Thursday, October 30, 2008

Under Construction

I'm in the process of remodeling the blog and transferring many of the sidebar links to a separate domain, so the layout may look a little strange. Hopefully I'll be able to put it all back together over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Under The Microscope

The Feminist Press's Women Writing Science project has launched a new site, Under The Microscope. From the press release:

Sponsored by and developed with IBM, offers a wealth of continually updated information, including input from visitors to the web site. Currently the site provides the opportunity to post personal stories, feature and guest blogging, news about science, and links to related resources. Within the year the site will include more social networking opportunities, tips on careers, tips for parents, expanded links to science-related sites, and mentoring. Ultimately the site will provide information about internships and scholarships as well as serialized chapters of Women Writing Science publications that can be downloaded free of charge and an online book club.


Initiated by The Feminist Press at The City University of New York with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Women Writing Science will publish books of biography, fiction, history, career profiles, and how-to-survive guides presenting women as both scientists and as writers about science. Women Writing Science will also provide free teacher guides describing lesson plans and strategies for using the books in science curricula. These materials will be easily downloaded from .
There are already a number of entries where women answer the question "What Go You Hooked on Science?"

If you'd like to share your own story, or

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trieste Science Prize Winner: Beatriz Barbuy

The Trieste Science Prize is awarded each year to two scientists for "scientific research of outstanding international merit carried out at institutions in developing countries." The prizes are awarded in different fields each year. This year's award in Earth, Space, Ocean and Atmosphereic Sciences went to Beatriz Barbuy, a Brazilian astrophysicist.

Barbuy is a professor in the Department of Astronomy, at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and a Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union. According to the award site:

Barbuy's research has shed light on the formation of the Milky Way through studies of its oldest components. She was the first to demonstrate that metal-poor stars in the galactic halo (the faint sphere surrounding the galactic disk) have an overabundance of oxygen, relative to iron. This indicates that the halo was chemically enriched by 'supernova' explosions of massive first-generation stars, which may have been 500 times the size of the sun.


Barbuy is an expert in both observational astronomy and the analysis and interpretation of spectroscopic data. Through the use of spectroscopy, astronomers are able to separate light coming from stars into wavelength spectra, from which they can derive the stars' chemical composition and other information. Her skills in spectroscopy have allowed her to assemble a large library of synthetic spectra that has aided many other researchers in their investigations of our own and other galaxies.
There's a 2004 story about her at Folha Online. It's in Portuguese, so I'm unfortunately stuck with a crude translation, but here's a bit:
Shining in one seara where the numbers show certain balance between men and women (in [her] department they are 12 teachers, for a total of 21, and in the Brazilian Astronomical Society, the women represent 42 % of the members), the scientist never says to have suffered discrimination. But thinks: "I believe that the women have to do something more than men to be well recognized like professionals".
If you can read Portuguese, you should definitely read the original.

Image: 2008 winners of the Trieste Science Prize. Beatriz Barbuy, winner in Earth, Space, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and Roddam Narasimha, winner in Engineering Sciences.
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Geniuses, Eccentrics and other Scientist Stereotypes

Astraea's Scales has an interesting post about the plethora of television shows that revolve around an eccentric genius who is almost inevitably male:

Shows that star women who are brilliant at what they do rarely portray them as the eccentric genius in a similar way. For example, compare the men above with Allison Dubois of Medium. Allison is easy to relate to, portrayed as "everywoman" who just happens to have a strange ability. Her talent and success aren't the result of genius, but of supernatural talent and stubbornness.

I don't know any other shows that are still running that feature a woman in a role similar to the shows above. I'm sure there must be others that I don't watch. But even going back to older shows, I can't think of any I've ever watched with a woman as the eccentric genius on par with the male characters.

[. . . ] The closest character I can think of is Jordan Cavanaugh of Crossing Jordan. Her impact, however, is dulled by the cast made up almost entirely of eccentrics, whereas the men are surrounded by smart but ordinary folks who have to deal with his strange brand of smarts. Women in those shows are sensible foils, or loyal supporters of the male genius.
An extreme example of what Astraea is talking about is Monk, in which brilliant detective Adrian Monk can barely take care of himself because of his obsessive-compulsive disorder and many phobias. He always has a female assistant who not only helps him solve crimes, but also drives him around, has hand wipes at the ready, and all the other things that Monk can't do for himself to make it through the day. It's hard to imagine the series with the gender roles reversed.

