The talented Lady Ranelagh: Robert Boyle’s secret collaborator

Lady Ranelagh
Robert Boyle’s sister, Katherine, or Lady Ranelagh, pictured here, was one of his most important scientific collaborators (Scoure: Wikimedia Commons)

Robert Boyle is known to most of us from Boyle’s law in school and the idea that he was, somehow, a very important scientist indeed.

What is less well-known is that his sister Katherine, or Lady Ranelagh, pictured here on the right, was one of his most important scientific collaborators. She was, like her brother, a hugely talented person.

Katherine, who married at the age of 15, was a talented scientist, political activist, philosopher and medical practitioner. This, in a time when women were not meant to have opinions or to work in science.

Boyle held his sister in the highest esteem throughout his life, and after her husband died he went to live with her in London.

She left her husband, so the two Boyles – who were born in Lismore Castle – become even closer than they were already, and lived together for the rest of their lives, dying within a week of each other.

Robert Hooke, another huge scientific talent, and a brilliant experimentalist, built a laboratory for himself and Boyle in Katherine’s garden, and all three, it seems, worked there in close collaboration.

To find out more about this woman’s life why not take a trip to Lismore this Friday, the 26th, to hear Dr Michelle DiMeo of the Chemical Heritage Foundation tell her story at the Robert Boyle Summer School 2015.

The talk is dedicated to the memory of recently deceased, Mary Mulvihill, a science journalist, and another brilliant Irish woman. It will take place at 3pm at St Carthage’s Cathedral.