Notebook from the Papers of Sir Robert Edwards displayed at the Science Museum

26th October 2018 in Archives Centre, Art & Exhibitions, Our Collections

There’s still time to see the fascinating exhibition, IVF: 6 Million Babies Later, at the Science Museum until 25 November.  

On display is one of the notebooks, from the Papers of Professor Sir Robert Edwards, held at Churchill Archive Centre, which were used to record the early clinical trials (in 1968—1970) that led to the eventual first success of IVF. The notebook is displayed alongside material from Lesley Brown’s papers (mother of Louise Brown), artefacts, film footage, sound recordings, and infographics.

Edwards notebook

The exhibition is divided into two areas. One side tells the story of the development of IVF (signposted as “Ten Long Years to IVF”). The other side of the exhibition explains the processes and procedures of IVF today as well as the impact of infertility and IVF treatment on people’s lives (signposted as “IVF, 40 Years Later”).

Science Museum exhibition

From 1969 onwards women and men struggling with infertility wrote to Robert Edwards volunteering to take part in experiments that might one day help them, or others like them. The papers at Churchill Archives Centre contain letters from 55 correspondents volunteering or asking for help, from 1969 alone. The women who took part in the clinical trials travelled to Oldham (where the clinical trials took place) using their own resources and underwent invasive treatment for what must have seemed like a distant hope.    

The pages of the notebook on display record the hormones that were given to the volunteers, whether eggs were collected, and any abnormalities observed. The rest of the notebook (not on display) also includes the dates of laparoscopy, the number of follicles (ovarian response) and eggs recovered, as well as personal data about the volunteers. Laparoscopy was the procedure pioneered by Patrick Steptoe (Robert Edwards’ collaborator) and used for removing eggs from ovarian follicles in the early days of IVF.  

The Edwards papers are currently being catalogued, and are closed to researchers until the project has been completed (around spring 2019). As personal information about participants in the trials is included in this notebook we will not be able to make it available to researchers for quite some time. The exhibition at the Science Museum presented an opportunity for us to display a part of the notebook (which does not include identifiable personal information), and gain some exposure for the archive. 

— Madelin Evans, Edwards Archivist

Find out more about the exhibition


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