Athena SWAN

At UCL Chemistry we are dedicated to the Athena SWAN Charter for women in science, recognising commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. 

The award recognises that in addition to university-wide policies the department is working to promote gender equality and to address challenges particular to the discipline.

At UCL we have a long history of fighting for equality and diversity. UCL was famously the first university in 1826 to admit students of any race or religious or political beliefs. Later, in 1878, UCL was the first to accept women on equal terms with men and in 1893 UCL was the first in England to establish a students’ union.

Furthermore, the Chemistry Department was a pioneer for teaching, establishing one of the first British professorships in 1828.

Over 180 years later that drive for equality is ever present; the Chemistry Department was awarded an Athena SWAN bronze award in 2014 and will be submitting an application for an Athena SWAN silver award later this year.

What is it?

Launched in July 2005, the Athena SWAN recognises and celebrates good practice on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in SET (Science, Engineering and Teachnology) in higher education.

UCL has been awarded the Bronze Award.  This award recognises that the University overall has a solid foundation (the policies, practices, systems and arrangements) for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that valies all staff.  At Bronze University lever, the focus is on:

  • The action already taken and planned which demonstrated the University's commitment at a senior level of the 6 Athena SWAN Principles; and
  • The journey to which the University has committed itself in order to achieve a significant improvement in women's representation and career progression in SET, with:

    • An identified starting point
    • the resources needed
    • people to lead and support, and
    • the means to monitor its progress (e.g. the action plan).

Since the launch of the award, 4 UCL Departments have received Silver awards from the Athena SWAN Charter. The departments are: Chemical Engineering, Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, the MRC Laboratory for Molecular & Cell Biology and the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences.

The department

The Chemistry Department at UCL has 58 full-time members of academic staff, over 300 undergraduate students, approximately 161 graduates (mainly studying for PhD Degree) and over 100 research staff.   The department was ranked 2nd in the UK (out of 37 departments) for the world-class impact of its research in the 2014 REF Exercise.

Both students and staff in the department are from diverse professional and international backgrounds, and the department has a culture of inclusiveness with a unified sense of purpose in recognising the issues and improving gender balances. Some initiatives have been in place for years which have a strong, continuing commitment to support staff while new ones are being introduced to try and improve and support gender balances.

The University has a Faculty Structure, of which the department is part of MAPS (Mathematical and Physical Sciences).

In 2010, the department strategy included a clear statement on equalities issues, championed particularly by the then Head of Department, Professor Ivan Parkin, who led the bid for the Bronze Award.

The department is now working towards a Silver Award.


UCL has an Athena SWAN Working Group. In addition, the Chemistry Department has set up a Self Assessment Team (SAT) which identifies and addresses gender and ethnicity issues within the department so that all staff can reach their full potential.

The SAT looked at data collected by UCL to explore what could be learned. Its recommendations were implemented immediately and continue in practice today.

Professor Helen Fielding participated in the publication of "Planning for Success: Good practice in University Science Departments" which looked at Work Life Balance. This described Helen's life as a working mother in Higher Education.

Helen Fielding

Professor of Physical Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

After a degree at Cambridge, a Dphil from Oxford, 3 months as a junior scientist at the National Physical Laboratory and 18 months post-doc in Amsterdam, Helen returned to the UK in 1994 to a lectureship at King's College London. She was promoted to reader in 1997, and professor in 1992. She moved to UCL in 1993 where she established a very well-equipped ultrafast laser science facility. She is a recipient of the Harrison, Marlow and Corday-Morgan medals of the RSC, and was rather pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Mosely medal by the IOP earlier this year.

After returning to the UK in 1994, Helen married and had two children, who are now 10 and 7. Her husband is Head of Measurement R&D at LGC in Teddington and they live in South London. They both commute about an hour to work - in opposite directions! During the school term, life at home is pretty hectic, but fun. After playing in the park, swimming, taking the children to sport and music activities, and attending various events, there is little extra time for anything else. In the holidays it is nice to escape from London as a whole family for activities such as walking in the Lake District.

In 2004 both Claire Carmalt and Ivan Parkin participated in the publication of "Good Practice in University Departments",

©The Royal Society of Chemistry and the Athena Project 2004. They explored the issues of career progression, the structural barriers in chemistry and HE and the constraints on individuals which made it difficult even for the best departments to appoint and retain the small number of women chemists in the supply chain. The experiences of these two academics with different trajectories to their present positions near or at the top of the academic career ladder are highlighted. Their experiences, and the influence of opportunity, location and luck recounted by others who contributed to this study.

Claire Carmalt

Reader in Inorganic Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

Claire took her first degree in 1992 at Newcastle and completed her PhD there in two and a half years in order to take up a post-doc in Austin, Texas. Working there for an FRS, getting a new lab and running for him, in a different culture where she was younger than colleagues at the same stage, was vulnerable, as was the number of papers she wrote and co-authored. Knowing how few posts were available in the UK, Claire applied for and was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship which she took up at University College in 1997. There, with lab space, and office and opportunity to do some teaching, Claire has been well supported by three heads of department. While on her research fellowship she got through her three year probation and became and accredited teacher. UCL offered her a lectureship in 1998 to start in 2001 at the end of her fellowship. In 2002 she became a senior lecturer and a reader in 2004. She came back from maternity leave at the beginning of the 2002 academic year not having written all the papers she planned. However, she did have a colleague who looked after her group and now has a colleague who covers her late labs which do not fit college day nursery hours. Claire juggles a child, with whom she shares a longish commute by train, and a husband (a chemist in industry) which a tedious commute in the opposite direction. She hasn't attended as many conferences as she used to. Her strike rate on grant applications has slowed down, and although she managed this summer to catch up on her paper writing she expects a slow down with new people in her lab not yet ready to publish. For Claire the future balance of her priorities, her family, her research and her career progression, is not absolutely clear.

