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Science Meets Art at Girton

Fireplace located at the Porters' Lodge, Girton College

At Girton we recognize that the opportunity to create, perform and experience art, music, poetry and drama is integral to the all-round residential educational experience that is a unique focus of Cambridge University. As the first residential institution for the higher education of women and as a modern champion of inclusivity we also understand the importance of being at the cutting edge of science, medicine, engineering and more. But there is no need to be caught between ‘two cultures’: science and the arts are two sides of the same coin. That is why, in partnership with the Cavendish Laboratory and inspired by the vision and a generous gift from alumna Dr Una Ryan OBE (Scully, 1963), we are hosting a new arts-science Fellowship at Girton, for which applications are now open, deadline 16 May 2021:

Art, Design and (Girtonian) Science

Academic excellence in the Sciences is nothing new to Girton, particularly in physics. From Hertha Ayrton, to Helen Megaw and Athene Donald, our alumni have been at the cutting edge, and that has inspired generations of artists as well scholars.

Hertha Ayrton’s (1876, Mathematics) paper on ‘The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks’, for example was the first scientific paper to be read to the Royal Society by a woman. It is the inspiration for the tapestry commissioned from Yelena Popova (Artist in Residence at Girton College 2016-2017) titled ‘Ripple-Marked Radiance’, which now hangs in the Storey’s Field Community Centre in Eddington.

Dr Helen Megaw (1926, Natural Sciences, and later a Fellow of the College), who joined the Cavendish Laboratory in 1946, and became Assistant Director of Research, brought patterns newly-visible through X-Ray crystallography to the 1951 Festival of Britain. As consultant to the Festival Pattern Design Group her images (and through her influence those of around 150 scientists overall) made their way into wall-papers, textiles, furniture, crockery, cutlery and glassware scattered throughout the 27-acre Festival site, particularly in the Regatta Restaurant and the exhibition of Science.

Last year, in similar vein, we celebrated the scientific work of Dr Christine McKie, Vice-Mistress (1987–1996) and Life Fellow, by creating a permanent home for ‘The Crystalline Fireplace’. Again, designed by Yelena Popova, this vibrant fire-surround, with tiling created by Dave Langlois, The Victorian Tiler, was inspired by the crystallography diagrams of Dr Christine McKie and the mathematics behind Victorian tile tessellations. It is the first thing you see as you enter the College and approach the Porter’s Lodge.

The Cavendish Art Science Fellowship at Girton College

It is not surprising that Girton is hugely looking forward to this collaboration with the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge’s world-famous department of Physics. The new Fellowship is a highlight of Cavendish Arts Science, which creates new encounters between art and science to help us examine the world and our place within it.

The Cavendish Art Science Fellowship at Girton College has been made possible by the generous donation of Dr Una Ryan OBE (Scully, 1963) a renowned scientist and entrepreneur. The Fellowship will last for one year from October 2021. The successful artist will develop ideas through engagement with physicists and other researchers and produce new work to be exhibited during the Fellowship and beyond. This unique collaborative opportunity is open to artists internationally and is not confined to any single aesthetic, theme, or medium. For more information and to apply please visit:

We look forward not only to being able to share ‘The Crystalline Fireplace’ with our alumni and supporters once we are able to welcome you once again to College, but also to showcasing the artists and the work they produce as this exciting, collaborative Arts Science scheme progresses.