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There are insufficient data to warrant a discussion of this problem.

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Fig 2.

So ends Margaret Thatcher’s one and only published scientific paper. Many people have contributed less to science. But not many of those became Fellows of the Royal Society.

‘The saponification of α-monostearin in a monolayer’ was published in 1951 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (not open access…) and describes the results of a series of some somewhat fiddly-sounding temperature- and pressure-dependence studies of the saponification of a glyceride.

Paul Nurse railed a couple of years ago against the modern style of paper writing, preferring the simpler times and terms of his youth. This paper reads as though it should have an list of apparatus at the beginning. Instead it opens with a cursory overview of the context of the experiments – the monostearins studied have found use as emulsifying agents, and their properties in this context are not well understood. The young Margaret Roberts was seemingly tasked with elucidating these for J. Lyons, the food manufacturer. A contemporary in the company recalled that Roberts had the job of “improving the over-run [air content] of ice cream”, which ties in well with the emulsifier work she published (in ice cream, emulsifiers can act as both stabilisers and aerating agents). It ends as all good science should : “The reason why equation (3) is not obeyed at higher temperatures is obscure. … no satisfactory explanation was found and it is felt that there are insufficient data to warrant a discussion of this problem.”

So, no, as everyone knows, she didn’t invent Mr Whippy. Not least because soft-scoop ice cream was already well-established in the US by this time, also because it seems unlikely that any one person could invent such a thing. But it is likely that she worked in the ice cream group and undertook research relevant to the product. And so went Thatcher the Chemist.

But what of the co-author, Hans Helmut Gunter Jellinek ? Much more interesting, if less well documented.

Jellinek was born in 1917. His wife Ruth was born in Stuttgart n 1918, and the two were married in England in 1948.

Hans Jellinek’s career began in England, possibly at Lyons itself, and at some point over the new twenty years he and his wife moved to the USA where he took up a post at Clarkson College of Technology in upstate New York. While holding down a job at what is now Clarkson University, he went to Japan and also seems have gained some local notoriety, and an excellent local-paper headline in the Schenectady Gazette.

He published over 160 articles and books over a 40-year career that ranged from the kind of food research he did at Lyons, to studies of the degradation of plastics, to the interfacial properties of ice and snow.

He retired a professor in 1982, seemingly so that he could spend more time with his work. At this point he received a lovely note from his co-author of 1951. Maybe it is just formality, properness, but I do wonder if, in all the time from joining him as a junior colleague to writing to him as a Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher had ever called him by his first name.

Jellinek letter


Written by alexconnor

April 17, 2013 at 23:09

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