Why we give - Gratitude for our education and experiences at King's

From left to right: Valerie and Michael on their wedding day in 1966 and on a cruise in 2015

Valerie and Michael Calderbank (Physics, 1966 and 1964) met at King’s and married in 1966. Here, they share what King’s means to them and why they have decided to remember King’s in their will.

‘King’s has had a huge impact on our lives’ explains Valerie. ‘I owe so much to King’s. It provided me with an excellent education, a great career, a caring husband and helped me fulfil my childhood dream of being a physicist.’

Valerie had dreamed of being a physicist since she was a child. ‘
I wasn’t interested in the limited career options open to women at that time,’ she says. ‘It was my dream to study atomic physics and if possible marry a physicist and for us to spend the rest of our lives doing scientific research together. I wanted to combine this with marriage and a family as my role model, Marie Curie, had done. Thanks to King’s, I achieved all these things!’

It was their passion for physics that first brought Valerie and Michael together. They were both studying physics when they met at a Maxwell Society weekend at Cumberland Lodge. King’s was at the forefront of scientific discovery. ‘It
was just after Maurice Wilkins had been awarded the Nobel prize for his role in unravelling the structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin had died, but Wilkins and Professor Randall were still there’ says Valerie. ‘I remember the excitement around the first photos of DNA and them being displayed in the corridors of the Wheatstone Lab’ adds Michael, ‘there was a special atmosphere in the Department.’ Valerie specialised in Nuclear Physics and Biophysics and even took an image of a strand of DNA herself (see photo). She also met many distinguished scientists through being a Maxwell Society Committee member.  They both feel very privileged to have been at King’s at such an exciting time for physics.

An image of DNA taken by Valerie in 1965

Dr Edward James Burge, Head of Nuclear Physics, was a huge influence on them. ‘Ted’ encouraged Michael to do a PhD in Nuclear Physics and invited Valerie to become part of King’s Nuclear Physics Group. It was here she taught herself computer programming, and, recognising her talents, Ted recommended to a publisher that she write a book on FORTRAN. The book was hugely successful and became a standard university text. After King’s they both moved into computer science, doing systems programming at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s lab in Oxfordshire, where they stayed until retirement.

But it wasn’t all study for the couple whilst they were at King’s. They were on full grants and enjoyed the cultural advantages of being in London. It was the swinging 60s and there was an air of optimism. ‘London seemed to be the centre of the world! I had grown up in a very remote village, so it all seemed so magical’ recalls Valerie. They married at Marylebone Town Hall where, as Michael says ‘all the pop stars married.’

Both credit King’s with nurturing their life-long love of education and discovery. After retiring, Valerie took up astronomy as a hobby. She studied long-distance and ended up being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. She now gives talks on cruise ships where she explains some of the big ideas of physics to holiday-makers. Michael publishes her talks as books. ‘At King’s I developed a disciplined mind and a work ethic which has stood me in good stead ever since’ says Valerie. ‘My education has given me a desire to keep learning and maintain an active mind’ adds Michael.

When we look back over our lives, our achievements have exceeded our wildest expectations.   We owe this in no small part to King’s, not just the excellent education we had but also   the other experiences we had at such a formative time of our lives.’

The benefits of universities to society are almost immeasurable. ‘We are so grateful for the education and experiences we had and want to show this by supporting King’s in our will’ they explain. When we look back over our lives, our achievements have exceeded our wildest expectations. We owe this in no small part to King’s, not just the excellent education we had but also the other experiences we had at such a formative time of our lives.’ Their gift will support bright students from underprivileged backgrounds to study science, particularly Biophysics. ‘We feel that giving is an excellent way to show gratitude. It helps strengthen the college in its academic activities and it gives students opportunities they might not otherwise have.’

There are many ways you can support King's by leaving a gift in your will. Find out more.