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Scientist of the Week

Welcome to the first instalment of Scientist of the Week, where every week I’ll bring you some info on a scientist who should be better known for good or bad.

In honour of the good ol’ lambda phage practical today (more on this later), the award of Scientist of the week goes to Esther Lederberg, an American microbiologist who made massive contributions to the discovery of (yes you’ve guessed it) lambda phage, then had her husband Joshua Lederberg take a significant amount of credit for her work; as being a woman in the 50s and all meant she wasn’t a ‘real’ scientist, I’m sure they were just letting the little woman do her ‘little bit of science’ so she can do the washing-up later without complaining.

Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly fair. To be sure, working with her famous and talented husband must have had its benefits, but it’s the setbacks that stand out, mainly: was Esther Lederberg given the amount of credit she really deserved and how much of the credit that she earned passed to her husband?

Now these issues go with the times they occurred in, but it does stir up a serious question; why are women so under-represented in science?

It’s not as if there hasn’t been a steady stream of women entering the field for the past 50 years. The barriers that were once in place have apparently been knocked down. But if that is the case, why on Earth can’t most people name a female scientist? The only time they seem to be mentioned is when sex discrimination is involved which let’s be honest is so fucking last century.

And so back to our dear Esther. The marriage didn’t last but for nearly 50 years Dr. Lederberg made numerous contributions to genetics and microbiology. She made such significant advances that Stanford University has dedicated a part of their famous chalk walk in her honour.

To find out more about Esther Lederberg’s life and work go to

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