University of Exeter: Celebrate winners of the PRISM Exeter’s Queer Science Competition 2022 at special Pride Month event

Young people will be honoured for their work to highlight the achievements and impact of LGBTQ+ scientists, engineers and mathematicians at a special Pride Month event.

The winners of the PRISM Exeter Queer Science Competition will be awarded their prize – Bank of England polymer £50 notes commemorating Alan Turing – at a ceremony at the University of Exeter this month.

The competition is run by the Intercom Trust, University of Exeter, Exeter College, Exeter Science Centre, Devon Schools Leadership Services, and Exeter Pride. It is funded through the Society for Experimental Biology’s Diversity Grant scheme and was open to anyone at an Exeter educational institution.

Entrants were asked to discover lesser-known LGBTQIA+ scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and medics and share their stories. In their submission they had to argue – in words or video – why they found their chosen subject’s life inspiring.

At the ceremony the winner – Niamh Taylor, from Isca Academy, and two runners up Charlie Berry from the University of Exeter and Molly-Jo McAlpine from Exeter College, will give a short talk about the scientist they chose to nominate.

The winners were picked by a panel of seven PRISM Exeter coordinators – Dr Claire Davies and Dr Alex Dudgeon from the University of Exeter, Dr Freya Garry, from the Met Office; Kris Sum from Tech Exeter; Sophie Fardell-Rudd from Network Rail and Dr Sally Basker, from Exeter Science Park.

Sarah Cosgriff, a professional science communicator and employee for Schools OUT UK and the Association for Science Education, will be a guest speaker on the night. Sarah has a BSc in Biological Sciences and a MSc in Systems Biology from the University of Warwick. She started her career in cell biology research and will discuss her experiences of being LGBTQ+ in STEMM. As part of her role in Schools OUT UK she develops resources for educators to help highlight LGBT+ people in school lessons.

Dr Davies said: “We have run this competition to challenge common perceptions about the types of people who work across scientific, technological, engineering, mathematical and medical industries and to highlight to students and their families, educators, and wider circles of influence that these professions are open to all.

“We were so pleased to read all the inspiring entries and we hope as many people as possible can join us at the event to celebrate the achievement of the winner and runners up and to hear more about work of their nominees and the impact their experiences have on young people today.”

Niamh, whose subject was the entomologist Dr Bryan Lessard, wrote in her entry: “Some might think this job is insignificant, however, he has identified more than 150 fly species and studies medically important flies and mosquitoes. Dr Lessard has also done work into alternative insect pollinators, which I feel is crucial due to the continuous decrease in bees, our mass pollinators. Therefore, I have chosen him because I feel that jobs like this are overlooked, and he has done some crucial work into helping our insects thrive. I was unaware of him before and it has made me think how many unrecognised LGBTGIA+ people with important roles in society, like Dr Lessard, often go unheard of.”

Charlie’s entry was about Gilles Châtalet, the French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who was a member of the French Communist Party and later associated with the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR). Charlie wrote about how his intellectual and personal life as a gay man were intimately related.

Molly-Jo wrote about Florence Nightingale and her influence then and today. This includes her role in encouraging female participation and helping to abolish harsh prostitution laws. Molly-Jo wrote: “She did so much for us as a society I think it is important we continue to give her the recognition she deserves. Although there is much speculation about it, Florence is said to have had 3 female lovers along with many male lovers. It is a debate as to whether she was straight bisexual or lesbian, but I still think she is a key role model to be looked up to. Florence even wrote that “I have never loved but one person with such passion in my life, but that was her” about one of her lovers. In my opinion she is an extremely amazing woman to be looked up to whatever her sexuality.”

Entrants had to nominate someone who self-identified as LGBTQ+ or, if terms used today didn’t exist in their lifetime, the entries had to explain what indications there are that the subject may have used these terms were they alive today.