Spotlight Series: Celebrating disabled scientists with Enable Science

If you can see yourself represented, you can aspire to be it. Disabled scientists are still vastly underrepresented in the sciences.

The Spotlight Series is the product of a partnership between Enable Science and Compound Interest. It brings together science, art, and disability, highlighting the amazing science being done by disabled scientists across the UK. The project includes 12 unique posters that are free to download and distribute. Each poster highlights some of the challenges and accommodations needed to do science alongside being disabled, but also the scientists’ contributions to science.

The Spotlight Series project is targeted at school children to demonstrate that it is possible to undertake a scientific career and be disabled. It is hoped that this will inspire more schoolchildren to study and work in science.

The full set of twelve posters in the series is shown below; click the arrows on the sides of the images to advance to the next one. Alternative text is available as a downloadable text file below.

  • Stephen Buckley (He/Him) Archaeological chemistry Chemistry BSc, MSc, PhD About my disability I have multiple mental and physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, arthritis, depression, I am neurodivergent and have some learning difficulties due to my cerebral palsy. What my disability makes me better at My brain works very differently to most people’s. Because I think in unusual ways it means I can often see patterns and significance that would otherwise be missed. The challenges I face I am seen as someone who ‘doesn’t quite belong’ and does not ‘fit’ or have a place within the academic system as it currently stands. Accommodations I need to do my science I need more time than most other people, due to the slow way my brain works. Advice to other disabled or aspiring scientists Discussion of disabled scientists was absent for much of my career, but increasingly there is greater awareness and support for the challenges faced. I would advise aspiring scientists to reach out and accept support where it is offered as this can make a huge difference to career progression and, even more fundamentally, how difficult and isolated it can otherwise feel. Stephen’s work: The chemistry of mummification I research Egyptian and world mummification over four continents. This allows me to study the people of ancient cultures and answer questions on the natural products used to embalm mummies. My research also provides information on ancient trade routes, geopolitics, religion and identity. Organic residue analysis uses gas chromatography to separate organic (carbon-based) compounds found in samples. The vaporised sample is added to a carrier gas and travels through a column. Individual compounds take different lengths of time to pass through the column due to their differing properties. A mass spectrometer can then be used to identify the different components in the sample. Combinations of specific compounds are like a chemical fingerprint of particular substances, allowing their use to be identified. For example, compounds called steranes and hopanes are indicators of bitumen, while the types of compounds called triglycerides present in a sample can be used to determine the type of plant oil or animal fat. I also study ancient diets and environments through the chemical analysis of dental tartar (the deposit the dentist removes from our teeth today) from human remains. This analysis has led to the discovery of medicinal plants used by Neanderthals and the earliest evidence for the use of coal in the western world, 3,000 years before its role in the industrial revolution that remade our world.
  • Claire Doswell (She/Her) Chemistry and Computer Science Chemistry MSci, PhD About my disability I’m neurodivergent and I have hypermobile joints. What my disability makes me better at I’m good at thinking outside the box, managing multiple project streams, and handling incredibly stressful situations. The challenges I face The inconsistent speed that I can work at often makes me feel like I’m not good enough when I’m not at peak output. Accommodations I need to do my science I need the ability to curate my own work environment. Flexible working hours are also key to avoid task inertia as much as possible. I also have assistive software to help with very wordy tasks and to change the colour of my screens. Advice to other disabled or aspiring scientists Find other disabled people in your field or environment, if possible. Reach out to someone who can support you. My mentors have made such an immeasurable difference. You are worthy of space wherever you want to be and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Claire’s work: Ionic liquids for electroplating In my research, I analysed room temperature ionic liquids that are made up of only cations and anions. You can add charge-carrying ions to these liquids to create an electrolyte. One of the ionic liquids I investigated was 1-ethyl-3-methyl imidazolium chloride with aluminium chloride, a potential electrolyte for aluminium electroplating. Room temperature ionic liquids could help to reduce the cost and environmental impact of the energy-intensive aluminium electroplating process. Ionic liquids are hygroscopic — they absorb lots of water from the air. This is a problem as it reduces the quality of the metal formed during electroplating. My research included accurately determination of the water content of the ionic liquid using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Applications of aluminium electroplating Corrosion-resistant plating on aeroplane wings and body panels. Some construction materials may be plated for corrosion resistance. Aluminium plating on non-stick cooking pans to add corrosion resistance.

With Funding from the Royal Society of Chemistry
Inclusion and Diversity Fund Award #202839533 was granted for the Spotlight Series: Celebrating Disabled Scientists project in 2022.

Enable Science

Proving that disability belongs in science

The Enable Science network seeks to support disabled individuals to allow them to succeed in STEM careers. Funded by the RSC Inclusion & Diversity Fund Grant.

Compound Interest

science communication through Eye-Catching infographics

Compound Interest takes a closer look at the chemical compounds we come across on a day-to-day basis, explaining them with easy-to-understand graphics.