March 22nd, 2019 News

The Baroness Warnock DBE (1924-2019)

Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress of Girton College 1984-1991

The Mistress, Fellows and Scholars are saddened to hear that 16th Mistress of Girton College (from 1984 to 1991) and Life Fellow, Baroness Mary Warnock of Weeke, passed away on Wednesday 20 March 2019, aged 94. Her death is a great loss to Girton where she was much-admired and widely respected.

Mary Warnock was a formidable moral philosopher – a public intellectual who engaged with a wide range of policy issues. She was appointed a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2017 for services to charity and to children with special education needs, and was recently named by TES as one of the ten most influential people in education. She was often in the public eye for her forthright views on the ethics, principles and limits to fertility treatment and human embryo research, and on the vexed question of assisted dying.

Last year Baroness Warnock discussed her life in the moral maze in Girton’s Annual Review, The Year. Read more here:

Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress of Girton College 1984-1991, with her successors in Officers. L-R: Professor Susan J Smith (2009-Present),  Mrs Juliet Campbell (1992-98) and Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern (1998-2009)

Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress of Girton College 1984-1991, with her successors in Officers. L-R: Professor Susan J Smith (2009-Present),  Mrs Juliet Campbell (1992-98) and Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern (1998-2009)

Published: 22 March 2019

Read moreMarch 20th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton150 Fellows’ Profiles: Research Interests of Dr Colm Durkan

Colm Durkan in the lab next to the Scanning Tunneling Microscope

Colm Durkan in the lab next to the Scanning Tunneling Microscope

Nanotechnology has been a buzz word for almost 20 years now, and it’s time to deliver on the initial promise.  This is one of my guiding principles.  I carry out research, which although rooted in fundamental science, aims to answer some of the big questions facing us today, such as (i) how can we increase efficiency and safety of oil recovery and reduce the environmental impact of doing so; (ii) can we go beyond anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of personal care products; (iii) using nanotechnology to improve healthcare; (iv) what are the ultimate limits to device performance using graphene; (v) what role do surfaces play in chemical reactions and (vi) the relationship between shape and size in determining the properties of matter.  Quite a mixed bag of interests, which may seem utterly devoid of a common link at first glance, but looking closer, all involve using the fact that nano-sized things behave differently to larger things.

Much of this research is funded by industry, and finding meaningful answers to these questions lies within our grasp.  This breadth of interests has always been a trait I have possessed, and while it has turned out to be extremely fruitful, this was not always so – it used to be seen as a lack of focus.  I never wanted to just work on one topic as I would invariably end up getting bored very quickly.  As I was coming to the end of my undergraduate days, I had an offer of a PhD position in Oxford, to work on the fusion project there.  Very exciting, I thought, but in a similar way to Bruce Lee who said he studied Philosophy so he could “think deep thoughts about being unemployed” I was concerned that I may end up highly qualified but largely unemployable. I therefore decided to work on a new topic-  Near-field Optics, which was a new type of microscope that allows us to observe materials with a resolution around 10 times better than conventional optical microscopes, and that’s the size range where all sorts of interesting properties of materials start to be noticeable. That opened my eyes to the possibilities of exploring materials at the nanometer scale, and the treasures that lay within, and it has evolved into the list of interests above, which is merely the tip of the iceberg.  I spent a few years pouring much of this into a popular science book which will appear on the shelves mid-March. After much soul-searching, I decided to go for the risky title “Size really does matter – the nanotechnology revolution” as I figured if nothing else, people would look twice!

In my role as a Faculty Member at the University, I have taught a Masters course in Nanotechnology and Quantum Mechanics for 20 years, and no two years have been the same as there is so much change afoot.  I have also developed and spent 10 years teaching an electronics course for part 1 Engineering, and am currently in the middle of writing a textbook on that for Cambridge University Press.  At the lab, we have a suite of microscopes, some bought and some home-made, which we use daily to carry out the experiments mentioned above, and as my students can attest, my favourite place is being hands-on in the middle of an experiment in the lab.  Inevitably, the time available to do this has dwindled over the years with other roles, tasks and challenges.  At the College level, I have been a Fellow of Girton since 2001 where I am Director of Studies for part II Engineering, a Tutor, and also Admissions Tutor for Engineering.  The atmosphere and ethos of College has always been one that I am proud to be a part of, as it is inclusive and values the individual, and there is a genuine warmth amongst the Fellowship.

