For Women in Science 2016

Just before Easter, I found myself in Paris making a series of daily films for CNN for the L’Oreal UNESCO For Women in Science programme, now its 18th year.

Here’s a link to the second one

As you will see, I managed to get a sneak peek inside the French Academy of Sciences.  I felt like a bit of an outsider and not just because I was a Brit, or as the French refer to us, un rosbif.  The place is awash with statues of men, with not a single women in sight.

Pictures of the Laureates are everywhere in Paris.  Mrs Parry in homage here
Pictures of the Laureates are everywhere in Paris. Mrs Parry in homage here

It was an enormous privilege meeting the 2016 Laureates.  They included Quarraisha Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist who was absolutely determined to find an HIV prevention method that could be used by women.  Vaginal microbicides were an obvious answer but decades of research by many teams across the world delivered nothing but disappointment.   Abdool Karim kept going, finally developing one containing the antiretroviral tenofovir which, although not yet perfect is a great deal better than nothing.   Another Laureate was Chinese professor, Hualen Chen who protects us all from deadly flu pandemics through her surveillance and through the development of novel vaccines.  And there were the CRISPR queens, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna – CRISPR-cas9 is the gene editing technology that has taken the scientific world by storm. But the Laureate who most impressed me personally was Argentinian, Professor Andrea Gamarnik, who works on the structure of viruses, particularly the flaviviruses which include dengue and also of course, zika.  South America is experiencing very serious outbreaks of dengue at present. It wasn’t just her fascinating research, it was her passion for what she did and her knockout speech of acceptance.   I also fell in love with her 80 year old dad, an activist for social justice throughout his life who was experiencing the proudest moment of his life.

Wonders of proton beam therapy

Wonders of proton beam therapy
I am making a film about proton beam therapy which is a highly advanced form of radiotherapy.  Sometimes there are facts that stop you in your tracks.  At the heart of the kit that hurls proton at tumours is something the size of a car which weighs as much as a Boeing 747.  Huge gantries, each the size of a three storey house, house tubes down which protons are accelerated, guided by magnets.  The exquisite precision of PBT, which is used to treat deep or awkwardly sized or placed cancers in the head, neck and spine, is down to the Bragg Effect, an explosion of energy that is only released as the protons reach their target.  It means there is hardly any collateral damage to tissue whilst the tumour gets a pinpoint nuclear strike.  One of these machines is being built at UCL and the other in Manchester, which is very appropriate given that Ernest Rutherford, discoverer of the proton, was at the University of Manchester (and yes for those Trans Pennine-ists, Bragg the Younger after whom the effect was named did work in Leeds).
Installing this kit requires vast quantities of special concrete and a hole which, in London, is deeper than tube train tunnels. 
And now see the film here:
Note how we magically transformed a grey cold Manchester day  into a sunny one, courtesy of our brilliant post production team.