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News > Alumni News > 1910's Alumni > Remembering Dorothy Maud Wrinch: Surbiton's trailblazing scientist

Remembering Dorothy Maud Wrinch: Surbiton's trailblazing scientist

Surbiton Alum Dorothy Maud Wrinch was a pioneer in the fields of science and mathematics

With a career encompassing everything from co-founding the Biotheoretical Gathering to becoming the first woman to receive a DSc from Oxford University, it should come as no surprise to discover that Surbiton Alum Dorothy Maud Wrinch was a pioneer in the fields of science and mathematics. 

Born in Argentina to British parents, Dorothy moved to Surbiton at a young age, and graduated from the school in 1913. She then attended Girton College at the University of Cambridge, graduating in 1916 as the only woman that year to receive a first class honours in mathematics, which at the time was not seen as an appropriate choice of degree for a woman. She stayed on at Cambridge for a fourth year in order to study symbolic logic with acclaimed philosopher Bertrand Russell. 

By 1918 her work at the University had been so distinguished that she was awarded Girton's prestigious Gamble prize for her work on transfinite numbers. Between 1918 and 1932 Dorothy published almost 40 papers, 20 on mathematics and 16 on scientific methodology and the philosophy of the science. Her philosophical work in particular was heavily shaped by her time spent studying under Bertrand Russell, many of his ideas were developed or critiqued in her papers focusing on philosophy of science. 

She became the first woman to receive an Oxford Dsc in 1929, which significantly boosted her reputation in science and mathematics. 
By 1932, she was considered one of the leading scientists of her time, and co-founded the Biotheoretical Gathering, which sought to explain life through examining Philosophy, Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. She faced setbacks when it was discovered in 1939 that her frequently criticised model of a protein was inaccurate, yet she was not deterred and continued to create pioneering research.

Her work in collaboration with Irving Langmuir proved that the Hydrophobic effect was the driving force behind protein folding. She later went on to publish a sociological book exploring parenthood, named 'The Retreat from Parenthood'. It explored the difficulties women who work face in balancing their careers with parenthood.

She was praised by many for her strength of character, with Marjorie Senechal writing that "she was an inspired teacher, a severe critic, an example of dedication and courage". Crowfoot Hodgkin agreed, describing her as "a brilliant and controversial figure who played a part in the beginnings of much of present research in molecular biology.[She was] courageous in the face of much misfortune and very kind".  

Image Souce: Alchetron


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