Synchrotron@School: promoting women in science


Women account for 28% of the world's researchers, even though, according to UNESCO, 53% of graduates at bachelor and master level are women. The Universities of Warwick and Liverpool, together with the EPSRC-funded XMaS beamline and the ESRF have joined forces to promote women in science.

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This is the third year that the ESRF welcomed British female high school students, aged 16-17, to encourage them to pursue a career in science.

The students participated in two full days of hands-on experiments within the framework of the ESRF's outreach programme “Synchrotron@School”. The programme, which has been running since 2013, thanks to a partnership with the French “Académie de Grenoble”, offers high school students a one-day immersion in the world of X-ray science with visits of the ESRF's beamlines and infrastructure. Synchrotron@School aims at encouraging students, male and female alike, to pursue careers in Science and Technology.

The ESRF welcomed a group of 15 British young women on 4th July. These students are the winners of a national UK competition for which an essay on the legacy of the British crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale had to be written; their prize was a two-day visit to the ESRF. The purpose of this competition is to enhance students’ awareness of the importance of pursuing scientific studies. The initiative ties in well with the ESRF's outreach programme Synchrotron@School. Alison Caldecote, in charge of these students, said: "I am often interviewed on the importance of encouraging women in science. Why does it matter? Because of all that untapped talent!" These students, knowingly or unknowingly, stand for women in science.


Group picture at the ESRF Visitor Centre - @G.Sette

During their two-day stay at the ESRF the students enjoyed the Synchrotron@School programme. They discovered what it is like to be a scientist by touring the laboratory, meeting ESRF scientists, as well as carrying out experiments, analysing data, presenting the results and generally experiencing life as an on-site scientist. A fair amount of time was spent at the XMaS beamline where Laurence Bouchenoire, beamline scientist, and Didier Wermeille, scientist in charge, introduced them to the experiments carried out at XMaS and their applications, to their work on the beamline, and to life in general as a scientist. "The idea of this trip was that those young girls could talk and hopefully be inspired by some women working at the ESRF having different background and positions (scientists, engineers, postdocs, PhD and master students)" explained Laurence Bouchenoire.


Visit of ID23-1 beamline with Gianluca Santoni, ESRF scientist - @G.Sette

Only a few people are ever given the opportunity to visit and to learn about a synchrotron. All of the students participated fully in every activity and it would seem that they all enjoyed their stay.

[To] have been able to win this competition and to come here to the ESRF is incredibly important to me, thanks to that we can discover the work of scientists” said Lucy. Some of the students, like Lucy were  interviewed while they were carrying out experiments. They all want to continue their studies further in a scientific field. Medicine, engineering, chemistry, or physics could prove to be their vocation. Natalie, another student, said “I think that women need to hold the same place in science as men. There are so many wonderful women scientists.”

The ESRF hopes that this session will stimulate scientific vocations or at least will help to change the students’ perceptions of people working in science. As underlined by Caldecote “The goal is to encourage women in the fields of science as women are under-represented, particularly in physics.”


Poster session for the students - @XMaSSchoolTrip


The XMaS beamline staff and the ESRF communication group would like to thank the following scientists for their involvement and for inspiring the students through their presentations and enthusiasm: Camille Berruyer, Caroline Bissardon, Blanka Detlefs, Marie-Christine Dominguez, Gabrielle Giachin, Emilie Lefrançois, Oonagh Mannix and Gianluca Santoni.


Text by Giacomo Sette, Video by Leo Gagliardini

Top image: Poster session by the young British women on visit at the European synchrotron