Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE FRS

Athene Donald is an emeritus Professor of Physics who is well known for her early work on synthetic polymers, concentrating on relating the structure of polymers to their function. Athene subsequently transferred her knowledge to soft matter and biological physics more broadly, developing specialised imaging techniques such as environmental scanning electron microscopy along the way.

In synthetic polymers, she studied crazing — the fine cracks that precede fracture — by exploring what determines their formation. Subsequently, she utilised X-ray scattering techniques to characterise changes that occur in the natural polymer starch upon cooking and other forms of processing.  More recently she explored universal behaviour in protein aggregation (in vitro).

In 2006, she was the Bakerian Lecturer for the Royal Society. She won the 2009 L'Oreal/UNESCO Laureate for Europe. In 2010 was awarded the Faraday Medal of the Institute of Physics and also received a DBE for services to physics.  From 2013-18 she served on the Scientic Council odf rhw ERC, and is Chair of REF2021 Interdisciplinary Advisory Council.

Beyond her research, Athene has an active interest in issues surrounding gender equality and is a former Chair of the Athena Forum, which aims to improve the situation for women in science, technology, engineering and medicine in UK higher education. Athene has twice been a member of the Society’s Council and chaired the Education Committee from 2010-2014. She is the current Master of Churchill College, Cambridge.

Professional position

  • Master, Churchill College, University of Cambridge
  • Patron, The Daphne Jackson Trust
  • Former Scientific Council Member, European Research Council
  • Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge

Subject groups

  • Chemistry

    Chemistry, physical


  • Bakerian Medal and Lecture

    On 'The mesoscopic world - from plastic bags to brain disease - structural similarities in physics'.