And the dramatic setup where the lead male character is an oddball genius and the lead female character is the sensible and responsible ones extends to dramas where the two characters are partners, rather than a boss and his assistant. A few examples:
  • X-Files: Special Agent Fox Mulder is the oddball who believes in UFOs and supernatural phenomena. Special Agent Dana Scully is a rationalist, who tries to find a scientific explanation.
  • Law & Order Criminal Intent: Detective Robert Goren is an intellectual who uses sometimes bizarre methods to get information and interrogate suspects. Detective Alexandra Eames is practical and usually does police work "by the book".
  • Fringe: Dr. Walter Bishop is the very eccentric and brilliant scientist. Special Agent Olivia Dunham is his minder and protector.
  • Eleventh Hour: Dr. Jacob Hood is the passionate genius science advisor. Special Agent Rachel Young is his protector.
While it's a good thing that women are often portrayed as competent and kick-ass law enforcement types, it would be nice if they could be eccentric geniuses too.

What does that have to do with women in science? Well, for one, such programs reinforce the stereotype of the lone male genius scientist. The perception in Western countries that scientists are male and white starts fairly young. For example, Sciencebase reports on a recent study of more than 4,000 children in Britain and Australia:
Most children’s sketches of scientists endowed them with a white, male face and the usual eccentric hair. Boys, Jarvis says, never drew women, and girls did so only very occasionally. While there may well be a minority of scientists who fit the category, it indicates a very narrow view of scientists, one that is so very often reinforced through TV programs and cartoons, comic books, and comments from nonscientist parents and other adults. We then wonder why so many girls and non-white children find it very difficult to envision themselves as future scientists.
The widely-used "Draw a Scientist Test" has been used for several decades to assess children's perceptions of scientists. In a study published by David Wade Chambers in 1983, only 28 of 4,807 drawings were of female scientists. I assume that the "occasional" drawings of women as scientists in the recent study were more frequent than that.

Do characters on television actually affect kids' perceptions of scientists? At least one small study suggests that exposure to women scientists on the crime forensics show CSI seemed to increase the likelihood that girls would depict female scientists. But even on CSI the head of the crime lab is (yes, you guessed it) an eccentric male.

So why do I think it matters? I think that TV roles reinforce the idea that while women can be competent scientists, they aren't likely to be creative geniuses. Of course that's not a stereotype unique to science; top artists, chefs, novelists, private detectives and historians are usually depicted as male as well. No one expects them to be nurturing or follow the rules.

I would love to see more female TV characters who are brilliant scientists with eccentric personalities and have male assistants, partners or spouses to take care of their mundane needs and responsibilities. And not just characters like Bones' Temperance Brennan, who is a genius with very poor social skills ("almost has Asperger's Syndrome" according to the creator), a point that's reinforced pretty much every episode I've seen. I want to see characters that are like NCIS's Abby (image above), who is unapologetically geeky and smart, has her own quirky style, and an interesting social life. All she needs is a lab - and a show - of her own.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

National Chemistry Week: Interviews with Women Chemists for Kids

From October 19-25th the American Chemical Society celebrates National Chemistry Week. This year's theme is "Having a Ball With Chemistry", and the official site links to chemistry-related activities and games for kids.

As part of the ACS's outreach to kids, they have a series of interviews with chemists done by "Meg A. Mole, Future Chemist" (a stuffed safety glasses-wearing girl mole). The women interviewed:

I'm not sure why the chemists were asked about their favorite food and color, but I suppose that kids would find details like that interesting. The interviews are also available in Spanish.

Find a local national Chemistry Week event.

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Nominations Open for the 2009 Women of Vision Awards

The Anita Borg Institute is now accepting nominations for the 2009 Women of Vision Awards in three categories:

Innovation recognizes a woman who has contributed significantly to technology innovation. The innovation might be creating unusual and important technology or approaching developing technology in a significantly new and innovative way, such as by bringing diverse people and experiences together in the technology creation process.

Social Impact recognizes a woman who developed or applied technology with a significant impact on society and/or the community. These people are creating or employing technologies that are changing our world in positive ways.

Leadership recognizes a woman who has led an important technology development or innovation, made a significant contribution to the technology industry, and someone who inspires others.
The winners will be honored at the Women of Vision Awards Dinner on April 30th 2009 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California.

