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Women’s History Spotlight: June Almeida

You might not recognize the name June Almeida, but you’ve likely seen her work. With a mind for science and penchant for photography, but lacking a college degree, Almeida (1930-2007) would become known for her work with electron microscopy and perfecting the negative staining technique.



Almeida grew up in a working-class area of Glasglow, Scotland. When she was ten years old, her younger brother died from diphtheria. This tragedy fostered June’s deep curiosity for biological sciences (Marks 2020). While her family lacked the financial resources to continue her formal education beyond high school, Almeida would find other ways to enter the professional world of science.


At 16, Almeida became a lab technician at Glasglow Royal Infirmary studying and diagnosing tissue disease (Rothberg 2021). She continued this work at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, but lack of a college degree kept her from career development opportunities. After marrying, she moved to Canada with her husband, where she discovered greater opportunities to advance her career (Rothberg 2021).


In Canada, Almeida found her calling working with electron microscopy. As a technician, she quickly made a name for herself by perfecting the negative staining technique, which created cell images that were clear and sharp, in contrast to the grainy, blurry images previously produced. This advancement led to faster identification of viruses (Rothberg 2021).


Upon returning to London at the request of virologist Professor A.P. Waterson, Almeida was able to continue her work in an academic setting, co-authoring scientific publications, in addition to continuing her revolutionary imaging of viruses (Rothberg 2021). Her work appeared in scientific publications, she became an assistant lecturer and research associate, and she presented her work at scientific conferences (Marks 2020).


Her achievements led the University of London to award her a master’s degree (1970) and a Doctor of Science (1971) (Rothberg 2021).


During her career, Almeida helped to identify the first human coronavirus (Rothberg 2021; Marks 2020), helped capture the first image of the rubella virus (Rothberg 2021; Marks 2020; bioMerieux 2023), and helped determine the structure of the hepatitis B virus (Rothberg 2021; Marks 2020; bioMerieux 2023).


Almedia retired in 1985, with a long list of accomplishments, but she couldn’t fully leave her profession behind, returning in the late 1980s to act as an advisor and using her expertise to help produce clear images of HIV (Brocklehurst 2020).


Almedia died in 2007, but her legacy lives on through the advancements she helped create and through her precise imaging, which still appears in many textbooks to this day.


Sources:


Rothberg, Emma. “June Almeida.” National Women’s History Museum, 2021. Accessed 26February2024. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/june-almeida


Brocklehurst, Steven. “The Woman Who Discovered the First Coronavirus.” BBC Scotland News. 14April2020. Accessed 26February2024. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-52278716


Marks, Lara. “June Almeida.” What is Biotechnology? 15May2020. Accessed 04March2024. https://www.whatisbiotechnology.org/index.php/people/summary/Almeida


bioMerieux (eds.) “June Almeida & The Discovery of the First Human Coronavirus.” 11February2023. Accessed 11March2024. https://www.biomerieux.com/corp/en/blog/infectious-diseases/june-almeida---the-discovery-of-the-first-human-coronavirus.html

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