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The lab notes and doodles of Rosa Beddington

by Guest Author on 10 Feb 2017

Last year we brought you the news that MRC scientist Dr Rosa Beddington’s papers were to become the first collection of personal papers from a female Fellow archived by the Royal Society. As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science tomorrow, the Royal Society’s Laura Outterside delves deeper into the archive, which is now available for viewing at the Royal Society in London.

Rosa Beddington

Rosa Beddington


Beddington was one of the most skilled and influential mammalian experimental embryologists of her generation, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999. The collection comprises the contents of Beddington’s office at Mill Hill, where she was Head of the Division of Mammalian Development at the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research.

Her archive strikes a balance between the personal and professional. You’ll find photographs of Beddington, her old passport (reference number BED/1/1), and her undergraduate notebooks (reference number BED/1/4), including brief forays into diary keeping. And you’ll find ample evidence of Beddington’s surgical and experimental skills, reflected through a series of lab books (reference number BED/2/1) and microscope slides of mouse embryos (reference number BED/5/1).

Together, the collection demonstrates the working life of an accomplished scientist who was also a much respected colleague.

As well as her exceptional scientific skills, Beddington was well known for her artistic talents, designing the British Society for Developmental Biology’s Waddington Medal. The BSDB later used one of Beddington’s artworks, of mice on a DNA helix, as the design for the Beddington Medal.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the most distinctive features in Beddington’s archive is the frequent doodling that you find in her papers. Conference papers are margined with designs of flowers, and abstracts with sketches of falling leaves. And on the cover of a ring binder lives a rather charming drawing of an elephant.

Sketch of an elephant

These drawings and doodles tell us something more about Beddington than we would find from simply reading her published papers. They speak of a sense of humour and creativity, and signal a busy mind at work and play. This doodling seems to have been something of a trademark for Beddington; according to a colleague, “Rosa would always position herself in the front row [at meetings], armed with her notebook and large tin of boiled sweets purchased en route at Heathrow. She would sit, suck and scribble (mostly careful little doodles of mice), but could always be relied on to ask an interesting question at the end of each presentation, however terrible the talk had been”. You’ll find the evidence of these thoughtful scribbles in her archive.

If you are interested in molecular genetics, embryology, developmental biology, microsurgery, or if you are simply interested in the processes of experimental science and the life of a working scientist, then do call in to see the collection.

Laura Outterside

With thanks to the Medical Research Council and the family of Rosa Beddington for gifting Beddington’s scientific and personal papers.

This post has been adapted and reproduced here with kind permission from The Royal Society. View the original post.


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