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Dame Athene Donald
Athene Margaret Griffith
15 May 1953
|Residence||Cambridge, England, UK|
|Alma mater||University of Cambridge (BA, PhD)|
|Spouse(s)||Matthew J. Donald|
|Thesis||Electron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems (1977)|
|Doctoral students||Aline Miller|
Dame Athene Margaret Donald DBE FRS (née Griffith; born 15 May 1953) is a British physicist. She is Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge.
Donald was born Athene Margaret Griffith in London to Walter Griffith and Annette Marian Tylor. She was educated at Camden School for Girls and Girton College, Cambridge. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Natural Science (Theoretical Physics) followed by a PhD in 1977 for research on electron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems.
She worked at Cornell University as a postdoctoral associate, where she switched working on metals to polymers, before returning to Cambridge (Department of Materials Science) in 1981 and to the Cavendish Laboratory in 1983. She became Professor of Experimental Physics in 1998. Her major domain of study is soft matter physics, particularly its applications to living organisms and the relationship between structure and other properties.
Her research has applied microscopy, and in particular Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy to the study of both synthetic and biological systems, notably protein aggregation.
Further details of her research can be found in the citation for the Faraday Medal she was awarded by the Institute of Physics in 2010:
Professor Donald's deeply innovative and productive research is in experimental soft condensed matter physics, incorporating polymer and colloidal physics, and more recently biological physics. Her early Cornell work on glassy polymer crazing remains very influential and was followed by insightful studies of shear deformation in liquid crystal polymers (LCPs).
Here she was able to demonstrate the ubiquity of the so-called banded texture after shear of LCP's and study the underlying packing of the molecules by electron microscopy showing how they followed a serpentine trajectory in several thermotropics. She also carried out important work on lyotropic systems, including a synthetic polypeptide, studying its gelation and phase diagram.
Donald's mid-career launch into biological physics followed naturally from this polymer work leading to the physics of food and thence to starch. The starch granule structure and its changes during different processing histories were brilliantly analysed using a novel X-ray scattering technique. Structural changes during cooking, with the amylopectin molecule imaginatively treated as a side chain liquid crystalline polymer, brought understanding to different processing treatments. The misfolding of proteins forming amyloid fibrils is well recognized in the aetiology of many diseases, particularly those of old age. Donald's recent work has demonstrated that this important and challenging problem can be powerfully addressed by the approaches of polymer science and furthermore suggests an intriguing connection between the structures observed in both fields.
Donald's impressive achievements in biological physics are strongly based on the imaginative use environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), neutron and X-ray scattering, optical microscopy and infrared spectroscopy. With ESEM in particular her success is supported by her many earlier pioneering investigations of its basic physics. To maintain this vital interchange between soft matter physics and biology, Donald has founded a well resourced Biology and Soft Systems (BSS) Group at the Cavendish.
Donald was a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge from 1981 to 2014, when she became Master of Churchill College. She was also a member of the ESPCI ParisTech Scientific Committee during that same time period.
From 2009 to 2014, she served as a member of the Council of Cambridge University. She is a member of the Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and was appointed a Trustee of the Science Museum Group from 2011-16. She has been a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council since 2013.She chaired the Scientific Advisory Council of the Department of Culture, Media and Sports 2015-17.
Donald was the first chair of the Institute of Physics Biological Physics group from 2006 to 2010 and coordinated the writing of lecture notes in Biological Physics. From 2006 to 2008 and 2012–15 she served on the Council of the Royal Society and from 2010 to 2014 she chaired their Education Committee. For 2015–16 she was President of the British Science Association.
Donald has been an outspoken champion of women in science. From 2006 to 2014 she was Director of WiSETI, Cambridge University's Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative, and she was the University's first Gender Equality Champion from 2010 to 2014. Outside the University, she chaired the Athena Forum from 2009 to 2013, an organisation which aims to provide a strategic oversight of developments that seek to, or have proven to, advance the career progression and representation of women in science, technology, mathematics, and medicine (STEM) in UK higher education. She sat on the BIS (later BEIS) Diversity group, and serves the Equality and Diversity Board of Sheffield University and the Gender Balance Working Group of the ERC; she is a Patron of the Daphne Jackson Trust. She regularly writes on the topic of women in science in both mainstream media and on her personal blog. She also gives many talks on the issue.
She was awarded the UKRC's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, a Suffrage Science award by the MRC in 2013 and her portrait by Tess Barnes hangs in the Cavendish Laboratory. Donald talks about some of the issues for women in science in this video.
Athene Donald is distinguished for her work relating mechanical properties to the structure of polymers. She showed that polymer crazing could not be understood without reference to the entanglement network, and showed that two processes are involved, chain scission and chain disentanglement, depending differently on temperature and molecular weight. This work underpins the understanding of brittleness and ductility in solid polymers. She pioneered studies of thermotropic liquid crystalline polymers via transmission electron microscopy, revealing the ubiquity of banded textures after shear flow in these materials. More recently, she has developed X-ray methods for characterising starch, thereby opening up the field to novel physical methods which enhance those of the plant biologists and food scientists.
Donald has also been awarded the following:
Sir David Wallace
| Master of Churchill College