Kathleen Lonsdale

The intersection of Women's History Month, International Women's Day, and WiSE Wednesday calls for the honoring of a very special woman in science. Therefore, today we bring you the story of Kathleen Lonsdale. An x-ray crystallographer best known for her discovery that benzene (one of the core building blocks of organic molecules) is flat, Kathleen refused to let her gender hold her back. Born in Ireland in 1903, Lonsdale discovered an aptitude for mathematics – because math was considered a “boy’s” subject, she had to transfer to a boy’s high school to further pursue studies in the subject. She went on to receive a degree in physics from the University of London, where she joined the lab of Nobel Laurette William Henry Bragg. After working at the Leeds University and the Royal Institution (whose research she unofficially led for several years) she established a crystallography department at University College London, where she became the college’s first female chemistry professor. In 1945 she was one of the first two women (along with Marjory Stephenson) elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Kathleen died of cancer in 1971, but her legacy lives on through the lives and work of the many researchers she mentored.

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