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Black and white photograph of Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald examining a scientific sample in a pipette.In connection with our Department’s Athena  SWAN  programme, I am pleased to announce the second in an annual lecture series to be held in honour of Mabel FitzGerald (1872-1973). Mabel FitzGerald has been all but forgotten in the study of human acclimatisation to high altitude. Her great scientific accomplishment was to demonstrate, over the long term, that it is oxygen, and not carbon dioxide, that determines how hard we breathe and sets the haemoglobin concentration in our blood. This she did by travelling around Colorado in 1911 making detailed physiological measurements of the populations living at different altitudes throughout the state.

Mabel FitzGerald had a middle class upbringing, but her life abruptly changed in 1895 when both her parents died. She came to live in Oxford with her four sisters in 1896 in a house in Crick Road, just north of the University Parks. She was fascinated by physiology and the University permitted her to attend classes informally from 1896-1899. She gained top marks in the examinations, but these could not count towards a degree because women could not be officially enrolled.

She was “rediscovered” by accident in the 1960s, still living in her house in Crick Road. With the help of the then Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir Richard Doll, the University of Oxford finally bestowed an honorary Master of Arts degree on her in 1972 – the first centenarian to receive one. Sir Richard wrote that her example first convinced Oxford “that women can do as well as men”. On bestowing the degree, the then Vice Chancellor, Alan Bullock, acknowledged that it had come three-quarters of a century too late.  Based on her pioneering work in Colorado, Mabel FitzGerald became only the second female member of the American Physiological Society in 1913, but it was not until 1973 that she was made an honorary member of the British Physiological Society. She was then the American Physiological Society’s oldest living member.

This yProfessor Christine Holtear’s Mabel FitzGerald Lecture will be given by Professor Christine Holt in the Large Lecture Theatre in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at 4pm on Thursday 21st January 2016. Christine Holt is Professor of Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

Christine received a BSc Hons degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Sussex in 1977 and was awarded a PhD degree in Zoology from King’s College, London University in 1982. She did her postdoctoral training in the Physiology Department at Oxford University where she was also a Junior Research Fellow at Worcester College, and in the Biology Department at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). In 1992, she joined the faculty at UCSD and became a tenured Associate Professor in 1996.

In 1997, she moved to the University of Cambridge as a Lecturer in the Anatomy Department and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. In 2003 she became the Professor of Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. She was a Pew Scholar and a McKnight Scholar in her early career and has been the recipient of grant awards from the NIH, MRC, HFSP and Wellcome Trust and an ERC Advanced Grant. She serves on several Advisory Boards, Editorial Boards and Selection Committees. In 2011, she was awarded The Remedios Caro Almela Prize for Research in Developmental Neurobiology. She was elected Member of EMBO (2006), Fellow of the Medical Academy of Sciences (2007), Fellow of The Royal Society (2009) and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (2011)