Minerva Scientifica


Minerva Scientifica is an ongoing project which brings women scientists and composers together and (to cut a long story short) develops artworks exploring science. The latest chapter, based around the campuses of King’s College London has appropriately focused on Rosalind Franklin, KCL’s famous X-ray crystallographer, who died in 1958 aged 37, having already made an image of DNA which was crucial to the work for which several male colleagues soon gained the Nobel Prize. King’s now acknowledge Franklin’s work in a big way, and some Minerva participants were able to tour the deep down basement (below the level of the River Thames) in which her work took place. A positive progression is visible on the ground floor corridor of the Strand Campus which displays information about KCL’s cohort of women professors, 24% of the total professorial staff. The exhibition carries an apology for this percentage being low, but to me it sounds like a big advance on what you’d usually expect.

Some of the musical work (by composers pictured – see key below) centred on subject matter such as genetics and molecular biology close to Franklin’s work; but other fields being explored by KCL women were featured too. I particularly looked forward to Kate Whitley’s enigmatic bulletins from the world of String Theory (‘the entire universe is made up of short one-dimensional strings’ is one I’ve treasured) where she collaborated with Professor Mairi Sakellariadou.

The new music was expertly performed by Electric Voice Theatre and the whole project planned, directed and cheered along by the great Frances Lynch. I was there as a mentor, but mostly sat back in awe at everyone’s expertise, scientific and musical. To our pleasure (and I must admit, surprise) the scientists uniformly reported that it was a good experience for them too. Given the obligation to explain their work very slowly and clearly to composer collaborators who might lack high-level scientific education but nevertheless have developed their ability to listen, this was perhaps a chance for them to experience their own scientific work from an audience perspective.

(Pictured - back row L to R, composers Kate Whitley, Shirley Thompson, myself, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Lynne Plowman; front row, members of EVT including director Frances Lynch, second from R)

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020