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Women in Science

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Video clip: When she was six years old a teacher fired Elspeth’s interest in science. Her father had been an engineer and her mother could ‘mend anything’.

Well, I was brought up in mid-Northumberland. My father was the local Rector of the little village where we lived. And I’ll never forget when I was about six and a half, the teacher moved all of the desks to the side one day, which was very unusual; we were all in rows. Very large class, about forty or fifty children and she drew a big chalk circle on the middle of the classroom and then she had an orange on a knitting needle which she said was the Earth and this was the Sun and she went round the classroom on the outside of this circle and I was just absolutely fascinated. She told us that the Earth moved around the knitting needle. I didn’t really believe her. So I went home and looked out of my bedroom window to see what was there, and then in the morning I looked again to see if it was different because I hadn’t realised that everything revolved, not just everything around my house.

And so from then on really I was very interested in science. My father had been an engineer before he was a Vicar and he was very, very practical and I had two older brothers, one of whom became a mechanical engineer and was very, very practical, and my mother could mend anything. So it was always expected that we mended our bikes ourselves, that we took them to bits and maintained them.