Newnham academic receives Gay Times honour

Rachael Padman

Physicist Dr Rachael Padman has received an inaugural Gay Times honour for having a ‘profound’ impact on the lives of LGBT+ people.

Dr Padman, a Fellow at Newnham College, was named the winner of the Barbara Burford category at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in London on Saturday, November 18 2017.

Barbara Burford, a medical researcher and civil servant, was a pioneer in learning and social change throughout a long and varied career with the NHS, the civil service and as a consultant to various public sector organisations, equality commissions, government departments and minority groups.

As the director of diversity at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from 2002 until 2005, Burford was a powerful force in her efforts to improve equality. She died in 2010 age 65.

Nine Gay Times Honours were presented at the awards evening, with each category named posthumously after trailblazers such as Burford and footballer Justin Fashanu. Each person was deemed to have led a life that marked a significant milestone in LGBT+ history.

Every Honour was given to an individual who lives openly as LGBT+ and whose work has had a profound – and often unrecognised – impact on the lives of LGBT+ people.

Dr Padman, pictured, did her first degree in Electrical Engineering, at Monash University. She then worked for two years at CSIRO Division of Radio physics in Sydney, doing research on antennas for radio astronomy, before coming to the Cavendish for her PhD in mm-wave astronomy and instrumentation. She came out as transgender in 1979, whilst still a student.

She held an 1851 Research Fellowship, and then spent two years in Berkeley as a Miller Research Fellow, before returning to the Cavendish in 1984 as Deputy Project Scientist for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. She was appointed a University Lecturer in 1998, and since 2005 has been primarily involved in the administration of teaching in the Department of Physics.

Her research interests include millimetre wave optics and receiver systems; low-mass star formation, and in particular jets and outflows from young stars and spectral-line data reduction software. She is a Director of Studies in Natural Sciences and Physical Sciences at Newnham where she has been a Fellow since 1996.

Dr Padman said: “The Gay Times Honours recognise ‘those who have had a tremendous impact on what it means for LGBT+ people to live openly and freely in modern Britain’.

“It is humbling to be in the same company as activists like Euan Sutherland, Rikki Beadle-Blair and the team from EastEnders, but it’s also an affirmation that it’s possible to make a difference simply by being a visible role model in a field like physics.”

Special portraits of Dr Padman and the other prize winners were commissioned to mark the inaugural awards and will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery for the next two weeks.

Read more about the Gay Times awards and watch a video of Dr Padman