Women's Careers and Networks

Mary Osborn

Professor of Cell Biology, MPI for Biophysical Chemistry

Mary Osborn studied maths and physics at Newnham College, Cambridge, receiving a BA in Physics in 1962. She obtained a PhD in biophysics from Penn State University and was a post doc in Jim Watson's lab at Harvard University. She was a scientific staff member in Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick`s division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, for three years, and then joined the staff at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for two and a half years. In 1975, she moved to the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and since 1989 she is an honorary professor at the University of Goettingen.

Her research has focussed on different areas in the life sciences. Her 1964 paper with Klaus Weber, on the use of SDS gels to determine molecular weight is a Citation Classic. Her work on the use of antibodies in immunofluorescence microscopy allowed the definition of the arrangements of microfilaments, microtubules and intermediate filaments in cells and tissues. Extension of this work showed that the intermediate filament proteins are useful markers in differential tumor diagnosis where they can distinguish the major tumor types and provide additional information relevant to patient treatment. More recent work concentrated on certain nuclear proteins such as NuMA and on RNA interference. She has published more than 280 papers in her scientific career.

She has been an EMBO member since 1978 and she holds an honorary doctorate from the Pomerian Medical Academy in Sczeczin, Poland. She has been awarded the Meyenburg Prize and the L'Oreal/UNESCO Prize for her work on the cytoskeleton and the use of antibodies in tumor diagnosis.

She was a trustee of the Swedish Foundation on the Environment, MISTRA, and has chaired both the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, and the Cell Biology Section of Academia Europaea. She has been a member of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) Group A and a member of the Descartes Prize Grand Jury of the European Commission. From 2003-2006 she was the President of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) an organisation that represents biochemists and molecular biologists in 72 countries, and from 2005-2010 a member of the Helmholtz Society Senate. She is currently a member of the scientific council of UNESCO-BRESCE in Venice.

She has participated in several juries concerned with awarding substantial grants to young scientists including the BioFuture program and the Helmholtz Young Investigators program. And she chaired the 2007 panel for the EU Marie Curie Excellence Awards.

Finally she selected and chaired the ETAN Group that wrote the report "Promoting Excellence through Mainstreaming Gender Equality" commissioned by the European Commission's Research Directorate. This report, published in 2000, documented the underrepresentation of female scientists in European science. It addressed the lack of women not only among career scientists but also among those who shape scientific policy, and suggested measures that should be taken to correct the gender imbalance in science. Her efforts for Women in Science, and her research, were honoured by the award of the Dorothea Schlözer Medal from the University of Göttingen in 2007.

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