Monday, August 19, 2013

Women in Science

When my daughter turned 8 I realized I was a feminist.  I realized that women are still under represented in the scientific and math communities.  I realized that its not because they aren't encouraged - but somewhere around middle school we "lose them".  In addition, we are raising boys in a boy-heavy science environment so when they do encounter a woman in the professional world they treat her badly.

As a STEM teacher I am breaking those barriers.  But that isn't enough.  I need to remind everyone that our entire history of STEM was dependent on both men and women.  So here is my list of favorite famous STEM ladies.

P.S.  If anyone wants to print some nice quality black and whites of these ladies with 3 sentences captioned underneath I would love to hang them in my home.

Ada Lovelace


Beloved icon of computer nerds everywhere, Ada Byron was an early computer scientist - a VERY early computer scientist.

Back in the 1800s, Byron, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, studied with English mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage's early proposed "analytical engine" was one of the earliest computers -- or would have been, if it was ever built.

Ada realized its potential. Her analysis and explanation of how Babbage's "analytical machine" (a giant calculator, in essence) might be used to calculate a series of mathematically important numbers pretty much made her the first computer programmer. [source: image wikipedia, text http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-women-in-science.htm]

Grace Hopper


Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Owing to the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace". The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC.  [cite: wikipedia]

Marie Curie


That Marie Curie lived as long as she did is kind of amazing, considering the woman made radioactivity her life.

The papers that once belonged to her are still so radioactive, 75 years after her death, that they can't be handled without special gear.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Polish-born Curie and her French husband, Pierre Curie, toiled over radioactive elements such as uranium, polonium and radium (some of which they discovered) without any protection and with little regard for the damage those elements might cause living tissue.

Curie would later pay the price: her 1934 death, from aplastic anemia, was most likely due to years of radiation exposure, but her legacy lived on: the two-time Nobel prize winner (for physics in 1903 with her husband, and for chemistry in 1911) was also the mother of Irene Joliot-Curie, another notable woman of science who would eventually share the Nobel prize with her own husband in 1935 for her own work on radioactivity. [cite: http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-women-in-science.htm]

Rosalind Franklin



Rosalind Franklin was, for too long, the overshadowed party in Watson and Crick's story of how they unraveled the structure of DNA. Franklin took the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that indicated its twisted, double-helical structure; without her precise lab work, attention to detail and thoughtful analysis, those X-ray images wouldn't have been worth a penny.

What's more, without those images Watson and Crick would not have been able to publish their notable 1953 paper on the structure of DNA. Those images, leaked to Watson and Crick by Franklin's lab partner, made the difference in the discovery...but not in the recognition.

In 1962, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their work on the structure of DNA; by then, Franklin had been dead for four years, a victim of ovarian cancer. [cite: http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-women-in-science.htm]

Jane Goodall


Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees opened our eyes to chimpanzee life, and in the process, to our own evolutionary roots.

In documenting chimps' complex social webs, as well as their use of tools and wide range of emotions, Goodall's work blurred the line between human and animal and made it clear that treating primates well was an ethical issue.  In the years since she first became known, Goodall has also become a passionate advocate on the part of primates like chimpanzees, serving as a very public voice for the animals who can't find their own. [cite: http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-women-in-science.htm]


Maria Mitchell


Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889)  was an American astronomer who, in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as "Miss Mitchell's Comet". She won a gold medal prize for her discovery which was presented to her by King Frederick VII of Denmark. On the medal was inscribed "Non Frustra Signorum Obitus Speculamur et Ortus" in Latin (taken from Georgics by Virgil (Book I, line 257) (English: “Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars”). Mitchell was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer.  Though Mitchell, born in 1818, was the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was widely known throughout the world, she was still paid less than her male colleagues at Vassar - or at least she was until she stood her ground.

In addition to discovering "Miss Mitchell's comet," she also found that sunspots were an independent phenomenon and not a type of cloud.

When she wasn't behind a telescope, Mitchell was politically active, campaigning against slavery and for women's suffrage. All in all, a thoroughly modern woman.  [cite: wikipedia and http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-women-in-science.htm]



Stephanie Kwolek


“To invent, I draw upon my knowledge, intuition, creativity, experience, common sense, perseverance, flexibility, and hard work.”

Stephanie Kwolek is the chemist who invented Kevlar in 1965.  She started working as a chemist in 1946 just to earn enough money to go to medical school, to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. She soon fell in love with the work, though, which combined her interests in science and textiles.

One of very few female chemists working at Dupont, Stephanie was passionate about discovering new ways of working with synthetic fibers. She volunteered in 1964 for a project none of her colleagues seemed interested in: searching for a strong but lightweight fiber to use in tires.

While experimenting, Stephanie created a strange solution that was very different from ones she’d created before. It should have been a clear, thick fluid, like nylon polymer, but instead was thin and cloudy. “I think someone who wasn’t thinking very much or just wasn’t aware or took less interest in it, would have thrown it out.” But her curiousity and passion for discovery won out.

“I discovered over the years that I seem to see things that other people did not see. If things don’t work out I don’t just throw them out, I struggle over them, to try and see if there’s something there.”

The next step in the process of creating fibers from this solution required a machine called a spinneret, which was run by her coworker Charles Smullen. At first, he refused to spin the solution, thinking it would harm the machine. After much persuasion, Stephanie convinced him to run her solution.

They were amazed when the new fiber came back: it would not break when nylon typically would, and had a stiffness at least nine times greater than anything she’d made before! She and her supervisors immediately recognized the significance of her discovery, and the company set to work creating applications for this incredible new fiber.

Besides bullet-proof vests, the tough, heat-resistant fiber has since found over 200 applications. Today it’s used in products as diverse as fiber-optic cables, aircraft parts, canoes, brake linings, space vehicles, boats, parachutes, skis, and building materials.

The most famous application, of course, is the Kevlar vest. Thousands of lives have been saved by the bullet-stopping fiber. One Viriginia police officer even had Kwolek autograph the bulletproof vest that saved his life.


“I feel very lucky. So many people work all their lives and they don’t make a discovery that’s of benefit to other people.”
[cite: http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/stephanie-kwolek-inventor-kevlar/]

Jill Tarter


"Someone described my office as an eight-year-old's daydream," says astronomer Jill Tarter, who has been collecting E.T.-themed office ornaments for 30 years. Tarter was the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute's first employee, and the inspiration for the character in Carl Sagan's Contact. [Cite: NPR]


Yvonne Brill


Yvonne Brill
Born December 30 1924 - Died March 27 2013
Dual Thrust Level Monopropellant Spacecraft Propulsion System
Patent #: 3,807,657

Inducted 2010

Yvonne Brill is known for her innovations in rocket propulsion. Her most important contributions are advancements in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous communications satellites in the form of the hydrazine/hydrazine resistojet propulsion system, or the electrothermal hydrazine thruster (EHT). Early on, Brill saw the importance of the system for the then-fledgling communications satellite industry.  [cite: http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/407.html]






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