Rothschild was a world authority on fleas, butterflies, pyrazines and chemical communication. Her publications that she co-authored on flea anatomy and taxonomy are still considered to be the standard for many entomologists.
She had no formal education yet she published over 350 scientific papers during the course of her life. Some of her most important research focused on fleas; their diversity, biomechanics and role as disease-vectors. Rothschild investigated the jumping mechanism of the plague carrying flea Xenospylla cheopis using the then novel approach of film. Later, in connection with her research on the rabbit flea as a carrier of the disease myxomatosis she discovered that its breeding cycle was controlled by that of its host. She discovered that a rise of hormones in pregnant rabbits triggered female fleas to lay eggs, so that emergence of the fleas’ offspring matched that of the rabbit.
During the Second World War, she joined a group of distinguished scientists working at Bletchley Park on the Enigma decryption project working as a code breaker. She received a Defence Medal in 1945 from the British Government for her work. In addition to her academic work, Rothschild championed nature conservation and was actively involved in a broad range of civic, social and political causes, including providing scientific evidence to the Wolfenden Committee whose report assisted in decriminalising homosexuality.
As picked by...
Zoë M. Simmons, Collections Manager, Life Collections