Ivan Parkin

Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

A duel career family, Ivan has a wife who is also an academic chemist, a daughter of eleven, and a son of nine. After a first degree and PhD at Imperial and a NATO fellowship in the States, Ivan took a temporary lecturer post at the Open University. With grants from Leverhulme and EPSRC, two post-docs and a prolific publication record he was offered a lecturer appointment at UCL, but fond getting his laboratory established there hard going as a probationary lecturer with a full time teaching load. He turned a serendipitous contact with Pilkington Glass into a valuable established relationship. Promotion to senior lecturer in 1997, then reader and, in 2000, professor, with a continuing high publication rate now makes it somewhat easier to sustain his research funding. Ivan is not sure if his career would have progressed as it did, had his daughter arrived before he became professor.

Equality and Diversity at UCL Chemistry


The equality and diversity group at UCL Chemistry is particularly directed toward:

  • Being a part of the Athena SWAN Charter, addressing the under representation of women in science by challenging existing protocols and attitudes.
  • Addressing gender inequalities and imbalance, in particular the under representation of women in senior roles.
  • Improving the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education.

An Athena SWAN Bronze Department award recognises that in addition to university-wide policies the department is working to promote gender equality and to address challenges particular to the discipline. 

The equality and diversity group at UCL Chemistry aims to develop and encourage commitment to combating under representation, in particular the advancement of the careers of women in STEMM research and academia. 

In alignment with the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) the equality and diversity group at UCL Chemistry aim to transform existing cultures and make a real impact on the lives of staff and students.

Self Assessment Team (SAT)

We are looking for two PRDA's to join our team, if you are interested, please contact Helen Fielding for more information.

Current Members:-

Jadranka Butorac

Jadranka completed her PhD in Physical Chemistry at UCL.   She really enjoyed working at UCL, and was very glad to have an opportunity to help postgraduate students through her role as Teaching and Learning Administrator for Postgraduate Students here in the department.   The working atmosphere in the General Office is really family friendly therefore Jadranka can combine her full time job with her family commitments. 

Jadranka Butorac…

Senio Campos De Souza

Senio joined UCL as an undergraduate in 2010 and is currently a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. Throughout his time as student, he was able to see how UCL has progressively committed to address gender equality. The opportunity to take part in the Athena SWAN team allows him to fulfil a wish whilst being part of UCL:  to actively take part in making UCL a better place both for students and researchers. As a founding member of Macau Student Association he has experiences in connecting ideas from students and transforming ideas into action. He looks forward to represent PhD students and young academics of the department, specially those who have or plan to have family commitments in the near future.

Senio Campos De Souza…

Claire Carmalt

Claire joined UCL in 1997 with a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship and Lecturer.  She has worked her way up to become the first female Head of Department here at Chemistry, appointed in October 2016.  Claire has two young children and benefits from working at home one day per week.  

Professor Claire Carmalt…

Tracey Clarke

Tracey joined the department in 2015 as a Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, researching plastic solar cells using spectroscopy techniques. Joining UCL was like a breath of fresh air for her: it is so amazing to see how progressive UCL’s Chemistry Department is in terms of encouraging flexible working arrangements and its determination to see fairness for all.

Tracey Clarke…

Vijay Chudasama

Vijay graduated from UCL in 2008. Following his undergraduate studies, he obtained his PhD in 2011. After his graduate work, Vijay took a year out to work in patent law, before returning to UCL to do a postdoctoral stay. In 2013, he was highlighted by Scientific American to be one of 30 scientists, under 30 years old, across the world with promising prospects in Chemistry and selected to attend the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laurette Meeting. In 2014, he was awarded a prestigious Ramsay Fellowship and was made Technical Director of biologicals company (ThioLogics), which is based on technology he is an inventor of (www.thiologics.com). In early 2015, he was appointed to a lectureship at UCL following his being highlighted as a future leader in Science by Forbes magazine and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In late 2015, he was awarded a UCL Excellence Fellowship to concentrate on work in the context of Chemical Biology. In 2016, Vijay was cited as being one of CNN News’ 2020 visionaries for his work in the field of antibody-drug conjugates. He also got married in late 2016 (hence the picture :-)) and volunteers as a Samaritan, in local community activities to assist the elderly, and supports anti-sexual harassment activities in work with the British Transport Police and Safer Neighbourhood Teams. 

Vijay Chudasama…

Helen Fielding

Helen joined UCL in 2003 as a professor of physical chemistry and is now Head of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Physics.   Helen has three children (Katherine 17, David 14 and Charlotte 4). She has always worked full-time, but has benefited enormously from the department’s generous flexible working practices. Currently, she leaves early (after an early start) 3 days a week, has one long day at work and one shorter (school hours) day working at home. Of course, to manage teaching and departmental/university commitments requires the flexibility to work both ways and the newly introduced departmental policy of organising the teaching timetable in August for the year ahead is particularly helpful, in this respect. 


