List of technicians

As part of this project I try to keep a list of the technicians I discover during my reading. Please see below a short biography of the technicians I have found so far, those I’ve added to the list anyway. I will add links to pieces about each of them as I write them. If you know of any technicians that we should all know about who are missing from this list, please let me know.

Early Technicians

  • Socrates (c.470BC – 399BC) His father was Sophroniscus, a stonemason who helped to build the Parthenon. Socrates was trained and worked as a stonemason. Although he obviously tends to be remembered more as a philosopher he used craft as an analogy in his work.

16th Century

  • Pietro Urbano (1494-?): sculptor and assistant to Michelangelo from 1515-1521.
  • Hans Crol (?-1591) was a gold smith and instrument maker who was tasked by the astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1584 to build, under Tycho’s direct supervision astronomical instruments for his astronomical observations.

17th Century

  • Christopher White (c.1650-1695?) was the first professional laboratory technician. Working in Oxford he was apothecary, alchemist, experimenter, teacher, and demonstrator.
  • Margaret Flamsteed (c. 1670-1730) was wife and assistant to John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal. Without her his greatest achievements would never have been published.
  • Denis Papin (1647-1712) fleeing religious persecution in France he found work in London with Robert Boyle and at the Royal Society. He is the forgotten inventor of the pressure cooker and the first practical steam engine.

18th Century

  • Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was an assistant to her brother William Herschel and a successful comet hunter in her own right. She was the first salaried female in the history of astronomy.

19th Century

  • Joseph Clement (1779-1844) was a machinist and engineer and the man Charles Babbage approached to build the worlds first computer but confusion over Clement’s status, technician or collaborator, meant the computer was never finished.
  • Michael Faraday (1791-1867) apprenticed to a book binder aged 14 he went on to become an assistant to Humphry Davy and eventually one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.
  • Peter Desaga (1812–1879) was an instrument maker from Heidelberg who designed and built the first Bunsen burner.
  • Jacob Cross (18?–1946) was a Petty Officer on the Discovery sailing to the Antarctic. Under the expedition’s zoologist he became a taxidermist preparing samples for the return home.
  • Fanny Hesse (1850–1934) a technician instrumental in the development of agar as a medium for culturing microorganisms.
  • Clarence Dally (1865-1904) was a glass blower and assistant to Edison in his work on X-rays. His was one of the first deaths attributed to the effects of X-rays.

20th Century

  • William Alexander Kay (1879–1961) was in charge of the day-to-day management of the Ernst Rutherford’s laboratory in Manchester.
  • Otto Baumbach (1882-1966) worked as a glass blower in Manchester. He created complex apparatus for Ernst Rutherford and other scientists.
  • Irène Curie (1897-1956) was the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie. Hers was a glittering scientific career that started when she was an X-ray radiographer in WW1.
  • Terrence J. Surman (1904–1997) worked as a physiology technician at the Cardiff Institute of Physiology with Graham Brown.
  • Dicon Nance (1909-2002) was a craftsman and vital assistant to Barbara Hepworth at her Trewyn studio. His #technicianjourney was difficult, incredible, and largely forgotten.
  • Vivien Thomas (1910-1985) saved many lives through the, often unacknowledged, surgical innovations he developed as a surgical technician. This after the stock market crash of 1929 took away his life savings, his dreams of becoming a doctor, and his job as a carpenter.
  • Gladys Trim (1915-?) started work in the Veterinary Department at the Wellcome Laboratories aged 15. Initially she was not doing technical work but helping other women in the office with the filing. After 42 years she had worked her way up to senior technician with her name included on several publications.
  • Freda Collier (1916-2013) worked with Rosalind Franklin as her x-ray photographer and most likely took the famous “photo 51”, an image that inspired the solution to the structure of DNA.
  • Den Busby (1919-?) worked at the National Institute for Medical Research from the age of 15. He started work there in 1934 so his career spanned a time of great change for science technicians with improving conditions and a breaking down of old social barriers in the laboratory.
  • William Coates (1919-1993) technician to Lawrence Bragg and became lecture assistant at the Royal Institution (1948-1986). He was awarded the Bragg Medal in 1975 and made an MBE in 1980.
  • Blanche J. Lawrence (1921-?) graduated from Tuskegee University before going on to work as a technician and then junior chemist on the Manhattan Project.
  • Joanna Chorley (1925-2019) worked at the code cracking centre Bletchley Park during WW2 on the worlds first electronic computer – Colossus.
  • Gladys Owens (1926-?) was one of “The Calutron Girls” from January 1945 to August 1945 working at Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan project.
  • Andrew Schally (1926-current) escaped Poland during WWII, became a technician in Mill Hill laboratories and from there went on to win the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  • John Martin (1940-?) began as a junior technician at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in 1960 and retired in 2000 as a highly respected senior member of the NPL staff.
  • Jean Marian Purdy (1945–1985) Purdy part of the team who developed in vitro fertilisation.
  • Beaker (1977- ) quickly became one of the foremost communicators of science of his day. As Dr. Bunsen’s assistant he showed a generation of children the wonders of the modern scientific age.

21st Century

  • Gareth Griffiths is a sculpture technician at the University of Leeds in the School of Design. He helps students bring three-dimensional fruition to their treasured ideas; ideas that until then have only ever existed in their heads.
  • Vicky Wilson rescued DNA fingerprinting from the laboratory dustbin of history. Hers was the first DNA in the world to be fingerprinted when she worked for Professor Sir Alex Jeffreys at the University of Leicester.
  • Clare Stevenson is passionate about her work, about technicians, and about dancing. She is currently a Research Assistant at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.
  • Jackie Hudson Excited by science as a school girl, Jackie started out as a trainee technician and will end her career in April 2019 as a technical specialist in high resolution microscopy and laboratory manager.
  • Matthew Broadbent is a mechanical engineer working in the School of Chemistry building bespoke apparatus. He works with aluminium, steel, Teflon, and bikes, although the latter is (mostly) in his spare time.
  • Kelly Vere: For the last 2 years, Kelly Vere has been talking about technicians to every important person she can find, representing us [technicians] at the Science Council.
  • Vikki Waring: Vikki is a laboratory technician at the University of Nottingham in the School.
  • Pinky (1995-1998) only one technician has achieve world domination, only to lose it again. Pinky was Brain’s faithful assistant and a mouse with a lot to teach us.
  • Samantha McCormack recently gained a special commendation at the Papin Awards for her work as a Simulation Technician.
  • Les Arkless: It all started in childhood when, one Christmas, a favourite aunt gave Les Arkless the book “Birds in Colour”. Captivated by Karl Aage Tinggaard ‘s illustrations, Les’s interest in birding was ignited.
  • Allana Marsh: a costume technican at the University of Leeds.
  • Stacey Galloway: A chicken factory may seem a strange place to start a technical career but Stacey Galloway made it work and is now a research technician at the University of Leeds.
  • Carsten Zothner: A technician from the Faculty of Biological Sciences found a way to help with the Ebola epidemic – he went to Sierra Leone to work in a diagnostic laboratory testing for the virus.
  • Sue Keat: her dual life; lab technician during the week and Special Constable at the weekends. She describes herself as a “social worker with handcuffs” – in reference to the police work, not the laboratory work, of course.