Published: 20 March 2019

 Dr Colm Durkan

Official Fellow, Girton College
Reader in Nanoscale Engineering, University of Cambridge

Read moreMarch 18th, 2019 Library & Archives

Library opening hours, Easter vacation 2019

Library opening hours for the Easter vacation 2019:

Monday 18 March – Friday 22 March: 9am – 9pm

Saturday 23 March & Sunday 24 March: Closed

Monday 25 March – Friday 29 March: 9am-1pm and 1.30pm-5pm

Saturday 30 March – Sunday 31 March: Closed

Monday 1 April – Friday 5 April : 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm

Saturday 6 April & Sunday 7 April: Closed

Monday 8 April – Friday 12 April: 9am-9pm

Saturday 13 April & Sunday 14 April: Closed

Monday 15 April – Friday 19 April: 9.00am-9.00pm

Saturday 20 April & Sunday 21 April: 10.00am-11.00pm

The Library and the external study rooms (D33, D34, D35 and Chapel Wing Reading Room) are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Books and DVDs borrowed for the Easter Vacation will be due back by 11.00pm on Wednesday 24 April.

It may also be necessary to close for other periods at short notice. If planning a journey specifically to use the Library, it would be worth contacting us in advance: telephone 01223 338970 or email

Archive and special collections:

Opening hours for the Archive and Special Collections are separate; if you are planning to visit in person, please see the Arranging a visit webpage.  Thank you.

Read moreMarch 14th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton College Choir to release new CD ‘Palestrina’

Palestrina - CD Cover

We are delighted to announce that the Girton College Choir have produced their third album for Toccata Classics. It was made just after they came back from touring Israel and Palestine last year. Featuring nine premiere recordings of music by Palestrina and Ingegneri, the Choir are accompanied by historic brass players from the Guildhall School and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. This was a very special recording project for the Choir, influenced by the life-changing experience of visiting the Holy Land and witnessing current events.

The new CD ‘Palestrina’ will be released on Friday 15 March, but you can pre-order it here:

You can also read a wonderful article by Choir member and Girton student, Emily Porro (2017 English), about her experience of visiting the Holy Land here:

Girton Choir and instrumentalists after a concert in St Anne's Church, Jerusalem.

Girton Choir and instrumentalists after a concert in St Anne’s Church, Jerusalem.

Published: 14 March 2019

Read moreMarch 8th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton College Where Resilience Thrives

Girton150 Timeline

To celebrate International Women’s Day and mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Girton College, we are recognising the achievements of our alumnae, who have broken ‘glass ceilings’ and made a difference in the world. Watch this space and in the meantime, visit our Girton150 timeline:

See also a panel discussion ‘Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors’ from our recent Girton150 New York Anniversary symposium at:

Girton College is distinctive for being the UK’s first residential college for women offering degree-level education. Girton was also the first of the Women’s Colleges to go mixed exactly 40 years ago! Still at the cutting edge of widening participation, Girton thrives today as a centre for world class learning and research within the collegiate University of Cambridge.

Published: 08 March 2019

Read moreMarch 8th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton150 Alumnae Profiles: Dawn Airey (1981 Geography)

Dawn Airey

Dawn Airey (1981 Geography)

Dawn Airey is the CEO of Getty Images, which she joined after a distinguished career in UK media, which includes having been Chief Executive of Channel 5. An outspoken activist for women’s rights, a passionate northener, and a Old Girtonian, she chaired a panel on ‘Glass ceilings and sticky floors’ on women’s leadership in today’s business at the recent Girton New York International 150th Anniversary Symposium. Here an extract from her introduction:

In 2018
 we have seen a shifting tide. People who abuse their positions of power, being held to account. And yes, this is predominantly men, because the glass ceiling built to keep us out of the boardroom has ensured there are more of you in those aforementioned positions of power. With hashtags like ‘time’s up’ dominating world headlines, it would be easy to assume the fight has been won and the playing field has been levelled.

2018 has been referred to as the year of the woman. But…I don’t buy it – we’re still underpaid, underrepresented and quite frankly, everywhere you turn there is a seemingly endless array of obstacles standing in the way of women achieving their best lives.

