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Jane Ann Simpson (Professor Jane Plant, 1945-2016)

Pioneering geochemist who acted as a role model for young women in geology, who wrote persuasively about her prolonged battle with cancer

trdyiJane Plant, who died on 4 March 2016, will be remembered for her significant scientific achievements; as a role model for young women in geology; and her brave, prolonged fight against cancer.  Born Jane Ann Lunn, in Woodville, Derbyshire, she was the only child of Ralph and Marjorie (née Langton) Lunn, village shopkeepers.  Educated at Ashby Grammar School she went to Liverpool University in 1963, graduating with first class honours in geology and the prize for the best degree in her year.

Joining the Institute of Geological Sciences (now the British Geological Survey - BGS) she was assigned to the Atomic Energy Division, headed by Stanley Bowie.  Recognising her potential, she was entrusted with responsibility for a geochemical reconnaissance programme, beginning in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.  Establishing protocols which were later adopted world-wide, teams of university students collected stream sediments during the summer months, with the winter months spent in analysis and interpretation. 

Working with collaborators like Janet Watson, she used the data to examine the geological and metallogenic evolution of the British Caledonides, leading to a PhD from Leicester University (1977) and a special merit promotion (1983).  As sampling moved southwards the programme broadened, creating a geochemical database, which could be applied to economic, health and environmental issues. 

In 1990, she joined the BGS Directorate, heading the newly-formed Minerals, Environment and Geochemical Surveys Division, while continuing her scientific work.  Her achievements were recognised by her peers with numerous awards.  She was appointed CBE in 1997 for services to Earth sciences, elected President of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (2001-02), became a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1999-2005) and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2012). 

She retired from the post of BGS Chief Scientist in 2005 and was appointed Anglo-American Professor of Geochemistry at Imperial College.  Here she pursued her interests in the links between geochemistry and health with the same passion which had characterised her BGS career.  These interests were partly stimulated by her own battle with breast cancer which had first affected her in 1987. 

By 1993, she had beaten cancer five times but the prognosis was poor.  Struck by the low incidence of breast cancer among Chinese women and the absence of dairy products in their diet, she immediately adopted a mainly vegan regime, forgoing all dairy produce.  Her cancer disappeared rapidly and she became convinced of a link between cancer and diet, writing of her experiences in a book Your Life in your Hands (2000).  Other books followed, but to her disappointment her ideas were never accepted by the medical establishment.

Jane died at home, in Richmond upon Thames from a blood clot following chemotherapy.  An early marriage was dissolved, leaving her with the name Plant, which she used professionally.  She later married BGS colleague and trusted collaborator, Peter Simpson.  She leaves Peter, three children and six grandchildren, an army of friends and a scientific legacy which will remain as a lasting memorial.

John Mather