Prof. Dame Carol Robinson, 2015 Laureate for Europe

Dame Carol Robinson was rewarded for creating a revolutionary method for studying how proteins function, particularly membrane proteins, which play a vital role in many life processes.

Physical Chemistry & Mass Spectrometry

Professor of Chemistry, Oxford University, United Kingdom 

Professor Dame Carol Robinson is distinguished for establishing a field known as gas phase structural biology, a discipline she continues to dominate. To do so, she transformed a machine called a mass spectrometer from a device for simply determining the atomic make-up of a substance into a spectacularly high-performance tool capable of maintaining protein interactions. Renowned for her adventurous approach to science, she once took a drill to a brand new and very expensive mass spectrometer in order to modify it to suit her purposes. Thanks to this audacious flair for the unorthodox, Dame Carol Robinson devised, among other things, a ground-breaking method for studying how proteins function. In particular, she discovered a novel way to study the proteins that are a part of the cell membrane and which play a critical role in the human body. Her pioneering work has completely revolutionized structural biology, an arena with vast potential for medical research of all kinds.

An Uncommon Path to the Top

Prof. Dame Carol Robinson’s career path was, to say the least, uncommon. The woman who would go on to become a Dame of the British Empire as well as the first female Professor of Chemistry at two of the world’s most renowned universities, Oxford and Cambridge, actually left school at 16. She took a job as a lab technician with a pharmaceutical company and thus began her atypical journey to the top. Once at the lab she realized that she would “soon be bored stiff” unless she furthered her education. Naturally, however, she did things her own way. Not only did she obtain her undergraduate degree from a university for adult learners - diplomas frequently looked down upon by the scientific establishment - she also took eight years off to devote herself to her family.

“The Two Things that Mattered Most”

Dame Carol Robinson has faced many challenges, but when asked which was the greatest her response is quick and definite:

Balancing family and career. Initially, I resolved this by giving up my scientific career for eight years. Later I managed to find the right balance between the two things that mattered most to me. I did it by working in the early hours of the morning - I wasn’t missed at 5 o’clock in the morning!

For Women in Science

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