Nicola Williams


Masters by Research at the University of Leeds in 2015.

Williams, Nicola (2016) ‘Irene Manton, Erwin Schrödinger and the Puzzle of Chromosome Structure’ Journal of the History of Biology, 49, 3, pp 425–459. Can be found at:
Williams, Nicola (2018) 'Irene Manton and Problems of Cytology and Evolution in the Pteridophyta,' in preparation.


Research interests

Broadly, the thesis concerns Irene Manton's work with the electron microscope, through the 1950s, and her path to Plant Cell Biology. I consider Manton's quest for microscopical technologies and her work on the fine structure of Flagella.  I hope to challenge negative assumptions about women in science using cumbersome instruments, like the ultraviolet and electron microscope. Manton not only used the machines, but so too was involved in the initial stages of their implementation. 

During the Cold War era of the 1950s, Manton expressed concerns about funding diversions, to physics and medicine, that left UK botany bereft of support. In light of this, I assess the integrity of Evelyn Fox Keller's contention that physicists held social authority over biologists after the Second World War, in juxtaposition with Ian Hacking's work to dispel notions that the key purpose of the electron microscope, lie in delving to the depths of the cell (in fact the earliest machines were limited in resolution). There has been little analysis done on biological levels in conjunction with disciplinarity. When viewed through the metaphorical lens of the electron microscope, the work undertaken by biologists and physicists in Leeds Botany was more convergent than it was hierarchical. This being so, Manton sought funds from the supposedly reductionistic Rockefeller Foundation. This microhistory of Leeds Botany supports the revisionist reading that the Foundation supported the advocacy of interdisciplinarity, rather than a wholesale reductionistic and mechanistic agenda. I further assess the Manton situation in light of the Rockefeller Foundation's egalitarian policies and alongside the increasingly tangible implications of her research, in terms of its relevance to medicine (and also agriculture).


  • MRes History of Science (Leeds)