Julia Higgins grew up in London and came to Somerville in 1961 to study Physics, staying on to complete her doctorate. From 1976 she has been based at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London where (since 2007) she has been Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Investigator. Higgins’ scientific work has concentrated on the investigation of polymers with neutron scattering, on which she has co-authored a monograph (Higgins & Benoit 1997).
From 1998 to 2003, Higgins was chair of the Athena Project, which aims for the advancement of women in science, engineering and technology (SET) in Higher Education. She is now the Patron of the Athena Swan Awards Scheme. Between 2003 and 2007, she was chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. She was president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers 2002-3, and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 2003-4. Higgins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1995 and was its Foreign Secretary 2001-6.
Higgins chaired the the Royal Society’s State of the Nation Report Steering Group and (between 2008 and 2012) the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME). She currently Chairs the Royal Society project (funded by BIS) on increasing diversity in the scientific workforce. She is a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the City and Guilds of London Institute, of which she is also Vice-President. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1995, she was awarded a CBE in 1996 before being named a dame in the 2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Higgins holds honorary degrees from a number of UK Universities and also from the University of Melbourne, Australia. In 1999, she was elected as Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She is a foreign member of the National Academy of Engineering of the United States. Higgins was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2001. She is a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and an Honorary Fellow of Somerville and of the Institute of Physics.
Did you know? As part of 2021’s Oxford International Women’s Festival, Julia Higgins gave the Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture, ‘Seeing is Believing’.