Students Laura and Charlotte entered the competition Xmas Scientist Experience 2017. The competition was launched to encourage young women to consider Science careers. Students were asked to write a two page essay on “What is the legacy of Kathleen Lonsdale both in terms of her scientific discoveries and for women in science?” as well as being asked why they would like to go on the trip.
The competition required me to write an essay on the legacy of Kathleen Lonsdale, a female crystallographer who proved the benzene ring was flat and contributed to female enterprise in science. 15 other female winners and I spent 4 days in Grenoble, France and had the opportunity to have a tour around the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, as well as conduct our own experiments and present our findings.
Not only did we have tours of the facility and presentations, we went to French restaurants, explored the city and went on the Bastille Cable Cars to view the French Alps.
We were asked to write an essay about the impact of pioneering x-ray crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale on women in science, and the 16 best entries from across the country were selected for the trip. The first night was spent getting to know the other winners, and learning a little about how a synchrotron works and what the ESRF is and does, and we stayed at a conference centre at the university of Warwick. We flew out the next morning, from West Midlands airport to the Aéroport Saint Exupéry, Lyon, and travelled to the hotel in Grenoble. Immediately, we were all completely taken aback by the staggeringly breath-taking scenery, as Grenoble is nestled within the simply stunning French Alps. After we got settled in at the hotel, we had chance to explore the town, and- I believe I speak for everyone on the trip when I say this- we all fell in love with it. It was small, quaint French town seeped in culture, proud of their heritage and welcoming to us, as strangers. The next day, we visited the synchrotron. I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it- the ring stretched for miles and miles, and the pipes and equipment that made it run sprawled out for as far as the eye could see. Scientists from all over the globe, working on areas of science, ranging from particle physics to archaeology, come together at the ESRF to use the world’s leading x-ray light facility. We were given a brief tour (it would have been impossible to see it all, so we just saw the parts that we would be working on), and went for lunch. I’ve never seen a lunch hall with food as good as this in my life! I had steak-frites (a version of steak and chips) on one of the days, and it was genuinely better than food I’ve eaten in expensive restaurants before. Then again, I suppose that’s to be expected- it was France after all! After lunch, we got to do some real science of our own. We were given a goal (mine was to discover the identity of an unknown substance using a UV source and emission spectra), equipment, and left to design and conduct our own experiment. From this, we came together and created presentations, and a research poster for each experiment. We then presented our findings to one another, and to the scientists that were there to support us. The next day, we got to go and see the experiments that were being conducted in various beamlines, and we were shown the procedure from start to finish of the production and analysis of protein crystals. It involved chemistry, biology and physics, and it was amazing to see how much the three disciplines- which are all too often viewed as entirely separate- overlapped. After we finished for the day, we went for a meal, and then went to the Bastille cable cars- an experience I’ll never forget. We travelled up the side of a mountain in see-through balls, and at the summit we were met with one of the most breath taking views I’ve ever seen. The entire town looked picturesque from up high, lined by snowy mountains and cut through the middle by a long, crystal-clear river. It was awe-inspiring. On the final day, we spent the morning at the ESRF, where we were introduced to a variety of inspiring female scientists, who spoke to us about their work, and how they found themselves in science. After emotional goodbyes- we had all grown so attached to the place!- we went back to the hotel, and were told we had the rest of the day to make the best of the amazing heat, and to go and explore further. Some of us sunbathed in the grassy square, some of us went out into the bustling town-centre, and even further, into the back streets and towards the historic Alsace-Lorraine. We spent a good while there, until we went for lunch, and then back to the airport, where we flew back home.