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Kathleen Lonsdale

Kathleen Lonsdale

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (née Yardley)
BornJanuary 28 1903(1903-01-28)
Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, United Kingdom
DiedApril 1 1971 (aged 68)
London, England
Residence UK
Nationality United Kingdom
InstitutionsUniversity College London
Royal Institution
University of Leeds
Alma materUniversity College London
Academic advisor  William Henry Bragg
Known forX-ray crystallography
Notable prizesDavy Medal (1957)
Religious stanceQuaker (1935 onwards)

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (née Yardley) (January 28, 1903 - April 1, 1971) was a British crystallographer, who corroborated the suspected planar hexagonal structure of benzene by X-ray and neutron diffraction methods.



Lonsdale was born at Charlotte House,bNewbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, the tenth child of Harry Yardley, the town postmaster and Jessie Cameron. Her family moved to England when she was five. She studied at Woodford County High School for Girls, then moved to Ilford County High School for Boys to study mathematics and science because the girls' school did not offer these subjects.

She earned her B.Sc. from Bedford College for Women in 1922, graduating in physics with an M.Sc. from University College London 1924. She then joined the research team of Sir William Bragg. In 1927 she married Thomas Jackson Lonsdale. They had three children – Jane, Nancy, and Stephen - the latter of whom became a medical doctor and worked for several years in Malawi before becoming an actor in a North Yorkshire theatre company.

Though she had been brought up in the Baptist religion as a child, Kathleen Lonsdale became a Quaker in 1935. As such, she was a committed pacifist and served time in Holloway prison during the Second World War because she refused to register for civil defence duties or pay a fine for refusing to register. While serving her sentence she claimed to be a catholic in order to receive a red bible (Protestants received a blue one) - the dye had been discovered by other female prisoners to be a passable substitute for lipstick.

Lonsdale obtained a D.Sc. from University College London in 1936. In addition to discovering the structure of benzene, Lonsdale worked on the synthesis of diamonds. She was a pioneer in the use of X-rays to study crystals. Lonsdale became one of the first two female Fellows of the Royal Society in 1945 (the other was the biochemist Marjory Stephenson).

In 1949, Lonsdale became a professor of chemistry and the head of the Department of Crystallography at University College, London. She was the first woman professor at that college, a position she held until 1968 when she was named Professor Emeritus.

She was given the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. Lonsdale became the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography in 1966. Lonsdale was active in encouraging young people to study science and was the first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1967. In 1970 Lonsdale was a candidate for the Chancellorship of the University of Kent at Canterbury, but lost to Jo Grimond. She died in 1971, aged 68.

In 1953, she gave the Swarthmore Lecture, under the title Removing the Causes of War to London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).


Lonsdaleite an allotrope of carbon was named in her honour; it is a rare form of diamond found in meteorites.

There is a Kathleen Lonsdale Building at University College London.[1]

National University of Ireland, Maynooth presents a special award annually in her honour - The Lonsdale Prize in Chemistry, which is presented to the student who achieves the highest result in final examinations for the Science Single Honours (Chemistry) degree.

Selected Writings

  • "The Structure of the Benzene Ring in Hexamethylbenzene," Proceedings of the Royal Society 123A: 494 (1929).
  • "An X-Ray Analysis of the Structure of Hexachlorobenzene, Using the Fourier Method," Proceedings of the Royal Society 133A: 536 (1931).
  • Simplified Structure Factor and Electron Density Formulae for the 230 Space Groups of Mathematical Crystallography, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1936.
  • "Diamonds, Natural and Artificial," Nature 153: 669 (1944).
  • "Divergent Beam X-ray Photography of Crystals," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 240A: 219 (1947).
  • Crystals and X-Rays, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1948.
  • Removing the Causes of War, 1953.


    NAME Lonsdale, Kathleen
    SHORT DESCRIPTION British crystallographer
    DATE OF BIRTH January 28, 1903
    PLACE OF BIRTH Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, United Kingdom
    DATE OF DEATH April 1, 1971
    PLACE OF DEATH London, England
    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kathleen_Lonsdale". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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