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Behind the picture: Marjory Stephenson and bacterial biochemistry

January 2015 marks 130 years since the birth of Marjory Stephenson, a researcher who pioneered the study of biochemistry in bacteria and was one of the first two women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1945. Dr Jane Cope, former Director of the National Cancer Research Institute, shares some of her research into this relatively unknown scientist’s life.

Sketch of Marjory Stephenson

Marjory Stephenson (Image copyright: Principal and Fellows of Newnham College Cambridge)

Newnham College Cambridge is famous for its long corridor with ample space for portraits of distinguished alumnae. As an undergraduate in the 1970s I regularly passed this picture of a kindly looking woman whose eyes seemed to follow me. I thought of her as a benign presence watching over my busy student life. I looked at the name on the portrait ― Marjory Stephenson ― but it meant nothing to me.

After three years I was offered a PhD studentship in the Microbiology Unit of the Biochemistry Department in Cambridge, which was headed by Professor Ernest Gale. On arrival at his office I was amazed to see a copy of the same portrait on the wall.

I learned that she had founded the unit and had been Gale’s teacher and mentor. Her name cropped up again when I joined the Society for General Microbiology, which has a biennial memorial lecture in Marjory’s name. Later, I started to think about finding out more about her. Read more

Working life: Eva Hoffmann

Eva Hoffmann in her lab

Eva Hoffmann

MRC Senior Non-Clinical Research Fellow Dr Eva Hoffmann is trying to find why a woman’s risk of having a baby with a chromosomal disorder – such as Down syndrome – increases with age. Here she tells us about her working life.

I started my own lab after quite a short postdoc – three years – when I was awarded my Royal Society fellowship. I undertook this at the MRC Genome Damage and Stability Centre, now embedded within the University of Sussex. I’ve been an MRC Senior Non-Clinical Research Fellow for four years and that’s really allowed me to do more blue skies research that is paying dividends now.

Research focus

I’m interested in understanding how the information encoded in our genomes and chromosomes is transmitted accurately to the next generation.  For human health this is very important because there’s a high level of pregnancy loss associated particularly with a woman’s age. Today, more women over 30 are giving birth than in past generations – in the UK, women 35 and older account for around 20 per cent of all births. Read more

Stem cells in the classroom

Pupils using the resources in the classroom

The lessons in action (Copyright: EuroStemCell)

Not many researchers go directly into schools to teach science lessons, but that’s what Professor Ian Chambers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine did when he teamed up with EuroStemCell science communicator Emma Kemp. They have just published an academic paper on their experience of bringing stem cell research into schools. Here’s what they learned.

Not all schoolchildren want to grow up to be scientists, but they can be enthused about science, and equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand the relevance of science to their lives and decision-making.

Lots of adults can remember a particular time when they got the science bug. For Ian, this was a visit to a university lab aged 13. For Emma, it was her first physics teacher’s enthusiastic introduction to fundamental questions about the universe. We wanted to provide some moments like these to high school students, and we started with Ian’s old high school, the very one that had taken him on that early university visit. Read more