Michael Kelly

Michael has been working in HE administration since completing his Law LLB degree at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 2010. During his studies, he actively participated in student union and university wide equality and diversity activities, primarily through his role as the co-president of AberPride – the student unions LBGT+ society.  


Michael continues to read in his own time about the latest E&D news, especially legal developments, and continues to attend Out@UCL events.

Mike Kelly…

Dewi Lewis 

Dewi joined UCL 1998 and is currently the Undergraduate Departmental Tutor. He takes a great interest in all equality matters. His partner is a HR professional – who has also benefited from the ability to work flexibly to take care of their two children – who keeps him up to date with all private sector initiatives on equality and diversity.

Dewi Lewis…

Eva Liatsi-Douvitsa

Eva joined UCL as a PhD student having obtained her MSci degree in chemistry from QMUL in 2014. During her first year in UCL she was the PhD student representative of the departmental staff-student consultative committee. The committee dealt mainly with issues faced by undergraduate students along their studies and aimed to improve the experience during their academic years. Being now part of the SAT team she hopes to address challenges presented at the postgraduate level, engage more people to consider applying/remaining in academia as well as work towards improving the under representation of women in science.

Eva Liatsi-Douvitsa…

Nicola Phillips

Nicola joined UCL in 2001 and the Department of Chemistry in 2011 as the Executive Assistant to the Head of Department/Lead HR Officer.  In 2013 she became the first Chair of the Staff Disability Forum at UCL, a new group set up to look at UCL's equality for disabled staff.  This group is currently working towards the Disability Standards Charter. Nicola has a flexible working arrangement and works from home two days per week allowing her to have a better work-life balance.  

Nicola Best…

Lorena Ruiz-Perez

Lorena joined the department as a Senior Research Associate and Facility Manager with the EPSRC/Jeol Centre of Liquid Electron Microscopy in September 2016.  She is an experimental physicist specialising in soft matter systems.  Lorena has two small children and benefits greatly from the department flexible working arrangements.  She works from home one day a week. The department working practices allow her to keep a good life-work balance.

Lorena Ruiz-Perez…

Tom Sheppard

Tom joined the department as a postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Motherwell in 2004. In 2007 he was awarded an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship and appointed to a lectureship in the department. In 2010 he successfully completed his probation period and was promoted to lecturer. Tom is currently on Paternity Leave.

Tom Sheppard…


The SAT Team from 2013-2016 consisted of these members:

  • Marion Bartlett - Brooks (Ph.D. Student)
  • Jadranka Butorac (Postgraduate Administrator)
  • Daren Caruana (Reader in Physical Chemistry)
  • Caroline Knapp (Research Associate)
  • Helen Fielding (Head of Physical Chemistry Section/Professor)
  • Ivan Parkin (Head of Department 2009 - 2016)
  • Nicola Phillips (EA to the Head of Department/Lead HR Officer)
  • Liz Read (Departmental Manager)
  • Christoph Salzmann (RS Fellow/Lecturer)
  • Sandeep Sehmi (Ph.D. Student)
  • Tom Sheppard (Reader in Organic Chemistry)



Our Bronze Application

The department was awarded a Bronze Award in 2016.

You said...we did
You said …What we did …
It is difficult managing caring responsibilities when teaching responsibilities are allocated at short notice.Since 2015, we have asked all teaching coordinators to assign teaching responsibilities in July for the following academic year.  
The assignment of teaching and enabling responsibilities was unfair and not transparent.We arranged for a departmental workload model to be developed, based on the one used in the PChem section. We sought feedback, and in response to this we are piloting a Sharepoint-based workload document (PChem section) that lists activities rather than categorising volume of activity, acknowledges part-time chemistry appointments and sabbaticals clearly, records research group size and can be kept up-to-date. HR interest in our development of a transparent workload model resulting in us being invited to present it to the UCL 50:50 Group.
The promotions process was unclear and did not allow time to respond to advice following the Professors’ meeting.We re-organised the internal procedure to allow more time to prepare and revise submissions. We held a ‘Promotions Workshop’ to explain the departmental and UCL processes and present the experiences of 3 colleagues at different career stages. Feedback from this event was unanimously positive. Faculty interest in this successful event resulted in a decision to organise a ‘Faculty Promotions Workshop’ for 2017.
There were not enough women seminar speakers providing role models for our early career researchers.We requested seminar organisers to ensure they invite at least 50% women speakers and we now have 50% F/M.
Members of the department need space and time to interact informally.We fed this back to the research committee who now organise monthly ‘Bring Your Own Lunch’ meetings for academics. We are re-organising the Nyholm room so that it can be used as a social space for staff (tea/coffee, 10.30-11.30 daily) and students.
The website needs updating and maintaining.We developed a new website that is now maintained regularly.
We noted …What we are doing …
The 2016 staff survey highlighted some dissatisfaction with how some things are doneWe are planning to hold lunchtime discussions for all staff to discuss key issues and how we can improve
The F/M ratio drops from almost 50% at UG level to 20% at PDRA level.We are piloting a mentoring scheme to support PhD students. The mentors are receiving formal training and advice from HR.
The F/M ratio drops from 20% at PDRA level to < 10% at lecturer level.

