Cambridge food research laboratory receives national chemistry award

01 December 2009

The lifelong dedication of Elsie Widdowson, the chemist who oversaw rationing and nutrition in the Second World War, to improving human health was honoured by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in Cambridge.

A Chemical Landmark Plaque, the RSC's national award recognising a site of historic significance in science, was awarded at the Elsie Widdowson Laboratory on Fulbourn Road, Cambridge, home of MRC Human Nutrition Research. 

The President Elect of the RSC, Professor David Phillips, presented the distinctive hexagonal blue plaque to Dr Ann Prentice, Director of MRC Human Nutrition Research. 

The award comes towards the end of the RSC's Food Year 2009, where the focus has been on the chemistry involved at all levels of food production and consumption. 

Widdowson was a research chemist for most of her long life, and was tasked by the government to ensure food rations were suitable for a reasonably healthy lifestyle. She and her research partner Robert McCance first suggested the addition of calcium to bread to supplement the low-dairy ration diet. 

Known for her passion and dedication for research, Widdowson also firmly believed that scientists should not do to others what they would not try themselves; before any test subjects were involved in nutritional experiments, she would first test on herself. 

McCance and Widdowson had a remarkable relationship, working together fruitfully for 60 years, and authored the seminal book "The Composition of Food", which is into its sixth edition and still considered the standard reference for chemical data on food. 

Although she had passed away by the time the building was completed in 2001, Widdowson was delighted to have the MRC Human Nutrition Research Laboratory named after her, and presided proudly over the cutting of the first sod in 1999. 

Widdowson was honoured many times, perhaps most notably with a CBE for services to science, and made a Companion of Honour in 1993. 

Chemical Landmarks are the RSC's official recognition of historical sites where important chemical breakthroughs have been made. They commemorate, emphasise and awaken public interest in historic developments in the chemical sciences.

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Chemical Landmarks

RSC's official awards to historical sites in recognition of significant chemical discoveries or research

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