovelace Green, for the mathematician Ada Lovelace, among many others.

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The day aims to raise the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more young girls into STEM careers, while also supporting women already working in STEM. Ada Lovelace has been described as the first computer programmer and worked with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, a computing machine, but also saw the creative potential of computers beyond mathematical calculations.

Caroline Herschel, for whom Herschel Street was named, also has the Herschel Programme for Women in Technical Leadership named after her. This is a national programme that aims to address the lack of women in technical leadership positions, by providing a space for women to learn new skills to develop themselves in a current role or to equip them if they aspire to leadership roles in the future. The 6-month programme run by MI TALENT is currently accepting applications until 21st October.

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