Doris Mackinnon


A black and white photograph of a woman in a labcoat reading at a laboratory desk

Image © University of Dundee Archive Services

  • BORN 1883 Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
  • DIED 1956 Chelsea, London, England, UK
  • WORKED University College, Dundee, Scotland, UK
    King’s College, London, England, UK
  • HONOURS In 1927, she became the first female Professor at King’s College, London.
    She was made Fellow of King’s College London in 1939.
    She was given the title of Emeritus Professor at King’s College, London in 1949.
  • MINERVA SCIENTIFICA PROJECT Echoes from Northamptonshire

Entry by Catherine Booth


Title: Bats Moths and Biplanes
Words by: Frances M Lynch and Doris Mackinnon
Written: 12th – 14th May 2020
For: Solo Singer with recorded manipulated voices, Bat clicks, Bi-plane engines and natural sounds.
Performed by: electric voice theatre singers – Frances M Lynch, Jenny Miller, Margaret Cameron, David Sheppard, Julian Stocker and Gwion Thomas

First Performed: Online during the Covid-19 Outbreak for the “Echoes from Northamptonshire” programme at  Brixworth Music Festival on 15th May 2020

This music was inspired by the Sywell Aerodrome Women’s Meeting of 1931 which you can see on a British Pathé News video from the day itself Queens of the Air and by the wildlife close by at Pitsford Water Nature Reserve and Brixworth Country Park.

The solo singer describes the race and some of the women pilots who took part that day, including aircraft engineer DOROTHY SPICER and Ornithologist & Radiographer MARY RUSSELL, DUCHESS OF BEDFORD. The text describing the bats is mainly from zoologist Doris Mackinnon’s book, The animal’s world which was based on talks she gave on the radio throughout the 1930s, interspersed with information gleaned from discussions with Wildlife Conservationist DEBBIE SAMWELL and Ecologist Mischa Cross.

It was created at Birnam Studios, London as part of electric voice theatre‘s Minerva Scientifica – Connections 2020 project, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Frances M Lynch is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Music Creators.


Title: Laura and Doris 
Music by: Frances M Lynch
Words by: Frances M Lynch and Clovenstone Primary 6
Written in: 2018
For: Mixed Voices and Guitar
Performed by: The children of Clovenstone School (Primary 6) Catherine Booth (narrator), Herbie Clarke (guitar), Margaret Cameron (mezzo)

“Laura & Doris” is a sing-along song for children developed during workshops at Clovenstone Primary School in Edinburgh in 2017. It is based on the imagined early life of  Doris Mackinnon and her next door neighbour in Aberdeen, entomologist Laura Florence,  The enthusiasm of the children is catching – so do join in!



Title: How Life is Lived in the Animal’s World – Lavender’s Blue
Additional Music by: Marie Dare, Beethoven, Traditional, Liza Honeyman
Words by: Frances M Lynch, Catherine Booth, Robert Burns, Lady Carolina Nairne, Walter de la Mare
Written in: 2018
For: Speaker, Soprano, Mezzo, 3 girl soloists, and piano
Performed by: Catherine Booth (Narrator), Margaret Cameron (Doris Mackinnon), Priscilla Adebambo (Young Doris Mackinnon), Frances M Lynch (Laura Florence), Ellie Brammer (Young Laura Florence) and Nicole Laidlaw (Lilias Mackinnon).

This mini opera was created for an event at The National Library of Scotland on January 18th 2018 where it was first performed by the same team as part of a project at Clovenstone Primary School, Edinburgh.

It is a reflection on the lives of zoologists, Doris Mackinnon and Laura Florence who lived next door to each other in Aberdeen when they were young girls, and is based on research by Catherine Booth. We imagine that the two scientists wrote to each other until they grew old, and through their letters we learn about their families, work and lives from hog lice, to birds, radio broadcasts to Beethoven and lavender to protozoa!

It includes a full – if interrupted – performance of “The Three Cherry Trees” by Marie Dare for voice and piano, and extracts from Nairne’s “Oh! Rowan Tree!”, Burns’“To a Louse”, Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and “We Shall ne-er meet again” by Liza Honeyman. The Nursery Rhyme “Lavender’s Blue” is used as an important theme.

Rehearsals for the National Library of Scotland Performance on January 18th 2018


She graduated BSc from Aberdeen University in 1906, with special distinction in botany and geology, and was awarded the degree of DSc from Aberdeen University in 1914

She was awarded a Carnegie Research Scholarship in 1906-1907, which allowed her to work with different research teams over the country, including at the Quick Laboratory, Cambridge.


New protist parasites from the intestine of Trichoptera. (Image from Parasitology Vol. 3, no. 3, September 2010)

In 1909 she began working at University College Dundee as Assistant to Professor D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in the Zoology Department, where she produced several papers on parasites which were found on insects such as caddis flies and dung flies. Professor Thompson was preparing his famous work, On growth and form, showing how mathematical principles influence the shape and appearance of plants and animals in nature, simply because these result in the most efficient arrangement for growth and survival.  Doris drew many of the illustrations for this work.

Between 1916-1918, she was seconded to military hospitals in Liverpool and Southampton where she worked on the diagnosis and treatment of dysentery and other intestinal infections.

In 1919, she was appointed as a Lecturer at King’s College London, later becoming Professor.

Scientific Achievement

One of her areas of expertise was in the protozoans – tiny single-celled animals which live in water or as parasites. She established a Centre for Protozoology at King’s College London, which was the first non-medical centre devoted to this discipline.  She produced many scientific papers on the protozoa throughout her career. Two genera of protozoa, Dorisa and Dorisiella were named after her.

Did You Know?

During the First World War, Doris took an interest in the kinds of games children played outdoors, and wrote articles in the Manchester Guardian on that subject.
As well as having a thorough knowledge of German, Doris Mackinnon was musical, and her enthusiasms in these caused her to publish a translation of a German work on the musical sketches of Beethoven, making it available for the first time to English-speaking readers.

An Inspiring Woman

Her obituary called her an inspiring teacher, and an excellent scientific communicator, with a natural ability to explain scientific concepts to young people.  She had no patience for anyone who produced careless work, though would forgive misdemeanours such as smoking in forbidden areas. Along with other radio programmes aimed at adults, she gave a series of radio broadcasts for schools throughout the 1930s, entitled How life is lived.  Her subsequent book, The animal’s world, was based on the content of these talks. A review in the Irishnaturalists’ journal described it as “a book of biology that must be a revelation to all who read it.”   She was engaged in a further book on the study of protozoa when she died, but fortunately a collaborator was able to complete it.