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Athene Donald was awarded both her BA (Natural Sciences, Theoretical Physics) and PhD (in Physics) by the University of Cambridge, studying at Girton College. She then spent 4 years as a postdoctoral research associate in the USA at Cornell University in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, before returning to Cambridge where she has been ever since. Initially holding an SRC fellowship in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, she returned to the Cavendish Laboratory as one of the first generation of Royal Society University Research Fellows. Thereafter she was appointed a Lecturer in 1985, a Reader in 1995 and a Professor in 1998. A year later she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Her research field can best be described as soft matter and biological physics, including polymers, biopolymers and, most recently, cellular biophysics. From 1983-2014 she was a fellow of Robinson College.
Within the University she has served on Council from 2009–14 and several of its dependent committees and was the Gender Equality Champion from 2010–14. She has served on a variety of committees at the Royal Society, chaired its Education Committee from 2010-14 and served on its Council from 2004-6 and again from 2011 to the present. She currently sits on the Scientific Council of the European Research Council.
She has been awarded prizes by the Institute of Physics (CV Boys Prize, Mott Medal and Faraday Medal) and was the Bakerian Lecturer of the Royal Society in 2006. In 2009 she was awarded the L'Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate for Europe. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire for Services to Physics in 2010. She holds Honorary Doctorates from UEA, Exeter, Sheffield and Swansea Universities and UCL. She is a regular blogger, particularly about gender issues and on the Guardian Science blogs; she also is a regular tweeter.