Jane Richardson

In this week’s WiSE Wednesday, art meets science. Jane Richardson is a true “Renaissance Woman;” born in New Jersey in 1941, her highly productive career has included work in the areas of astronomy, philosophy, biophysics, art, and computational biology (just to name a few). As a biophysicist and structural biologist, she worked with her husband, David Richardson, to solve some of the first protein structures. Jane knew that these structures held key information about how the proteins worked, but the high concentration of atoms in the models made them hard for a specialist, let alone an outsider, to interpret. Therefore, she began drawing representations of these structures that highlighted just the major structural features. These so-called ribbon diagrams not only enabled those outside of the biophysical field to appreciate structural biology, but also allowed researchers to identify structures that were conserved between different proteins. This had major implications for understanding the function and evolution of these molecules. Jane is still an active scientist today in her lab at Duke University, where her many projects include developing software to aid in the solving of molecular structures.  While some may debate over the benefits of science versus the humanities, Jane Richardson shows that the two are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they can be quite complementary.