The 2008 winners:
  • Innovation: Helen Greiner, Co-founder and Chairman, iRobot
  • Social Impact: Susan Landau, Distinguished Engineer, Sun Microsystems
  • Leadership Award: Justine Cassell, director of the Center for Technology and Social Behavior at Northwestern University, at AT&T Professor of Communication and Computer Science
Make a nomination for the 2009 award.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Women in Science Link Roundup: October 19 Edition

Here are some links I've been saving in my bookmarks, which explains why some are blog posts from a year ago. Yep, way behind in my reading.

About Women Scientists

The 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics was awarded to Deborah S. Jin

There is a great post on MetaFilter about the women who worked as "computers" for Edward Pickering at the Havard Collge Observatory.

Martin Griffiths wrote for LabLit about 17th century natural philosopher Margaret Cavendish: The feminism, fiction, science and philosophy of Margaret Cavendish

Hsien-Hsien Lei at Eye on DNA lists the most powerful women in biotechnology and healthcare

Wired writes that South Korean astronaut Yi Soyeon is "crazy, sexy, cool"

As a counterpoint to Newsweek's "10 hottest nerds" - who all happen to be male and mostly in the field of genomics - Jonathan Eisen listed a bunch of women in genomics who they could have included on their list.

Life in College

Samia at 49 percent writes about networking as a science undergrad

Marina at Objectify This explained how the depiction of the female reproductive system in one of her classes helped her decide to stop being a biology major:
- I Was A Teenage Feminist
- Fly Sex... and I was a Twentysomething Feminist

ScienceWoman comments on an article by Linda Sax on how men and women experience college differently

The Gender Gap

Pat at Fairer Science has the scoop on the ultimate study on the effct of gender on wages: it looked at what happens to men who changes their gender to women and women who change their gender to men. They found "women who become men (known as FTMs) do significantly better than men who become women (MTFs). MTFs in the study earned, on average, 32% less after they transitioned from male to female, even after the authors controlled for factors like education levels. FTMs earned an average of 1.5% more."

At The Intersection Sheril Kirshenbaum talks about the gender gap in response to emailer "Gabe"

Geeky Mom writes about housework and the gender gap

The Boston Globe reports on a recent study that shows the effect of culture on girls' and womens' math achievement:

The study, to be published in next month's Notices of the American Mathematical Society, identifies women of extraordinary math ability by sifting through the winners of the world's most elite math competitions. It found that small nations that nurtured female mathematicians often produced more top competitors than far larger and wealthier nations.
Lise Eliot and Susan McGee Baily had an opinion piece in USA Today about the (lack of ) gender differences in kids' brains: "Gender segregation in schools isn't the answer" (via Fairer Science)

A study from UNM looked at why many girls avoid math:
Overall, however, parent support and expectations emerged as the top support in both subjects and genders for middle- and high-school students. Also powerful for younger girls were engaging teachers and positive experiences with them.

The study confirmed that old stereotypes die slowly. Both boys and girls perceived that teachers thought boys were stronger at math and science. For boys this represented a support, while for girls it acted as a barrier.

Cognitive Daily had an excellent three part post about recent studies from the journal Psychological Science in the Publish Interest on the "science of sex differences in science and mathematics"
Chris at Mixing Memory reviews a paper that looked at wstereotype threat and women in math, science and engineering

Last October Dr. Confused, who has a doctorate in aerospace engineering, had a series of guest posts on Feministe about her experiences in science, the leaky pipeline, gender roles, sexism in everyday professional lives, and being a mom.

Miscellaneous Other Posts

Life v. 3.0 hosted the September Praxis Carnival on "scientific life". The October carnival was hosted by The Other 95%.

Elle, PhD. spots more gendered science kits for kids.

Virginia Gewin writes for NatureJobs about a possible upside to the "two-body problem" of academic couples

Sylvia Ann Hewlett in the Harvard Business Publishing blog: The Glass Cliff : Are women leaders often set up to fail?

