Inspirational female physicist honoured at University

An inspirational female scientist at the University of Sheffield has been honoured by a landmark Portrait of a Woman Prize

A portrait of Emeritus Professor Gillian Gehring, the UK’s second woman ever to hold a professorship in a UK physics department, will soon be hung in the University’s Firth Hall and will be the first portrait in this location depicting a woman.

The move is the result of an initiative launched in 2012 by Rosie Valerio, former HR Director at the University, which called for women with inspirational life stories and achievements to be celebrated – as so many male counterparts have historically been – with specially commissioned portrait photographs to be displayed in pride of place around the University.

Rosie chose her retirement gift fund to be spent on the exhibition, to contribute to her legacy of a career that has significantly improved working life for women.

As a result, 28 women were invited to have a professional photo portrait by leading fine art photographer Anton Want. Anton’s previous work includes Ambition, a project and exhibition focussing on ambition among young women in Sheffield, and he has had work exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

These 28 portraits have been displayed at various locations across campus since 2012 before a commissioning panel chose Emeritus Professor Gillian Gehring to be the first subject for the Portrait of a Woman Prize and have a portrait painted that will form a permanent fixture in Firth Hall.

Gillian, who is the first, and to date only, woman Professor of Physics at Sheffield is a distinguished international research leader in magnetism and orbital ordering, making great contributions to both theoretical and experimental projects, with her seminal work on the co-operative Jahn-Teller effect inspiring a generation of new physics experiments.

Amongst the honours she has received are an OBE, honorary membership of the Institute of Physics and their prestigious Mott Medal.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, said: “The process of selecting a woman who would rightly represent the contribution of all University women included a photographic exhibition which celebrated not only women’s faces but also their stories, and the esteem they are held in by others. These women sometimes held high office in this University, others were chosen because of their inspirational service or support for their colleagues.

Critically-acclaimed portrait artist Frances Bell was selected to paint Gillian’s portrait. Frances trained in the Classical tradition in Florence, and her work has been displayed in various exhibitions including The Not The Turner Prize Exhibition in 2004 and The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition from 2005 – 2014

Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett also confirmed that there are to be further portraits of women commissioned within the University – these will include Kathryn Riddle OBE, the first woman to hold the post of Chair of University Council, and Dame Anne Rafferty, incoming Chancellor and the first woman to hold this position.



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