Pratibha Gai

Dame Pratibha Laxman Gai-Boyes DBE FRS HonFRMS FRSC FREng[1] is a British microscopist and Professor and Chair of Electron Microscopy and former Director at The York JEOL Nanocentre, Departments of Chemistry and Physics, University of York.[2] She created the atomic-resolution environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM) and is an outspoken advocate for women with careers in science.

Dame Pratibha Gai-Boyes
Pratibha Laxman Gai
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Scientific career
ThesisApplications of Weak Beam Electron Microscopy (1974)

Education and early life

Gai grew up in India, and was fascinated by science as a child. She was influenced by Marie Curie, her education, and her parents to study chemistry. However, at that time, it was not socially acceptance for women to have careers in the physical sciences. When she was a teenager, she was selected as a national science talent search scholar.[3]

“It would have been very difficult without the scholarships because societal expectations for women at that time did not include careers in the sciences or chemistry. I would say that societal expectations, even today, as to what is good for women, including in the UK, do not always include scientific studies."[3]

Gai was educated at the University of Cambridge where she was awarded a PhD in 1974 for research on weak beam electron microscopy conducted in the Cavendish Laboratory.[4][5]

Research and career

Gai has pioneered advanced in-situ electron microscopy applications in the chemical sciences. With Edward D. Boyes, she co-invented the atomic resolution environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM), which enables the visualisation and analysis on the atomic scale of dynamic gas-catalyst reactions underpinning key chemical processes. Her research has helped to understand better how catalysts function, leading to valuable new science. Her microscope and process inventions are being exploited worldwide by microscope manufacturers, chemical companies and researchers.[6][7]

In 2009, after years of development, Gai, who holds a chair in electron microscopy and was co-director of the York JEOL Nanocentre at the University of York, succeeded in creating a microscope capable of perceiving chemical reactions at the atomic scale.[8]

This is an advance on conventional microscopes at this scale, which can only view innate material in the "dead" conditions of a vacuum at room temperature. It is known as the atomic resolution environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM).[9]

With the help of colleagues, she built and refined the machine over two decades, beginning with a lower-resolution prototype when she was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. She then spent 18 years in the US at chemical firm DuPont and the University of Delaware.[8][10]

Although her microscope is highly valuable to the scientific field, she made the decision to not patent it, saying, "I thought that if I patented it, no one else would be able to do work with it. I might earn some money, but I was not interested in that. I was interested in applications for many researchers, creating more fundamental science. So I decided not to patent it."[11]

She often advocates for women's roles in science, and has spoken about the challenge of having children as a woman scientist. She says, "what's needed to keep women in science; it's a very competitive field and they [otherwise] lag behind whether they are working or not. So I keep telling my female students to aim high."[11]

Awards and honours


  1. "RAEng: New Fellows 2014". Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  2. "Pratibha Gai – Physics, The University of York". University of York. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  3. Profile,; accessed 30 December 2017.
  4. Gai, Pratibha L. (1974). Applications of Weak Beam Electron Microscopy (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 500447391.
  5. "Professor Pratibha L. Gai" (PDF). Loreal-UNESCO Awards 2013 Laureate. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  6. "Professor Pratibha Gai FREng FRS". London, UK: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:
    "All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License." --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  7. Gai, Pratibha L.; Harmer, Mark A. (2002). "Surface Atomic Defect Structures and Growth of Gold Nanorods". Nano Letters. 2 (7): 771–74. doi:10.1021/nl0202556.
  8. Gibney, Elizabeth (14 February 2013). "Pratibha Gai's award-winning focus". Times Higher Education.
  9. Cronin, Stephen B; Lin, Yu-Ming; Rabin, Oded; Black, Marcie R; Ying, Jackie Y; Dresselhaus, Mildred S; Gai, Pratibha L; Minet, Jean-Paul; Issi, Jean-Paul (2002). "Making electrical contacts to nanowires with a thick oxide coating". Nanotechnology. 13 (5): 653–658. doi:10.1088/0957-4484/13/5/322.
  10. Celeste Biever,It is time to train atoms to do what we want, New Scientist, Volume 217 Number 2910, pg. 25 (30 March 2013).
  11. Profile,; accessed 30 December 2017.
  12. "Pratibha L. Gai, 2013 L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate for Europe". YouTube. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  13. "Asian Awards 2018: Recognition with Lots of Glitz and Glamour". Desiblitz. 29 April 2018.
  14. "New Year's Honours 2018" (PDF). Government Digital Service. 29 December 2017. p. 10. Retrieved 29 December 2017.