Our fourth pairing of women for the Raising Horizons portraits, revealed!

Lady Charlotte Murchison and Dr Natasha Stephen

One of Charlotte Murchison's geological drawings, from Roderick Murchison's "The Silurian System"

One of Charlotte Murchison’s geological drawings, from Roderick Murchison’s “The Silurian System”

Charlotte Murchison was a Regency geologist, in one of the ways it was possible to be back then for women. She was clearly already interested in the natural world and science, with a mother who was a botanist. It was through her husband, Roderick Impey Murchison, that Charlotte satiated her interest in geology. By some accounts in was only through her persistent encouragement that he took up the pursuit, and by 1825 he published his first paper, probably with at least some input from Charlotte. Together they went on many field trips, including in the same year Lyme Regis, where she sketched the cliffs. Charlotte met Mary Anning here, likely during a fossil collecting trip, and they remained friends corresponding for many years.

It was through her artistic talents that we can clearly see Charlotte’s intellectual capacity, for example her drawing of Stackpole Rock in the book authored by her husband shows she was focused on the geologically important features of the outcrop, and she was probably responsible for some other very beautiful images of fossils. Charlotte was also a well-known figure within the natural history circles of the day, and in 1828 the couple went on an extended field trip with Charles Lyell where she collected, sketched and prepared fossils. It was due to her wish to attend Lyell’s geological lectures that they were opened up to women in 1831 (it was only the Geologists’ Association at this point which had equal membership rights for women). Charlotte’s fossil collections (she had her own cabinets) were studied by many male scientists of the day such as William Buckland, meaning she knew his wife Mary, another fossilist, and one ammonite she collected on the Isle of Skye was named after her.
By 1855 her husband’s career had progressed such that he was appointed director-general of the British Geological Survey and director of the Royal School of Mines and the Museum of Practical Geology, meaning that Charlotte, who acted as hostess at their London residence, was part of the keen discussions of the era around the apparently enormous expanses of time represented by the geological record that she and others were uncovering.

Our contemporary trowelblazer for this portrait pushes the boundaries of geology not so much in time, as in space.

Dr Natasha Stephen; photo used with permission

Dr Natasha Stephen; photo used with permission

Dr Natasha Stephen is a Lecturer in Advanced Analysis (Earth and Planetary Sciences) at Plymouth University. Her research examines the geology of extra-terrestrial bodies throughout the solar system, through studying meteorites originating from Mars, the Moon and asteroids. She has published on new methods such as using meteorites as a ground-truthing dataset for robotic survey missions. She is interested in  the geological evolution of Mars, as well as other volcanic regions in the solar system, and also comparing them to those on Earth.

As meteorites are a precious resource, Natasha uses non-destructive analytical techniques including electron microscopy and the Diamond Synchrotron (funded by the Science & Technology Facilities Council) to examine the structure and makeup of these objects. In 2014 she was awarded the Outstanding Achievement medal from Imperial College London for her contributions to public engagement and outreach, and is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Geological Society of London.


Written by Becky

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