We held a postdoc networking event to address the question, “How can the department help you at this critical career stage?” and are reviewing the feedback.

We also held "Grant Writing Workshops" to help progress the careers of our current PDRA's and these will be a regular workshop run by Chemistry.

For academic appointments, the % women applying for jobs is too low.We are reviewing our job descriptions to ensure they are as general as possible, identifying potential women applicants and contacting them informally to ensure they are aware of the positions, and requiring recruiters to explain why no women were shortlisted (if this is the case).
Family Friendly Policies

To find out more about the departments family friendly policies, please visit our 'About Us' section.

Working Mums

Working Mothers…

Below are a few websites aimed at working mums, whether you want to chat to other parents or get top tips, these sites are here to help:-

1. UCL Nursey- The UCL Day Nursery provides high quality childcare and nursery education, giving priority to the development needs and happiness of our children and their families in a safe, nurturing and stimulating care environment.

2. Parents and Carers Network, UCL - a social network that aims to support UCL staff members who are balancing ongoing caring responsibilities with work. It is a peer support group led by network members for members so new ideas and activities are always welcomed and encouraged.

3. www.mumsnet.com - The UK's most popular parenting network: support, advice, product reviews, competitions and much more.

4. www.sleepandhealth.com - Tips on how to cope with sleep deprivation from this US website

5. Working Families.org.uk 

6. www.monster.co.uk - Practical advice for working mothers

7. www.huffingtonpost.com/parent - The US site has a section devoted to parents.  

8. http://www.aworkingmum.co.uk - Extensive information for working mums including advice on: finances; childcare vouchers; tax credits; childcare fees; budgeting; creating routines


Working Dads


Working Dads…

Below are a few websites aimed at working dads, whether you want to chat to other parents or get top tips, these sites are here to help:-

  1. Dadzclub and #dadzclub on Twitter

This comprehensive website has articles on birth, babies, toddlers, teenagers, parenting & relationships. Website intro states dadzclub ‘is founded on the belief that no matter whether you’re an expectant dad or a dad of vast experience, we all need support from each other to encourage stronger relationships with our children and families.

2. www.mumsnet.com/Talk/dadsnet - This is the dads’ specific discussion forum, part of mumsnet 

3. www.sleepandhealth.com - Tips on how to cope with sleep deprivation from this US website

4. Working Families have a section on their website devoted to fathers, which includes a discussion forum

5. The Fatherhood Institute supports all aspects of making life easier for fathers

6. www.fathersworkandfamily.com - A US blog written by Scott Behson, dedicated to dads and work/life balance

7. www.huffingtonpost.com/parent The US site has a section devoted to parents.  

Also here are a few popular blogs for dads:

  1. www.shoutydad.com
  2. www.first-time-daddy.blogspot.co.uk
  3. www.singleparentdad.blogspot.co.uk

And you can find Parenting for Professionals blogs on working dads:

  1. www.helpforworkingdads.blogspot.co.uk
  2. www.flexibleparentalleave.blogspot.co.uk

8. UCL Nursey- The UCL Day Nursery provides high quality childcare and nursery education, giving priority to the development needs and happiness of our children and their families in a safe, nurturing and stimulating care environment.

9. Parents and Carers Network, UCL - a social network that aims to support UCL staff members who are balancing ongoing caring responsibilities with work. It is a peer support group led by network members for members so new ideas and activities are always welcomed and encouraged.

Image: Glenn Barden and daughter. Copyright: daddydazed.co.uk

Support for staff and students: Racial and xenophobic harassment

UCL is very concerned about the rise in racial and xenophobic harassment and hate crime following the EU referendum. Professor Michael Arthur, UCL’s President and Provost, has already issued a statement reassuring staff and students that we will not tolerate racist and xenophobic incidents arising from within our community: www.ucl.ac.uk/news/staff/staff-news/June2016/29062016-eu-referendum

If you have experienced or witnessed racial, xenophobic or any other kind of harassment on campus, there are measures for you to report it and numerous sources of support.

For staff

For students

Active Bystander Strategies

We ask all members of our community to stand together at this time and be exemplars of the inclusive ethos that UCL was founded on. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a site with helpful advice on ‘Active bystander strategies’: web.mit.edu/bystanders/definition/

The advice is a sensible mix of strategies for addressing harassment ‘in the moment’ and ‘after the fact’, without putting individuals at risk.

Please do not let harassment go unchallenged. We are all responsible for ensuring that UCL is a safe, supportive environment for our staff and students.


Staff and students affected by these issues may wish to consider joining our RaceMatters@UCL network : www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/equalities/race/REN.php

RaceMatters@UCL is a forum for networking, peer support, sharing ideas and articles of interest, forging scholarly connections and collaborations, organising formal and social events, and positively influencing policy and practice on ‘race’ equality at UCL.