Despite great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over many years, there is no place on earth where women have as many opportunities as men. Nowhere at all. We are not living in a fair and equitable society and for females in poorer countries, this inequality tends to be amplified exponentially in the most harrowing of forms. Women and girls around the world are still married off as children or trafficked into sex slavery or forced labour. Women are refused access in many countries to education and political participation, or trapped in conflict-stricken countries where rape is merely a weapon of war.

The percentage of women in senior roles is declining globally. The simple fact is, in this very country, there are still more CEOs named John, than female CEOs overall.

In short, we all experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity. Certain groups of people have multi-layered facets in life that they must contend with. I am a lesbian, female CEO – two tags most won’t hold simultaneously. Only 6.4% of CEOs are women at S&P 500 companies, and for those females who do manage to progress up the ranks, they can expect to have their hard work recognised with inequitable pay – a minimum of 22 per cent less than their male counterparts. I’m not sure on the stat for lesbian CEOs, but I have openly been referred to in the UK press as Dyke, Zulu Dawn, Scary Airey and in the workplace, as the ‘see you next Tuesday’ at the table. Thankfully now it’s a different world – but only just.

That said, I do know that, statistically, I am in a lot better position because of the colour of my skin. A black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar. But according to the U.S. Department of Labor, an African-American woman will make 64 per cent of that and for every dollar a white man makes, a Latina woman earns a meagre 56 cents.

If we zoom out to manager level positions overall, despite making up 46.9% of the workforce in the US, only a third of manager level positions are made up by women – despite being more educated overall. Of those female-held positions, only 4.1% are held by Latina women, 3.8% by black women and finally, Asian women hold just 2.4% of that third. In effect, the higher up the corporate ladder, the fewer the woman altogether, let alone women of colour.

Understanding what it means to live in an intersectional world is essential to combatting the interwoven prejudices people face in their daily lives, but getting a true grip on it is difficult. What is not ambiguous however is the growing amount of research that shows us that women leaders make things a hell of a lot better. We know that businesses are more profitable; governments are more stable; families stronger and communities are healthier.

So where to from here?

Intersectionality is still a relatively new term for the masses – and yet its message is one that surely any one of us can relate to. We must listen and include everyone in the overall debate – in all our multifaceted and experienced glory.

Dawn Airey

Published: 08 March 2019

Video footage from the Girton150 New York Anniversary symposium panel discussion entitled ‘Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors’ can be viewed here: 

Read moreMarch 8th, 2019 Library & Archives

Library end of term arrangements, Lent Term 2019

All items on loan to students are due back by 11.00pm on Monday 11 March:

If this is likely to cause problems because of outstanding work, please contact the Library to make a special arrangement – tel: (3)38970 or email:

Vacation borrowing starts at 1.00pm on Wednesday 13 March:

The Library will be closed that morning for final checking and tidying. Should there be any URGENT reason why you must use the Library that morning, please ring the doorbell.
You may borrow up to 10 items for the vacation. No vacation borrowing is permitted until all term loans are returned and bills settled.
Vacation loans are due back by 11.00pm on Wednesday 24 April.

Vacation opening hours:

Library opening hours will be 9.00am to 9.00pm, weekdays only (closed weekends) for the first week and the last two weeks of the vacation.  For the second and third week of the vacation, opening hours will be 9.00am to 5.00pm, weekdays only. Full Term opening hours begin again the weekend before the Easter Full Term (20-21 April).
The external study rooms will remain available throughout the Easter vacation.

Archive and Special Collections:

Opening hours for the Archive and Special Collections are separate; if you are planning to visit in person, please see the Arranging a visit webpage. Thank you.

Read moreMarch 8th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton150 Festival Announcement – The Richings Players to perform Blue Stockings on Saturday 29 June 2019

Girton150 Festival - Announcement -The Richings Players

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are pleased to announce that Richings Players will perform Jessica Swale’s inspiring play ‘Blue Stockings’ at the Girton150 Festival on Saturday 29 June 2019. Rooted in real events in and around Girton College, it will be the first time that this play has been performed on site, amid the Victorian buildings where the story unfolded!

Directed by Sophie Torrent, whose production received rave reviews last year, the play follows the challenges faced by women in education at the turn of the twentieth century.

