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Hewitt announces science prize for women

Great prize, shame about the annual govt funding

Not content with opening HP's CoolTown exhibition yesterday, DTI minister Patricia Hewitt yesterday also announced a new cash award to raise the profile of women working in science professions.

As part of the ongoing Wise (Women In Science and Engineering) campaign, Hewitt put forward government proposals to help mothers with science and engineering degrees return to work.

"It is vital that we increase the number of women employed across sciences, both for women's personal professional fulfilment and for the benefits they bring to scientific research and the UK economy," said Hewitt.

One of the proposals is the Franklin Medal, named after Rosalind Franklin (pictured) whose research using X-ray crystallography contributed to the discovery of DNA's double helix.

This will be an annual competition run by The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, to honour women researchers who have made a contribution to scientific innovation. A £30,000 prize will accompany the award.

"I hope this will give women other female scientists to look up to and aspire to," said Katie Perry, physicist and spokesperson for the Daphne Jackson Trust, which promotes women returning to scientific research. "As a scientist, I think, anything that raises the profile of ordinary women in science has to help the situation."

But others think the prize will do little to encourage new entrants into the science arena.

"I think any prize is unlikely to engender interest in a subject area, but may prove a valid way of prolonging an existing interest or of highlighting the possible opportunities to further develop that interest," said Sarah Pates, co-coordinator of WiTEC (Women in Science, Engineering and Technology).

A separate proposal, under the scheme, will see the government contributing £35,000 per year, for three years, to the scheme.

But a single science fellowship, according to the Daphne Jackson trust, costs £33,000. With roughly ten fellowships awarded each year, through private sponsors, government funding is going to represent a mere drop in the ocean.

"Any money the government puts towards this is much welcomed," said the Daphne Jackson Trust's Perry. "But as always the phrase has to be 'can we please have more?'."

Although Hewitt and her mob are doing a lot to push this important campaign forward, without any serious funding to back the campaign, most of it will remain theory, rather than practice.

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