Skip to main content


Library Talk 2021: Florence Bell – the ‘housewife’ with X-ray vision

Image of Florence Bell

Library Talk 2021: Florence Bell – the ‘housewife’ with X-ray vision

Dr Kersten Hall, visiting fellow at the University of Leeds, will be speaking about Girton alumna Florence Bell (1932) and his research on her. 

Florence Bell – the ‘housewife’ with X-ray vision

After an award winning portrayal by actress Nicole Kidman in a recent hit West End play, a commemorative coin by the Royal Mint, and now a Mars Rover named in her honour that is due to land on the Red Planet next year, the scientist Rosalind Franklin is no longer quite the unsung heroine that she once was and her crucial role in the discovery of the structure of DNA is now well recognised. But few people realise there is another heroine in this story whose role remains still very much unsung. In this lecture, Dr. Kersten Hall of the University of Leeds discusses the life of Florence Bell, physicist and alumna of Girton College, Cambridge. Exploring how, from unlikely origins in the study of wool fibres for the West Yorkshire textile industry, her work led her to make the very first structural studies of DNA and in so doing lay the foundations for Franklin’s achievement and one of the biggest milestones in 20th century science.

Image of Dr Kersten HallAfter graduating in Biochemistry from St. Anne’s College, Oxford, Kersten Hall returned to his home city of Leeds to carry out PhD research into viral gene regulation. He then worked as a research fellow in molecular biology for several years before hanging up his white coat and swapping the lab for the library to write about science instead of actually doing it. He is now a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds where his research focusses on the history of molecular biology. His book ‘The Man in the Monkeynut Coat’ (Oxford University Press, 2014) which explores the life and work of pioneering physicist William Astbury whose early studies of textile fibres led him to make the first structural studies of DNA was shortlisted for the 2015 British Society for the History of Science Dingle Prize and was featured on a list of Books of 2014 in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. His new book ‘Insulin, the Crooked Timber’ tells the story of the discovery and development of insulin and will be published by Oxford University Press later this year.

To book a place for this event please email or call 01223 764935.

*This is an online event and will use the video conferencing platform, Zoom. If you wish to attend, please ensure that you have downloaded the Zoom software onto your smartphone, tablet, or computer.


Cover of the Monkeynut Coat
Dr Kersten Hall's book ‘The Man in the Monkeynut Coat’