For more information about the Girton150 Festival and how to buy tickets visit:

Published: 08 March 2019

Read moreFebruary 27th, 2019 Girton150News

Girton150 Fellows’ Profiles: Poetry Interests of Grevel Lindop

Grevel Lindop (Visiting Fellow)

As a poet who also writes biographies of poets, I have a kind of double vision. What does it mean, I wonder, to have poetry as the goal of one’s life? And how do you understand people so eccentric, or so enchanted, that they can see playing with words as the purpose of their existence, above all in an age when the prestige of poetry is as low as it has been for most of my lifetime?

In fact, oddly enough, poetry is currently enjoying a boom and bringing big money to publishers. And if much of the current ‘Instagram poetry’ is fairly thin stuff, ephemeral emotional food for adolescence, well – so was most of the poetry published in the age of Byron. Inevitably, from time to time a major talent will arise above the mundane tide. Meanwhile, the rest of us, whether we’re seventy years old or seventeen, carry on with our addiction, trying to put the best words in the best order and find the patterns that will enchant our readers, however many or few.

My particular interest is in poets who have followed what you might call ‘alternative spiritualities’. Having had my own fascination with poetry inspired first of all, when I was sixteen, by Robert Graves’s The White Goddess, I have always sensed that a spiritual power – a Muse, a Spirit, a God or a Goddess, spoke through language when it truly performed as poetry. You can’t just invent a poem. It has to begin, at least, from a nucleus of inspiration – a line, phrase or stanza that comes to the poet from somewhere else (call it the Gods or the Unconscious or what you please). My last prose book was about Charles Williams (1886-1945), a poet who had a lifelong commitment to writing about the Arthurian legends and who eventually produced the greatest twentieth-century poems on Arthur and the Grail. Charles Williams was both a Christian theologian and also an occultist belonging to secretive magical organisations; during the Second World War he was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of whom sensed the enchantment he cast about him but neither of whom knew of his actual magical activities.

Currently I am beginning work on a full-scale study of the spiritual, religious and occult activities of W.B. Yeats and their relation to his poetry. Yeats’s activities encompassed ritual magic with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; the collection and investigation of Irish folk beliefs about fairies and the old gods; Indian spiritual philosophy (he worked with Indian teachers and helped to translate the Upanishads); and spiritualism: he was a keen attender at seances, investigated and debunked supposed miracles with the Society for Psychic Research, and his ambitious book A Vision, offering a vision of human personality and its interaction with the changing aeons of history, was based on thousands of pages of ‘automatic writing’ dictated by spirits and received through his wife, who was herself a medium.

Weird? Certainly. But if we remember that in ancient times poets were shamans, it all begins to make a kind of sense. A poet has to take the powers and patterns of the cosmos, the resonances of breath and sound and meaning, the echoes of ideas and the sensation of words in the mouth (and remember that speech is produced by the same organs we use for eating, biting, kissing and breathing) and harmonise all of these to make something beautiful, meaningful and memorable. Clearly a task beyond human capability. And yet sometimes it happens.

My short time at Girton has given me one poem at least: inspired in part by the black squirrel I saw outside my window just as I put my bags down on the day I arrived. A good omen, somebody said to me. Was it just a squirrel? And after all, why say ‘just’? Is anything just one thing? The world is full of meaning, and it seemed a special moment; added to by the ladybirds that insisted on coming into my room all that afternoon. Something, it seemed, was being revealed; and if the poem is tinged with the melancholy of autumn, well, that was how it felt. Autumn has its own music, as Keats taught us; and as I write this there’s a full moon outside, and under it the snowdrops and aconites of spring are in flower.


October sun tilts the leaded glass golden,
lost ladybird traversing the windowsill
as I prise the casement free of its stone mullion –
feel the archaic heft of each word –
for cool air, watch autumn crocus and cyclamen,
pink pools under flaming chestnut, spill
where a black squirrel dances at the edge of the wood.

But the round vowels of October narrow
to the decrescent moon of November,
darker skies, the wood coming nearer.
Time drags the increasing length of its shadow
though days shorten. I stare at a teatime nowhere,
while last light fuses sodden leaves into amber.
The black squirrel no longer visits the meadow.

Black squirrel, what did you come to tell me?
That this was all a mistake, or had you a blessing to bestow,
coded into the anagram of your freakish DNA
and the labyrinth of these redbrick corridors
with their silent gardens? Things pattern randomly
as December rain pattering tonight on my window,
which is black, but not with so black a black, black squirrel, as yours.

 Grevel Lindop

Mary Amelia Cummins Harvey Visiting Fellow

For more poems, as well as pictures, essays, books and information, please go to

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