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Nicola Williams

LAHRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow (April 2021-April 2022)
Areas of expertise
History of Science, women in science & feminism
Clothworkers South Building, University of Leeds Campus
Arts Humanities and Cultures
Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

Recent PhD Work

In 1950 the Leeds-based biologist Irene Manton, FRS, had an international reputation as an expert in the cytology and evolution of ferns.  But with the arrival of the electron microscope her research took a new and fascinating turn, which soon led to her making major discoveries on the fine structure of flagella.

Drawing on previously unexamined archival materials as well as interviews with former colleagues, this thesis uses Manton's case in order to explore the impact of the electron microscope on post-WWII biological research.

Particular attention is paid to (i) the transition from research based in light microscopy and its techniques; (ii) the challenges that Manton faced in gaining access to the latest electron microscopes (and how being a woman exacerbated those challenges); and (iii) her disciplinary position as someone whose integration of evolutionary and cytological research represents a path not taken for the "cell biology" that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s.


Williams, Nicola (2021) ‘Do Microscopes have Politics?  A Case Study at the Biology–Physics Border of 1950s Electron Microscopy’ (under review)

Williams, Nicola (2021) ‘Irene Manton, the Cell and the Electron Microscope’ (under review)

French, Steven, Murphy, Alice, and Nicola Williams (2021) Book Chapter: ‘Art and Science, Other Ways of Looking at Nature’ in, History and Philosophy of Science in 20 Objects, Gregory Radick, Laura Sellars and Mike Finn (eds.) (submitted)

Williams, Nicola (2016) ‘Irene Manton, Erwin Schrödinger and the Puzzle of Chromosome Structure’ Journal of the History of Biology, 49, (3), pp. 425-459 (doi: 10.1007/s10739-015-9424-5),


ICHST meeting 2021 (Virtual), July 25-31, ‘Science After the Suffragettes: Trouble at T’ Mill for Irene Manton.’

ISHPSSB Meeting 2021 (Virtual), July 13 - 20, 2021. Flash-talk: ‘Irene Manton, the Cell and the Electron Microscope: Scientific Seeing with an Artist’s Eye.’

ESHS Early Career Scholar Conference. 10 –12 September 2019 –Paris Observatory ‘The Beginnings of Evolutionary Cell Biology in Britain and America.’

British Society for the History of Science Global Digital History of Science Festival. 6 –10 July 2020. Roundtable discussion ‘New Perspectives on Women in the Life Sciences.’