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Athene Donald

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Athene Donald
7th Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
Assumed office
Preceded bySir David Wallace
Personal details
Athene Margaret Griffith

(1953-05-15) 15 May 1953 (age 71)[1]
London, England
Residence(s)Cambridge, England
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (BA, PhD)
SpouseMatthew J. Donald[1]
Scientific career
ThesisElectron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems (1977)
Doctoral studentsAline Miller

Dame Athene Margaret Donald DBE FRS HonFInstP HonFRSC (née Griffith; born 15 May 1953)[1] is a British physicist.[4][5] She is Professor Emerita of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Early life and education


Donald was born Athene Margaret Griffith in London, to Walter Griffith and Annette Marian Tylor.[13] She was educated at Camden School for Girls[1] and Girton College, Cambridge. She earned a bachelor's degree in Natural Science (Theoretical Physics), followed by a PhD in 1977 for research on electron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems.[14]

Research and career


Donald worked at Cornell University as a postdoctoral associate, where she switched from 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.[15][16]

Her research has applied microscopy, and in particular environmental scanning electron microscopy, to the study of both synthetic and biological systems, notably protein aggregation.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

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:[23]

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.

Administrative work


Donald was a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge from 1981 to 2014, when she became Master of Churchill College. She was a member of the ESPCI ParisTech scientific committee during that time.[24] She is now an honorary fellow of both Robinson College[25] and Girton College.

From 2009 to 2014, she was a member of the Council of Cambridge University. She has been a member of the Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering,[26] and was appointed a Trustee of the Science Museum Group from 2011-16.[27] She was a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council from 2013-2018.[28] She chaired the Scientific Advisory Council of the Department of Culture, Media and Sports from 2015 to 2017.[citation needed]

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.[29] From 2006 to 2008, from 2012 to 2015, and 2021 onwards, she has 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.[30] She chaired the Interdisciplinary Advisory Panel for REF2021.

As Master of Churchill College, in June 2021 Donald was involved in a dispute regarding the College's Working Group on Churchill, Race, and Empire.[31][32]

Diversity work


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.[23] Outside the University, she chaired the Athena Forum from 2009 to 2013. 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,[33][34] and on her personal blog.[35] She gives many talks on this issue.

She is the author of Not Just for the Boys: Why We Need More Women in Science, published in 2023.

She was awarded the UKRC's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011,[36] a Suffrage Science award by the MRC in 2013[37] and her portrait by Tess Barnes hangs in the Cavendish Laboratory.[38] Donald talks about some of the issues for women in science in this video.

Awards and honours


In 1999 Donald was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Her nomination reads:[2]

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:

Personal life


Donald has been married to mathematician Matthew J. Donald since 1976;[13][1][64] the couple have two children, a son and a daughter,[13][4] and two grandchildren.