Hope not Hate facilitated discussions

UCL are in contact with Hope not Hate, a politically neutral community organisation who have offered to come and run some facilitated discussions for staff and students on tolerance and combating racism. To register your interest in such a session, please contact: equalties@ucl.ac.uk

Women at UCL: Presence and Absence 2016

The exhibition ‘Women at UCL: Presence and Absence’ was created to celebrate and recognise women at UCL who inspire those they work with. There was a fantastic response to the call for nominations, with over 200 submissions, which shows the real impact UCL women have their colleagues. The exhibition profiled women from across the UCL community. A call went out asking staff and students to nominate a woman at UCL who had influenced them – either by inspiring or encouraging, or helping them to think differently about their work or study. A panel, made up of representatives from UCL’s equality groups, had the challenging but enjoyable task of selecting these 24 inspirational women from a pool of excellent nominees. As the response was so overwhelming, the panel considered it important to recognise everyone who had been nominated, so a booklet was created profiling every nominee. 

The Chemistry Department received the most nominees within the MAPS Faculty, these went to Nicola Best, Claire Carmalt, Helen Fielding, Katherine Holt, Caroline Knapp and Liz Read (pages 16-17).

The exhibition also included artwork exploring the history of women at UCL. Artist Kristina Clackson-Bonnington’s produced a series of works titled ‘Theirs to Ours’, a series of twelve mixed-media works that illuminate the institutional change that has taken place since the founding of UCL in 1826 – from the initial decision to admit women in 1878 to the re-negotiating of spaces and positions that is still taking place today. These artworks are included in this booklet.

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)
 "Women have often had a tough time in science - first getting jobs, and then getting enough recognition for their research.  Kathleen Lonsdale's life is a great inspiration to women who want to become scientists.  She showed they are as good (or even better) than men".

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)…

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, born 28th January 1903 in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, played a fundamental role in establishing the science of crystallagraphy and in her scientific career scored several important firsts.

From 1908 to 1914 Kathleen attended Downshall Elementary School i in Seven Kings and then won a scholarship to Ilford County High School for Girls. She was a good student, especially in mathematics and science. However, she had to attend classes in physics, chemistry and mathematics at the boys' high school because the girls' school didn't offer these subjects. 

Kathleen did well in her exams and won a county major scholarship, with distinctions in six subjects. She was allowed to enter Bedford College for Women, part of the University of London, at 16. She first read mathematics but at the end of her first year switched to physics, against the advice of her old headmistress, who said she would never distinguish herself in physics. Kathleen came top in the University of London BSc examination in 1922, with the highest marks for 10 years. She was invited by W. H. Bragg, one of her examiners and a pioneer of X-ray diffraction, to join his research school at University College, London (UCL).  On Bragg's advice she worked on the structure of simple organic crystals, and collaborated with W. T. Astbury on the theory of X-ray diffraction. In 1923 W. H. Bragg moved to the Royal Institution (RI) in London and Kathleen went with him. Bragg set up team of young researchers, including John Desmond Bernal. 

It was at UCL that Kathleen met Thomas Lonsdale, an engineering student at University College. They were married in 1927 and moved to Leeds the same year when Thomas got a job at the Silk Research Association. Thomas encouraged her to continue her scientific work and she worked on X-ray diffraction in the University of Leeds' department of physics. Whilst there, C. K. Ingold in the Chemistry Department gave her some crystals of hexamethylbenzene to study. Her results showed conclusively that the benzene ring was flat, something that chemists had been arguing about for 60 years. This was an important milestone in organic chemistry. Lonsdale also applied Fourier methods for the first time to analyse X-ray patterns in solving the structure of hexachlorobenzene. 

During her time at the RI Lonsdale worked in many areas related to X-ray crystallography - both theoretical and experimental. She was awarded a DSc by University College in 1936 and in 1945 she and Marjory Stephenson became the first women Fellows of the Royal Society. 

After World War II Lonsdale was encouraged to move into academe and in 1946 she became reader in crystallography at UCL. In 1949 she became professor of chemistry and head of the department of crystallography. Only then, at the age of 43, did she start to build up her own research school and get involved in teaching. 

She achieved many firsts in the arena of professional science and broke through several glass ceilings, blazing a trail that many women have followed, particularly in crystallography, where women are still strongly represented. These include being one of the first two women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society, the first woman professor at UCL, the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and the first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She was made a DBE in 1956. 


1922-23 Research Assistant to William H. Bragg, University College, London 
1923-27 Research Assistant to William H. Bragg, The Royal Institution, London 
1927-30 Amy Lady Tate Scholar and part-time demonstratorship, Leeds University 
(Between 1929 and 1934, Lonsdale gave birth to three children, and continued her research at home.)
1934 The Royal Institution
1935-37 Leverhulme Research Fellow, The Royal Institution, London
1944-46, Dewar Fellow, The Royal Institution, London
1946-49 Reader in Crystallography, University College, London.( Founded Crystallography Group.) 
1947 Special Fellow of the United States Federal Health Service
1949-68 Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Department of Crystallography, University College, London
1968-71 Professor Emeritus, University College, London

Meet the Women in Chemistry

In recognition of International Women's Day on 8th March and the Chemistry's Athena Swan initiative, we shine a spotlight on our fantastic female researchers, who are pushing the frontiers in photochemistry, electrochemistry, chemical biology, inorganic and organic materials. 

Read their breakthroughs, achievements, career highlights and goals for the future.

