Professor Jennifer Littlechild

Professor Jennifer Littlechild

Professor Jennifer Littlechild is a biochemist and structural biologist who has made a significant difference to the world’s understanding of enzyme structure and function and applications of enzymes in biotechnology and medicine. She has published over 160 peer reviewed articles and inspired many women to develop careers in STEM subjects throughout her global career. She has supervised over 40 PhD students during her time in Exeter – over half of these have been women. The majority, she is proud to say, have remained in scientific careers and have progressed to take up senior positions.

In September 2003 Jennifer brought over 250 academics from across the world to Exeter when she ran the International Thermophile Conference at the University – the first and only time this renowned scientific event has taken place in the UK. Global leaders in the subject reported and discussed their research findings in the fascinating area of organisms that are able to grow at temperatures up to 100oC. The successful running of the conference ranks amongst Jennifer’s proudest professional achievements, alongside opening the Henry Wellcome Biocatalysis Centre in November of the same year.

The British biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin, a crystallographer from Oxford who solved the structure of the protein insulin, remains Jennifer’s biggest female role model. Aside from her brilliant work, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, Jennifer explains it is also Hodgkin’s personal determination and endurance for which she has so much respect: “She battled with arthritis from an early age and this did not stop her pursuing her career in science,” she explains.

Jennifer, who has held positions at Princeton and The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics in Berlin, said of this year’s International Women’s Day theme: “Equality for women is progress for all means that there should be equal opportunities for both men and women in their careers and in all other matters. This leads to a much healthier attitude in the working environment.”

She added: “The single piece of advice that I would give to others is that they should work hard in their scientific career and not let themselves be undermined or dominated by anybody.” As well as being successful in her own research, publishing good scientific papers and gaining external research grants, Jennifer derives great joy from seeing her students “go on and develop their own careers.”