Igerna Sollas

Igerna Brünhilda Johnson Sollas (1877-1965) was one of the first eight women to be taught geology at the University of Cambridge, and she made contributions to both palaeontology and zoology. She was born in Devon, the youngest daughter of William Sollas, a Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford. After attending school in Dublin, she was awarded a scholarship to study geology at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge.

She achieved first class exam results in Natural Sciences in 1901, although women were not entitled to receive a degree in Cambridge until 1948. This achievement inspired other young women to take up geology as a subject.

Sollas remained at Newnham as a lecturer and research fellow until 1913, before moving to Oxford to live with her father. Throughout her career, she worked on a diverse array of fossil and living organisms including plants, earthworms, sea squirts, fish, reptiles and even guinea pigs.

Her expertise on sponges was recognised by zoologist Émile Topsent, who named the sponge Igernella after Igerna. However, she is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work involving the serial grinding of fossils.

Header image: Courtesy of the Principal and Fellows, Newnham College, Cambridge.