Glittering Nobel Gown Represents Scientist’s Work

I posted this originally at Scientific American on December 10, 2014.

Women in the public eye are constantly scrutinized for what they wear, whether it be a politician, a Hollywood starlet or even a scientist at the Nobel Prize ceremony. The male Nobel Prize recipients have it relatively easy, at least wardrobe-wise. They put on their tie and tails and they are good to go, but women have a few more decisions to make regarding color, style, accessories, appropriateness for the venue and so forth.

May Britt Moser's sample dress as designed by Matthew Hubble
May Britt Moser’s sample dress as designed by Matthew Hubble

For this year’s Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, UK engineer-turned-fashion designer, Matthew Hubble saw an opportunity to blend fashion and science via May Britt Moser‘s receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year along with her husband, Edvard Moser, and colleague John O’Keefe for their work on grid neurons. Matthew’s background as an engineer, along with his daughter currently studying neuroscience, resulted in him considering a way to elegantly represent the neuroscientists’ work through fashion. He settled on creating a sophisticated gown that featured the neuron grid through piecing of navy viscose satin joined by silver leather in such a way that it fit the body comfortably and flatteringly. The gown is beautifully accented with beading in the shape of three large neurons complete with the soma (the body that contains the nucleus) and nerve fibers. The way the beading catches the light gives the illusion of electricity coursing through the axons and dendrites, reaching the synapses in order to communicate with each other.

I sat down to speak with Matthew and put together a video of our conversation. I was hoping to use Google Hangouts on Air (my favorite way to interview people for a natural flow of conversation), but due to technical issues, settled on us using Photo Booth and editing the separate clips together. We spoke for nearly 30 minutes and here is a five minute summary where Matthew tells us about creating the dress and the place of fashion in communicating science, the relative dearth of women Nobel science prize winners, and what May Britt thought about the significance of the dress. That is the video you see at the top of the post.

May Britt gave a quote to journalists who were at the final fitting of the gown:

“A good designer has a lot in common with a good researcher. Both hunt for excellence and perfection. And you have to really focus on the details, and you don’t really know what the final result will be before you have it.”

The Nobel Awards Ceremony livestreamed today at 12:50 CET. Check out the video to see the dress debut!

I’m sure that Edvard and John wish they had matching pocket squares! :)

My original article was picked up by NBC Science news, io9 and The Mary Sue. Thank you!