Kathleen Lonsdale

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Kathleen Lonsdale
Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale (1903-1971).jpg
Lonsdale in 1968
Born Kathleen Yardley
(1903-01-28)28 January 1903
Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland
Died 1 April 1971(1971-04-01) (aged 68)
London, England
Fields Crystallographer
Institutions University College London
Royal Institution
University of Leeds
Alma mater Bedford College for Women
University College London
Doctoral advisor William Henry Bragg
Known for X-ray crystallography[1][2][3]
Notable awards Davy Medal (1957)
Fellow of the Royal Society[4]

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, DBE FRS (née Yardley, 28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971) was an Irish crystallographer who proved that the benzene ring was flat by X-ray diffraction methods in 1929. She was the first to use Fourier spectral methods while solving the structure of hexachlorobenzene in 1931. During her career she attained several firsts for a woman scientist, including one of the first two women elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1945[4] (along with Marjory Stephenson), first woman tenured professor at University College London, first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Early life and education[edit]

She was born Kathleen Yardley at Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, the tenth child of Harry Yardley, the town postmaster, and Jessie Cameron. Her family moved to Seven Kings, Essex, England, when she was five years old, her mother decided to relocate the family as a result of Harry's alcoholism. She studied at Woodford County High School for Girls, then transferred to Ilford County High School for Boys to study mathematics and science, because the girls' school did not offer these subjects.

She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Bedford College for Women in 1922, graduating in physics with an MSc from University College London in 1924.

Career and research[edit]

In 1924, she joined the crystallography research team headed by William Henry Bragg at the Royal Institution. After her marriage, Lonsdale worked at the University of Leeds in the late 1920s. During the early 1930s, she cared for her small children nearly full-time.

In 1934, Lonsdale returned to work with Bragg at the Royal Institution as a researcher. She was awarded a DSc from University College London in 1936 while at the Royal Institution. In addition to discovering the structure of benzene and hexachlorobenzene, Lonsdale worked on the synthesis of diamonds. She was a pioneer in the use of X-rays to study crystals. Lonsdale was elected as one of the first two women elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1945[4] (the other was the biochemist Marjory Stephenson).

In 1949, Lonsdale became a professor of chemistry and the head of the Department of Crystallography at University College, London. Amongst her students was Karimat El-Sayed who became a Professor of Crystallography in Egypt. On a more personal level El-Sayed credits Lonsdale with demonstrating to her how a career and a family could be balanced.[12] She was the first tenured woman professor at that college, a position she held until 1968 when she was named Professor Emeritus.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Simplified Structure Factor and Electron Density Formulae for the 230 Space Groups of Mathematical Crystallography, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1936.
  • "Divergent Beam X-ray Photography of Crystals," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 240A: 219 (1947).
  • Crystals and X-Rays, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1948.
  • Removing the Causes of War, 1953.
  • Is peace possible? (1957)
  • Forth in Thy Name: The Life and Work of Godfrey Mowatt (1959)[13]

Legacy and honours[edit]

Personal life[edit]

After beginning her research career, in 1927 Yardley married Thomas Jackson Lonsdale. They had three children – Jane, Nancy, and Stephen. Stephen became a medical doctor and worked for several years in Nyasaland (now Malawi).


Though she had been brought up in the Baptist denomination as a child, Kathleen Lonsdale became a Quaker in 1935, simultaneously with her husband. Already committed pacifists, both were attracted to Quakerism for this reason. She served a month in Holloway prison during the Second World War because she refused to register for civil defence duties, or pay a fine for refusing to register. In 1953 at the annual meeting of the British Quakers, she delivered the keynote Swarthmore Lecture, under the title Removing the Causes of War. A self-identified Christian pacifist,[16] she wrote about peaceful dialogue and was appointed the first secretary of Churches' Council of Healing by the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple.[17]


Lonsdale died on 1 April 1971 from an anaplastic cancer of unknown origin. Her career-long exposure to X-Rays is thought to have had a significant impact on her cancer risk.[18]


  1. ^ Lonsdale, K. (1929). "The Structure of the Benzene Ring in C6 (CH3)6". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 123 (792): 494. Bibcode:1929RSPSA.123..494L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1929.0081. 
  2. ^ Lonsdale, K. (1931). "An X-Ray Analysis of the Structure of Hexachlorobenzene, Using the Fourier Method". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 133 (822): 536. Bibcode:1931RSPSA.133..536L. doi:10.1098/rspa.1931.0166. 
  3. ^ Lonsdale, K. (1944). "Diamonds, Natural and Artificial". Nature 153 (3892): 669. doi:10.1038/153669a0. 
  4. ^ a b c Hodgkin, D. M. C. (1975). "Kathleen Lonsdale 28 January 1903 -- 1 April 1971". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21: 447–426. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1975.0014. 
  5. ^ Childs, Dr. Peter E. (20 April 1998). "The Life and Work of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)". University of Limerick. Retrieved 2012-10-20.  A lecture to mark the official opening of the Kathleen Lonsdale Building, University of Limerick.
  6. ^ Staff (2004). "Kathleen Lonsdale". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 2012-10-20.  Or see alternative source.
  7. ^ Staff (January 2003). "Chemistry World: Woman of substance". Royal Society of Chemistry (UK). Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ Staff. "Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale 1903-1971". CWP at University of California. Retrieved 2012-10-20.  Derived from the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.
  9. ^ Staff. "Papers and correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, 1903-1971". Archives Hub. Retrieved 2012-10-20.  An overview of the scope and content of the collection of Lonsdale's papers that are kept at University College London.
  10. ^ Reville, William (2004). "Kathleen Lonsdale - Famous Irish Scientist". University College Cork.  This article first appeared in The Irish Times, 13 December 2001.
  11. ^ Archival material relating to Kathleen Lonsdale listed at the UK National Archives
  12. ^ A Woman of Substance, Gulf News, 16 March 2003, retrieved 17 March 2014
  13. ^ Lonsdale, Dame Kathleen (1959). Forth in Thy Name: The Life and Work of Godfrey Mowatt. Wykeham Press. Retrieved 24 December 2015. 
  14. ^ Hudson, G. (2004). "Lonsdale , Dame Kathleen (1903–1971)". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31376. 
  15. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1966 to 1988 | University of Bath". Bath.ac.uk. Retrieved 31 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Lonsdale, Kathleen Yardley. 1957. Is peace possible?. Penguin Books. p. 95
  17. ^ Harpur, Tom. 2013. The Uncommon Touch. McClelland & Stewart. p. 76
  18. ^ Source her grandchildren on TG4 documentary in her honour. July 2014