In his latest book, From Here To Infinity, Martin Rees – the Astronomer Royal and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cambridge – argues that science and hi-tech manufacturing must do more to attract the next generation. “It’s crucial that the brightest young people should perceive the UK as a place where cutting-edge science and engineering can be done,” he says.
Yet something is missing: and that something is women. Lord Rees points out that only 10 per cent of members of the Royal Society, from which he recently stepped down as president, are female. “Obviously, we are handicapping ourselves on the world stage if we don’t give opportunities to women,” he says.
This is where For Women in Science comes in. This award, made by L’Oreal and Unesco every year since 1998, “recognises the achievements and contributions of exceptional female scientists” by offering a £15,000 grant to further their research, money that can be spent on anything from lab equipment to childcare. The latest winner will be announced this evening; among the eight finalists are Dr Antje Weisheimer, who is researching methods to predict extreme weather more accurately, and Dr Monika Gullerova, who is studying the sort of genetic mutation that leads to cancer.
Projects like this are helping to bring about change: Lord Rees says that 30 per cent of those receiving University Research Fellowships from the Royal Society are women. In 20 years, he says, this will be reflected in the higher echelons. “But more needs to be done,” he says.