Prof Claire J. Carmalt…

Prof Helen C. Hailes…

Prof Helen F. Fielding…

Katherine Holt…

Dr Caroline Knapp…

Dr Emma Gibson…

Dr Fabiana Subrizi…

Dr Laure Benhamou…

Dr Yiwen Pei…

Helen Grounds…

Ines Lezcano-Gonzalez…

Dr Mingqing Wang…


Professor Helen Fielding

Prof Helen F. Fielding…

Shedding new light on photochemistry in nature: from biological motifs to photoactive proteins

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Head of Physical Chemistry


Research: My research is aimed at understanding the electronic structure and excited state dynamics of photoactivated molecular systems that are of biological or technological interest. The techniques we use are frequency-resolved and time-resolved photoelectron spectroscopies and quantum chemistry calculations. The systems we study range from isolated molecules and anions in the gas-phase to molecules in solution and on surfaces.


Recent highlights include the discovery of a new electron transfer mechanism (Nature Communications 2016), observations of electronic relaxation mechanisms in the green fluorescent protein chromophore (Chemical Science 2013 and 2016) and the photoresponse of a unidirectional molecular rotary motor (in preparation for publication).  The next exciting step will be extending our studies of isolated molecules to larger systems such as proteins. 

Research in my group has resulted in the award of several prizes, from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics.


Career highlights: Our latest highlight has been the observation of amazing quality photoelectron spectra of molecules in aqueous solution, using our newly built and commissioned liquid jet photoelectron spectrometer.

Taking the green fluorescence out of the protein: dynamics of the isolated GFP chromophore anion…


Image:  Taking the green fluorescence out of the protein: dynamics of the isolated GFP chromophore anion. Credit: Jan Verlet, Department of Chemistry, University of Durham. 


Professor Helen Hailes 

Prof. Helen Hailes…

Sustainable strategies for molecular assembly using Nature’s biocatalysts and the synthesis of chemical biology tools

Professor of Chemical Biology

Research:  My research is focused on the development of new green chemistry approaches in synthesis. Several projects involve the discovery, optimisation and use of biocatalysts in single or multi-step pathways to construct single isomer biologically active molecules. In addition we are investigating reactions and multi-step cascades in water and other green solvents. We are also using synthetic chemistry to probe and understand biological problems: this includes the design and synthesis of new anti-bacterials and lipids for nanoparticle delivery applications or as imaging reagents.

Helen Hailes Research…

Recent highlights include the discovery of a new single step enzymatic approach to the synthesis of spiro-tetrahydroisoquinolines (Nature Communications 2017), the use of a metagenomics approach for new biocatalyst discovery (Green Chemistry 2017) and the use of transaminase and transketolase enzymes in synthesis (Green Chemistry 2016 and 2017). In exciting current work we are applying our biocatalysts in enzymatic and chemoenzymatic cascades (Green Chemistry 2015 and publications in preparation) to enable the one pot synthesis of complex natural and novel alkaloids from low cost starting materials.

Helen Hailes Research…

Research in my group has resulted in the award of prizes from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Chemical Engineers.


Career highlights: A recent highlight has been the observation that one of the key enzymes in the benzylisoquinoline alkaloid biosynthetic pathway can accept unactivated ketones in very high yields, which is unprecedented in Nature. 

Professor Claire Carmalt 

Professor Claire Carmalt…

Developing innovative new routes to technologically important inorganic materials


Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Head of the Chemistry Department, UCL

Research: My research group is focussed on developing innovative new routes to technologically important materials such as transparent conducting oxides (TCOs), photocatalysts and superhydrophobic paints.

Recent highlights include the development of a new technique, combinatorial aerosol assisted chemical vapour deposition (AACVD), which provides a synthetic tool for rapidly optimizing the functional properties of thin films, and the development of superhydrophobic paints.

I currently lead a project with AzkoNobel developing smart decorative paints utilising these superhydrophobic materials via an innovateUK grant. The development of robust superhydrophobic paints (led to a huge amount of media interest with features on >120 websites, interviews for newspapers/magazines/radio, and filming by Reuters.

I am also leading a large consortium EPSRC grant (£2.3m) which involves UCL, Loughborough University and 8 companies (NSG, SunChemicals, Xaar, Teer, Diamond Coatings, Malvern, AzkoNobel, PlasmaQuest). We are working closely with industrial partners to investigate scale up opportunities to create new and efficient ways to produce TCOs.

Career highlight: winning the £2.3m EPSRC grant on manufacturing, publishing the robust superhydrophobic paints in Science and being the first female Head of Chemistry!


Dr Katherine Holt

Dr Katherine Holt…

Energy at Interfaces

Reader of Physical Chemistry and Chair of Teaching Committee

Research: My research is focused on the solid-solution interface and the processes that take place there. I have two broad areas of interest: one is understanding redox and charging mechanisms at the surface of carbon materials and the second is providing mechanistic insight into the structure of electrocatalysts under catalytic conditions.  

Carbon electrodes are ubiquitous in electrochemical applications (sensors, supercapacitors, batteries) and hence there is real interest in understanding how changes in their surface chemistry and solvation can influence their electrochemical performance. On the other hand, carbon-based materials such as diamond and polymers are insulating materials and so can’t be used as electrodes. However, there is still great interest in understanding how and why they are able to accumulate charge at their surfaces. It is well know that rubbing two insulating materials together can cause electrostatic charging, but why this is so is not well understood.

Many important energy technologies of the future rely on electrocatalysis – these include electrochemical generation of hydrogen by proton reduction and reduction of CO2 to make fuels. Different catalyst materials and molecules are required to make these reactions proceed, but a common problem is that these catalysts can be unstable and break down during use. I work closely with the synthetic chemist who make these materials and molecules and carry out mechanistic studies to understand how and why they work (or don’t!).  