  1. ^ a b c d e "DONALD, Prof. Dame Athene Margaret". Who's Who. Vol. 2017 (online Oxford University Press ed.). Oxford: A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "Library and Archive Catalogue EC/1999/13 Donald, Athene Margaret". London, UK: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 9 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Athene Donald". The Life Scientific. 4 June 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs with Athene Donald". Desert Island Discs. 22 March 2009. BBC. Radio 4.
  5. ^ Donald, A.; Jacobsen, S.D. (28 June 2013). "Dr. Athene Donald: Experimental Physicist, University of Cambridge". In-Sight (2.A): 85–97.
  6. ^ "University Council". Archived from the original on 8 November 2011.
  7. ^ "University of Cambridge web page". Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  8. ^ Prof Dame Athene Donald, DBE, FRS, Debrett's People of Today. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  9. ^ Athene Donald's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  10. ^ Jenkins, P.J.; Donald, A.M. (1998). "Gelatinisation of starch: A combined SAXS/WAXS/DSC and SANS study". Carbohydrate Research. 308 (1–2): 133. doi:10.1016/S0008-6215(98)00079-2.
  11. ^ Jenkins, P. J.; Donald, A.M. (1995). "The influence of amylose on starch granule structure". International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. 17 (6): 315–21. doi:10.1016/0141-8130(96)81838-1. PMID 8789332.
  12. ^ Krebs, M.R.H.; MacPhee, C.E.; Miller, A.F.; Dunlop, I.E.; Dobson, C.M.; Donald, A.M. (2004). "The formation of spherulites by amyloid fibrils of bovine insulin". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 101 (40): 14420–14424. Bibcode:2004PNAS..10114420K. doi:10.1073/pnas.0405933101. PMC 521966. PMID 15381766.
  13. ^ a b c Europa Publications (2003). The International Who's Who 2004. Psychology Press. p. 443. ISBN 978-1-8574-3217-6.
  14. ^ Donald, Athene (1977). Electron microscopy of grain boundary embrittled systems (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 500427378.
  15. ^ Jenkins, P.J.; Cameron, R. E.; Donald, A.M. (1993). "A Universal Feature in the Structure of Starch Granules from Different Botanical Sources". Starch - Stärke. 45 (12): 417. doi:10.1002/star.19930451202.
  16. ^ Krebs, M.R.H.; Bromley, E.H.C.; Donald, A.M. (2005). "The binding of thioflavin-T to amyloid fibrils: Localisation and implications". Journal of Structural Biology. 149 (1): 30–37. doi:10.1016/j.jsb.2004.08.002. PMID 15629655.
  17. ^ Donald, A.M.; Windle, A.H.; Brand, H.R. (1993). "Liquid Crystalline Polymers". Physics Today. 46 (11): 87. Bibcode:1993PhT....46k..87D. doi:10.1063/1.2809100. hdl:2060/19900017655.
  18. ^ Windle, A.H.; Donald, A.D. (1992). Liquid crystalline polymers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-30666-9.
  19. ^ "Professor Athene Donald". people.bss.phy.cam.ac.uk.
  20. ^ Athene Donald publications indexed by Microsoft Academic
  21. ^ Starch: structure and functionality. Cambridge, England: Royal Society of Chemistry. 1997. ISBN 978-0-85404-742-0.
  22. ^ The importance of polymer science for biological systems: University of York. Cambridge, England: Royal Society of Chemistry. March 2008. ISBN 978-0-85404-120-6.
  23. ^ Physics, Institute of (2010). "2010 Faraday medal". iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  24. ^ Profile, ESPCI.fr. Retrieved 6 May 2016. Archived 26 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ List of fellows, Robinson College
  26. ^ "Athene Donald-related articles". Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  27. ^ "Science Museum press release". Archived from the original on 14 November 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  28. ^ "Scientific Council – ERC: European Research Council". Europa (web portal). Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  29. ^ "Biological Physics". biologicalphysics.iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  30. ^ "Athene Donald announced as next President of the BSA". britishscienceassociation.org. 16 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  31. ^ Adams, Richard (17 June 2021). "Cambridge college ends critical examination of founder Winston Churchill". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  32. ^ "A Statement from the Master – Churchill College". www.chu.cam.ac.uk. 17 June 2021. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  33. ^ "Just one action for women in science". The Guardian. 19 June 2015. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  34. ^ "Girls soar in science, yet why still so few women in the lab?". The Guardian. 15 March 2014. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  35. ^ "Athene Donald's Blog".
  36. ^ Physics, Institute of. "Professor Dame Athene Donald receives Lifetime Achievement Award". iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  37. ^ "Suffrage Science 2013 Events – MRC Clinical Sciences Centre". csc.mrc.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 24 October 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  38. ^ "Should I Be Discombobulated?". Athene Donald blogsite. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  39. ^ Cook, Alan (2000). "URFs become FRS: Frances Ashcroft, Athene Donald and John Pethica". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. 54 (3): 409–411. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2000.0181. S2CID 58095147.
  40. ^ Physics, Institute of. "Moseley medal recipients". iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  41. ^ "APS Fellow Archive". APS. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
  42. ^ Physics, Institute of. "Mott medal recipients". iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  43. ^ "Athene Donald: "The mesoscopic world – from plastic bags to brain disease – structural similarities in physics"". royalsociety.org/events/2006/mesoscopic-world. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  44. ^ Women in Science laureate picks up award, iop.org. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  45. ^ Hoffmann, Ilire Hasani, Robert. "Academy of Europe: Donald Athene". ae-info.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  46. ^ "No. 59446". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2010. p. 6.
  47. ^ Physics, Institute of. "2010 Faraday medal". iop.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  48. ^ "UKRC web page". Archived from the original on 1 November 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  49. ^ "Press Release Archive - UEA". www.uea.ac.uk.
  50. ^ University of Exeter: honorary graduates (2012). Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  51. ^ "Athletics coach who inspired Olympic glory is awarded honorary degree". The University of Sheffield. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  52. ^ "European Academy of Sciences – List of Members". eurasc.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  53. ^ "Professor Athene M Donald DBE FRS". swansea.ac.uk. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  54. ^ "UCL Honorary Graduands and Fellows 2014". University College London. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  55. ^ "Prof Athene Donald presents the 2014 Rideal Award Lecture". soci.org. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  56. ^ "Edinburgh Campus graduations". hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  57. ^ "Honorary graduands". University of Manchester. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  58. ^ Liverpool, University of; 7zx, L69. "University honours Marina Dalglish and Professor Dame Athene Donald – University of Liverpool". Retrieved 23 February 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  59. ^ "University of Bradford: News". bradford.ac.uk. Retrieved 23 February 2016.[permanent dead link]
  60. ^ Leeds, University of; 7zx, L69. "University honours Professor Dame Athene Donald – University of Leeds". Retrieved 21 June 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  61. ^ Bath, University of; 7zx, L69. "University honours Professor Dame Athene Donald – University of Bath". Retrieved 21 June 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  62. ^ "Times Higher Education Awards 2019: winners announced". 28 November 2019. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  63. ^ "Honorary Fellows at the Royal Society of Chemistry". 1 September 2023. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  64. ^ "A Many-Minds Interpretation of Quantum Theory". University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 3 January 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
Academic offices
Preceded by Master of Churchill College
2014 -
Succeeded by