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Posts tagged ‘nutrition’

Tales from the Century: Elsie Widdowson and her eclectic research

Elsie injecting herself with solutions of calcium, magnesium and iron (Reproduced from the book ‘A Scientific Partnership of 60 Years’, available from the British Nutrition Foundation)

Elsie injecting herself with solutions of calcium, magnesium and iron (Reproduced from the book ‘A Scientific Partnership of 60 Years’, available from the British Nutrition Foundation)

Nutrition researcher Elsie Widdowson is one of the most significant figures in the MRC’s history. Here Dr Gail Goldberg, a scientist in the Nutrition and Bone Health Research Group at MRC Human Nutrition Research (MRC HNR) in Cambridge, remembers the legendary researcher, her questioning nature and willingness to use herself — and her colleagues — as guinea pigs.

This year marks the MRC’s Centenary, but it’s also significant for me: it’s 30 years since I began my research career at the MRC Dunn Nutrition Unit in Cambridge.

Nowadays, I imagine that anyone with an interest in nutrition research knows of Elsie Widdowson, but that isn’t always the case; and I can use myself as an example. Just a few days into my new job, I was asked to man the projector for the Dunn’s ‘tea talk’ seminar. In those days speakers used slides, and whoever was in charge of the projector lived in fear of it jamming, or slides being loaded in the wrong order, upside down or back to front.

As I fretted about the projector, a PhD student pointed out an elderly couple in the front row, settled with cups of tea and cakes, and asked me if I knew who they were. I hadn’t a clue, and didn’t want to admit that the names ‘McCance and Widdowson’ meant nothing to me. As a recent graduate, to me the stars of Cambridge were people like Max Perutz — I’d spent much of my final year learning about the structure of haemoglobin. Read more