Career Highlights: Won Edward Harrison prize of the RSC in 2007, Previous holder of EPSRC and Ramsay Research Fellowships. 

Dr Caroline Knapp

Dr Caroline Knapp…

Designer Precursor Development for Metal Ink Formulation and the Patterning of Conductive Features


Ramsay Memorial Fellow


Research: Our research investigates the synthesis of precursors to be used as metal ink formulations with the ultimate goal of producing highly conductive metallic patterning. Research time is split between the synthesis, isolation and characterisation of novel compounds, particularly of silver, copper and aluminium and their subsequent reduction to the metal.

As part of an ongoing collaboration with scientists at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST, www.list.lu) we have been developing the use of atmospheric-pressure plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition (AP-PECVD). Current highlights include recent successes at low temperature, which have shown to be scalable and so lend themselves to industrial application.

Results this year include the crystallographic characterisation of a variety of novel copper precursors. The first of these compounds to be tested has already shown to be an excellent precursor to copper metal, converting at temperatures as low as 100 °C! Time resolved studies mapped using PXRD at a range of temperatures show the linear rate of conversion from precursor to copper metal.

Career highlights: Our latest highlight has been the deposition of silver coatings at room temperature and under atmospheric pressure (pictured below), the low temperatures allows a variety of substrates to be used (including paper and economical plastics with low glass transition (Tg) temperatures).

Caroline Knapp Research…

Image:  30 cm conductive silver track deposited on polyethylene napthalate (PEN) by AP-PECVD at room temperature. Credit: C. E. Knapp, UCL; N. D. Boscher et al., LIST.

Dr Laure Benhamou

Dr Laure Benhamou…

Exploitation of biomass: towards a greener future for chemistry.

Research: My current research is focused on the sustainable synthesis of small chiral fragments from biomass.  This project is aimed at practical applications to drug design through our partnership with the pharmaceutical industry (GSK & AstraZeneca).

Career highlights: In line with the awareness and effort to reduce the impact of human activity on the environment, I have always been dedicated to promote and develop eco-friendly catalytic processes using my dual background in inorganic and organic chemistry. Recent highlights include the development of palladium catalysed methodologies for the synthesis of highly functionalised small molecules (Chem Eur. J. 2014 ; Org. Biomol. Chem. 2016), the publication of a review on palladium catalysed oxidation of alkenes (Synthesis, 2015) and the synthesis of chiral tetrahydrofurans through the selective dehydration of pentose sugars (manuscript in preparation).

Dr Emma Gibson

Dr Emma Gibson…

Developing in situ and operando techniques to understand catalytic systems

Senior Research Associate

Research My main research interests lie in the study of heterogeneous catalysts used for industrially relevant reactions. I am particularly interested in the development of the reactor systems capable of studying these catalysts under realistic reaction conditions, using mainly XAFS, FTIR and Raman spectroscopies. Most recently, as part of a UK Catalysis Hub project, I am working with Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Manchester investigating the effect of non-thermal plasmas on catalysts using XAFS.

Research highlights: Recent highlights include the combined XAFS/DRIFTS study on the restructuring of a AuPd/Al­2O3 catalyst under reaction conditions (Chem. Mater., 2015, 27, 3714−3720) and the study of methanol oxidation over Fe2O3 and the effect of surface molybdenum (Faraday Discuss., 2016, 188, 387–398).

Emma Gibson Research…

Image: The restructuring of AuPd nanoparticles during CO oxidation followed by combined XAFS/DRIFTS. 

Dr. Inés Lezcano-González

Ines Lezcano-Gonzalez…

Towards a better understanding of reaction mechanisms and active species on zeolite catalyst materials

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Research: My research career is mainly focused on Heterogeneous Catalysis, with special emphasis on zeolite-based processes. In my research I combine the synthesis, characterisation and testing of zeolite materials to obtain a better understanding of the working mechanisms of catalytic processes. Of particular interest is the development and application of in situ and operando advanced characterisation methods, such as NMR or X-ray techniques, to the study of zeolite catalyst materials under real reaction conditions.

Career highlights: Recent highlights include the identification and characterisation of Mo species involved in the catalytic conversion of methane (Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed., 2016) and the study of Cu migration behaviour in zeolites during the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) of NOx and its influence on catalytic activity (Chem. Commun., 2016).

Ines Lezcano-Gonzalez Research…

Image: Molybdenum Speciation and its Impact on Catalytic Activity during Methane Dehydroaromatization in Zeolite ZSM-5 as Revealed by Operando X-ray Methods

Dr Yiwen Pei

Dr Yiwen Pei…

Stimulus-Responsive Materials and Nanoparticles from Well-defined Polymers

Post-Doctoral Research Assistant

Research: My research focuses on bridging the interface of creative polymer chemistry, material science and nanotechnology, to allow for the development of stimulus-responsive polymers and multifunctional soft matter nanomaterials that are of significant importance in biomedical, microelectronics and advanced nanoscience applications. The key techniques use are controlled radical polymerisation (specifically RAFT and ATRP), grafting polymers from/to solid surfaces, self-assembly of block copolymers (specifically polymerisation-induced self-assembly) and post-polymerisation modification.