In the The Independent's Career Planning section: "Women in science and engineering: Two successful women in science give their views on how to best break the glass ceiling". The two women are Emma Sanderson, director of "value added services" at BT and Anne Miller, "one of the world's most successful female inventors"

The BDPA Foundation writes about a recent survey of Fortune 1000 STEM executives that found "women, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and that the result could hurt the nation as a whole." (via The Urban Scientist)

Omaha Science Examiner blogger Meg Marquardt writes about her own experience as a girl interested in science, and science communication.
A father was making a wild attempt to placate a gaggle of second grade girls. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he asked. There was a litany of typical answers: a teacher, a mom, etc. But I stood up and proudly announced that I was going to be a scientist. The man gave me a stern look over his glasses and very firmly said, "Women ain't scientists." This was my first introduction to ignorance in science communication.

As part of the NatureJobs Podcast series:
The Source Event Part 7
Jan Bogg, Director of the Breaking Barriers Programme at the University of Liverpool, offers advice for women considering a career break, including how to stay in the loop while on maternity leave.
There's also an (old) discussion on the Naturejobs forum about the following questions:

1) Is the tendency for women to prefer people-oriented careers over science inherent or shaped by society?

2) Does anyone think “Title Nining” science is a good idea? Is it fair to punish research institutions if women just aren’t as interested in science as men are? Are there better ways of discouraging sexual discrimination, without discriminating against other successful scientists, both male and female?

Derek Low at In the Pipeline looks at a recent report in Science that followed up on the 1991 members of Yale's Molecular Biology and Biophysics PhD program. Out of 26 PhDs that year, only one of them currently has a tenured academic position.

DrugMonkey on self-perpetuating GoldOldBoys.

Green Gabbro hosted the Carnival of Feminists, and rounded up the science blog discussion about women, sexiness and the workplace.

And speaking of sexiness, Sociological Images posted a commercial featuring a woman scientist who makes a wonderful discovery - a fabulous bra!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Oprah Magazine Honors Women Promoting Science to Girls

Last spring, O, The Oprah Magazine honored 80 "trail-blazing" women as winners of their White House Leadership Project Contest. The November issue of O has profiles of those winning women, three of whom devote themselves to promoting science to girls. The winners:

Déborah Berebichez grew up in Mexico City. She studied mathematics despite being discouraged by family and friends, and earned a PhD in physics from Stanford in 2004. She then moved to New York as a postdoc in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia. According to the article in O, she has left academia, and currently works as a consultant for the financial risk analysis firm MSCI Barra. In her spare time she has been making videos that present science to girls in a fun and friendly format. She hopes that the her series, The Science Of Everyday Life, will eventually be turned into a television show.

Related Links:

Tanya Moore has a BS in mathematics from Spelman College, a Masters from the Mathematical Sciences Department at Johns Hopkins University, and PhD in biostatistics from UC Berkeley. She currently heads the Chronic Disease Prevention Program for the City of Berkeley Public Health Department.
In 2003 she established the Infinite Possibilities Conference, a math conference for minority women and girls. The first conference was held in 2005 at Spelman College. According to an article in the Oakland Tribune:

"Tanya Moore was a clear winner for all the judges," said Liz Brody, news director at the magazine, said in a statement. "We saw that she'd risen above a difficult childhood to excel against all odds, as an African-American woman, in the field of mathematics, which had us right there. But the reason we chose her was that her vision of encouraging minority women in the mathematical sciences was bold — and so needed in this society. And the fact that she'd already taken concrete steps to do this with her Infinite Possibilities Conference demonstrated the kind of leader we were looking for."

Moore is also on the board of Building Diversity in Science.

Related Links:
Jennifer Stimpson has a MA in chemistry. She currently teaches high school chemistry at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center in Dallas. She developed a K-12 chemistry education program called "Get a KIC Out of Science!", where KIC stands for Knowledge in Chemistry.

Related Links
The three women met for the first time at the June conference.
"We're women, we're minorities, we're scientists, and we don't have that geeky look," says Stimpson, "so here's our message: You can be black, Hispanic, or Asian, you can wear Manolos, you can be fly, hip, and dynamic and be a scientist. When a 12-year-old thinks you're cool, that's like getting a million-dollar check."
Original Article: "Chemistry is Hot! Meet 3 Science Rock Stars" O, Nov. 2008.
List of all 80 winners.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Presidential Candidates on Women in Science

The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) sent questionnaires to the Obama and McCain campaigns regarding the candidates' positions on issues affecting women in science. Here are the questions they asked:

  1. In a September 2006 report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, the National Academies stated that, in order to maintain scientific and engineering leadership amid increasing economic and educational globalization, the United States must aggressively pursue the innovative capacity of all people, regardless of sex. Although women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, they continue to be underrepresented in STEM professions, particularly in the higher academic faculty ranks and leadership positions. As President of the United States, how do you plan to address the need for more women in STEM?
  2. What is your position on H.R. 6314, the “Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” recently introduced by Representative Eddie
    Bernice Johnson (DTX)?
  3. For the past thirty-six years, Title IX has been applicable to all educational programs that have received federal funds and not just collegiate athletics. Despite this law, however, there have been indications that it has not been evenly enforced by all federal funding agencies nor adhered to by all educational institutions, as the law initially intended. As President, how would you seek to ensure that Title IX is evenly applied to all sectors of academia, including STEM departments, rather than just athletics?
  4. This fall, voters in Nebraska and Colorado will consider anti-affirmative action initiatives that could affect existing programs which, many feel, have helped establish more opportunities for women and minorities while improving the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in educational institutions and in workplaces. What is your position on these anti-affirmative action initiatives?
  5. The National Science Foundation (NSF) currently has several programs intended to broaden participation in the STEM fields, i.e. the ADVANCE program. As President, how do you plan to maintain and/or strengthen existing NSF programs targeted to increasing diversity in STEM education?
  6. Women on average bear more of the family care-giving responsibilities than men. States such as California, Washington, and New Jersey have implemented paid family leave policies that provide partially paid leave for employees who need to care for seriously ill family members, newborns, and adoptive or foster children. What do you believe is the responsibility of the federal government with regard to paid family leave?
  7. Last summer, the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 11069), a bipartisan authorization bill to bolster U.S. competitiveness through sustained investments in science and engineering research and STEM education, was signed into law. To date, appropriations for the America COMPETES programs have not been consistent with the levels authorized by this bill. As President, how will you seek to ensure that this law is followed and that these funding levels are realized?
Read a side-by-side comparison of the candidates' responses (pdf).

For more on Obama's and McCain's positions on science, see:
Read more about the reports and legislation mentioned in the questions:
(via Pat at Fairer Science)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

November Scientiae Carnival call for posts

The call for posts for the November carnival has been posted by its host, Jane of See Jane Compute. Her suggested theme is "trick or treat":

TRICK: What tricks have you learned in your career as a scientist---to be successful, to stay sane, to achieve balance? Have you felt "tricked" at all by something that's happened to you in school or in your career? Did someone trick you into studying science or math or computers in the first place, or into doing something you didn't believe you could do?

TREAT: Why do you find it a treat to be a scientist/mathematician/technologist/geek/nerd? What are the biggest treats in your job or in your studies? How do you hand out treats to others (i.e., mentoring, random acts of professional kindness)? Have you ever received, or given, a particularly special professional treat?
Submit your post before midnight EST on October 30th. Note that posts originally submitted for the October carnival will be included in the November carnival too.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jill Trent Science Sleuth

Superheroes weren't the only stars of Golden Age of comic books. There were also hard-boiled detectives, keeping America safe by solving crimes. My brother just sent me an awesome example of the genre: Jill Trent Science Sleuth, a short-lived series from Nedor Comics.

The plots are pretty simple: scientist-inventor Jill Trent and her friend Daisy solve a murder mystery (using one of Jill's inventions, natch') and kick the butts of the bad guys. They get into trouble, of course, but always figure out a clever way to escape, rather than waiting to be rescued. And they do it all without mussing their hair or breaking a nail. If you like stories with smart tough women, these comics are definitely for you.

You can read three Jill Trent comics on the Nedor-A-Day blog:

(Thanks for the link Brian!)

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics

Hannah at Twinkle Twinkle YSO has been blogging the 3rd IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics, which finishes up tomorrow (or I guess later today) in Seoul, South Korea. The plenary speakers were:

Read Holly's Posts:

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Penny Sackett Appointed Australia's Chief Scientist

Australian National University (ANU) Professor of Astronomy Penny Sackett has been appointed Australia's first full-time Chief Scientist. Sackett is a native of Nebraska, who earned a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Pittsburgh. She came to ANU in 2002 as Director of its Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Mount Stromlo and Sliding Spring Observatories. She stepped down from that position last year to fogus on research and mentoring roles.

