Dr Elizabeth Blackburn Becomes Australia’s First Female Nobel Prize Winner
Posted by Clem Bastow on October 6, 2009
Hearty congratulations are in order for Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, who last night was announced – along with her colleagues Jack Szostak and Carol Greider – as the winner of the Nobel prize for medicine. The San Francisco-based Blackburn’s work concerns the study of telomeres, cellular “caps” that protect chromosomes; ”You can think of a chromosome as a shoelace with a telomere as the aglet,” she explained, “the tag or sheath at the end of a shoelace that prevents the end from fraying.”
Here’s some background info from The Age‘s coverage:
Australia’s 11th Nobel laureate, Dr Blackburn is a vocal advocate of independent scientific thought, and fell out with the Bush administration over cloning and stem cells. She was dropped from the president’s Council on Bioethics in 2004 after questioning its bias.
A colleague and friend, Melbourne University dean of science Rob Saint, said Dr Blackburn chose her career at a time when women were starting to become much more involved in the sciences. ”I think she would be representative of a change in that gender balance,” Professor Saint said. ” ”She is a very down-to-earth person, intelligent and wise. She stood up for not letting politics intrude into discussions about science.”
Fellow Australian geneticist Jenny Graves said the Nobel prize would serve as great encouragement to young women. ”It’s quite inspirational to those [who] realise we’ve all struggled and persevered to do fantastic science,” said Professor Graves. ”Liz’s time was definitely coming. Her work was just becoming more important as time passed.”
Couldn’t agree more. You can read more about Dr Blackburn and watch some of her lectures over at the University of California San Francisco’s Blackburn Lab Research page.
I think, however, I do need to briefly mention The Age‘s choice of headline:
The headline is contextualised in the article’s introduction:
EARLY in her tertiary education Elizabeth Blackburn was asked by a family friend: ”What’s a nice girl like you doing studying science?”
Unfortunately, choosing to riff on it via the headline misses the point (i.e. that Dr Blackburn has triumphed over such outmoded, sexist and infantilising statements) and instead perpetuates such inanities – girls can’t study science; when are you going to get married and quit work; yes, but you’re not a real scientist, girlie – for the sake of a tittersome headline. So, “thanks”, The Age, for continuing a century or so of sexist rhetoric.