Yiwen Pei Research…

Recent highlights include the synthesis of block copolymer nanoparticles with interesting stimulus-triggered ‘shape-shifting’ properties for biomedical applications (Polymer Chemistry 2016 and Macromolecules 2014), the synthesis, modification and electrochemical properties of reactive conjugated polymers based on poly(pentafluorophenylacetylene) (Macromolecular Rapid Communications 2016) and the fabrication of switchable polymeric surfaces to achieve electrochemical control over polymers at nanometer level (Langmuir 2012). Currently, I am working on an exciting research project involving the synthesis of advanced biodegradable amphiphilic block copolymer for drug delivery and biomedical applications.

Career highlight: Latest highlight has been the synthesis of triply responsive soft matter nanoparticles using polymerisation-induced self-assembly (PISA) technique. These nano-objects exhibit both disorder-order transitions and order–order, worm-to-sphere, morphology transitions that respond reversibly to subtle changes in environmental conditions. (Polymer Chemistry 2016)

Dr Fabiana Subrizi

Dr Fabiana Subrizi…

Biocatalytic and sustainable routes for the upgrading of carbohydrates and furfural from biomass

Post-Doctoral Research Assistant

Research: My research lies mainly in the fields of synthetic chemistry and biocatalysis covering topics in biocatalytic C‒C bond formation, asymmetric synthesis and carbohydrate chemistry. As part of an EPSRC grant in collaboration with two top UK Universities and several industrial partners, we are focus on the development of novel biocatalytic and sustainable routes for the upgrading of carbohydrates and furfural from biomass. We are currently investigating applications with transketolases (TKs), transaminases (TAms) and other biocatalytic enzymes including imine reductases (IREDs).

Recent highlights include the identification of high-performing TKs able to accept L-arabinose as a substrate which allowed the first efficient stereoselective (one step) synthesis of L-glucoheptulose as a potential therapeutic for hypoglycemia and cancer (Green Chem. 2016, 18, 3158-3165).

We also developed one-pot synthetic routes from furfurals to polysubstituted aromatic compounds in water, without the need for any organic solvents, which allowed us to produce a variety of polysubstituted benzenes including pharmaceutically relevant compounds (Green Chem. 2016, 18, 1855-1858). This work has been highlighted with a back cover in Green Chemistry.

As a future exciting step we are aiming to use IREDs and TAms for the amination of carbohydrates from biomass and the production of chiral synthons for medicinal chemistry.

Fabiana Subrizi Research…

Career highlights: We recently developed a mild sustainable method for the amination of furfural and derivatives from biomass to access furfurylamines using TAms (Green Chem. 2017, 19, 397-404). This work has been highlighted with a back cover in Green Chemistry.


Dr Helen Grounds

Dr Helen Grounds…

The synthesis of near-infrared luciferin analogues for multiparametric bioluminesence imaging

Laboratory Manager (Organic Section) and Senior Research Associate

Research: I have worked on a variety of projects within Professor Jim Anderson’s group. These have included C-H activation; the synthesis of chiral planar ferrocene chelate ligand precursors and the synthesis of (-)-epicatechin gallate analogues for modulation of staphylococcal β-lactam resistance.

Most recently my work has focused on the synthesis of Infraluciferin – a novel analogue of luciferin and it’s uses in bioimaging. Bioluminescence imaging has revolutionised molecular genetic imaging in biomedical research. However, the use of luciferin (isolated from fireflies) has been limited as λmax = 558 nm. At this wavelength, absorption of visable light by haemoglobin and melanin restricts image resolution and signal penetration. Our novel Infraluciferin has λmax = 708 nm improving resolution and it can also be used for multiparametric imaging.

Career highlights: Synthesising Infraluciferin - the furthest red shifted luciferin analogue to date. This has enabled further collaboration with a wide range of groups including physical chemistry, pharmacy, haematology and radiochemistry both at UCL and around the world.


Dr Mingqing Wang

Dr Mingqing Wang…

Harvesting Energy from Sunlight: Low Cost and Durable Thin Film Solar Cells

Research Associate:UCL Institute for Materials Discovery

Research: My research is aimed to develop low cost processes and materials for high efficiency thin film solar cells through materials design, principle analyse, and device optimization; including organic/inorganic hybrid solar cells, non-vacuum CIGS solar cells and CZTS solar cells. I am also interested in adapting the knowledge and experiences accumulated in solar cells to light emitting diodes, field effect transistors and bioelectronics.

Recent highlights include Electrostatic Assisted Vapour Deposition (ESAVD) produced CIGS solar cells with 10.7% power conversion efficiency (Acs Applied Materials & Interfaces 2015) and ESAVD produced CZTS solar cells with efficiency of 6.5%( Scientific Reports 2016). The next exciting step will be extending our studies of inorganic thin films solar cells to develop stable fully-inorganic perovskite solar cells.

Career highlights: Our latest highlight has been the development of fully non-vacuum processed CIGS solar cells using electrodeposited CIGS absorber and Ag nanowires based transparent TCO with efficiency approaching 14%(Acs Applied Materials & Interfaces 2016).This technique has been scaled up on 5cmx5cm substrate in the lab . It provides a vision for a fully non-vacuum, environmental friendly, and low cost non-vacuum production line of CIGS-based solar cells.