In an interview with ABC Sydney she talked about how she was inspired to study science, and how she hopes to similarly inspire Australian students:

PENNY SACKETT: Well I'd always been interested as a child in understanding the world around us. Just curious in the way most children are.
And originally I thought I would pick a biological field, perhaps medicine. But I had a wonderful teacher in physics in year 11 who made me realize that physics was much more than pulleys and levers as I'd been previously told and I think that was a turning point for me.
MONICA ATTARD: So you were basically lucky enough to be inspired as a child to study science?
PENNY SACKETT: Indeed. I had very supportive parents and excellent teachers and I suppose that is why I have such a high regard for teachers.
MONICA ATTARD: Well clearly that's the kind of inspiration that was important to you but you've also taken up the cause of getting young Australians into the study of science as well and viewing that as being vital.
PENNY SACKETT: Yes, I hope that that is something that I can do in my new post is create a dialogue with young people in this country so that they can understand how much we look to them in shaping the health and wealth of Australia going forward through the fundamental information that can be provided by science.
Sackett has long been interested in education and has certification to teach science and mathematics at the primary and secondary school level.

The primary focus of her new position is to advise politicians on the science behind the issues. She also hopes promote international scientific collaborations.

(thanks to Julie Clutterbuck for the tip!)

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Nobel Snubs

The Nobel prizes have often been controversial, in part because it can only be awarded to three people in each category, and it is only given to living scientists. However, sometimes a scientist is simply left out. Scientific American has put together a list of 10 scientists who deserved a Nobel prize, but did not receive one. Three of the scientists who were "snubbed" are women:

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943- ) detected the first pulsars as a graduate student working under Antony Hewish at the University of Cambridge. Both she and Hewish were recognized for that work, so it came as a surprise to some in the astronomy community that when the first Nobel prize in physics was awarded to astronomers in 1974, it went to Hewish and his colleague Martin Ryle.

Many prominent astronomers expressed outrage, whereas others argued that she only collected data for Hewish to interpret. Burnell never contested the omission, but most reports indicate she contributed more than just the initial observations.
More info:
Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was an Austrian-born Jew who became only the second woman to earn a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna. Early in her career she worked with chemist Otto Hahn on radioactive elements. She had continued success in her career, rising to the position of acting director of the Institute for Chemistry in Berlin. Her position became precarious when Adolf Hitler came to power, and evenutally fled Germany, ending up in Stockholm. She continued to correspond with other German scientists, and met with Hahn to plan experiments in nuclear fission. The political situation, however, made it impossible for her to publish jointly with Hahn. Meitner made a number of contributions to nuclear physics in addition to that collaboration: and her nephew Otto Frisch were the first to describe how the nucleus of an atom could be split into smaller parts, and she was the first to realize that nuclear fission could lead to an enormously explosive chain reaction.
Historians say that Hahn initially indicated that he intended to credit Meitner when it was safe to do so but that, in the end, he took sole credit, claiming that the discovery was his alone. Hahn received the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Meitner was nominated multiple times in both the physics and chemistry categories, but the award always eluded her. Many Nobel omissions are debatable, but, most physicists today agree that Meitner was robbed, says Phillip Schewe, chief science writer for the American Institute of Physics.
More info:
Last, but not least, is probably the best known non-recipients of a Nobel, Rosalind Franklin. In the early 1950s Franklin was a research associate studying the structure of DNA by X-ray diffraction at King's College London. James Watson and Francis Crick at Cambridge University used some of her data, along that of her colleague Maurice Wilkins, to derive their three-dimensional model of DNA structure that was published in 1953. She wasn't really snubbed for her contribution, because she died in 1958, four years before Watson, Crick and Wilkens were awarded the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine.
In his book, The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige, Burton Feldman suggests that, had she been alive, Franklin almost assuredly would have received the prize over Wilkins, whose contribution was deemed nominal by most in the field. In a 2003 interview with Scientific American, Watson suggested she and Wilkins might have shared a separate prize for chemistry, thereby allowing all four of them to receive the award.
More information:

While nominations for the Nobel Prize are made in secret, the Nobel Foundation has released a database of nominations made for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine between 1901 and 1951. A search of the database by gender turns up a list of other women scientists who were nominated by never received an award (if you do a search, note that the database is a bit wonky because there are some men who have been indexed as "female".) A sampling:
  • Cécile Vogt (1875-1962) was a French neurologist who studied the structure of the brain. She was nominated along with her husband Oskar Vogt.
  • Gladys H. Dick was a Chicago doctor and bacteriologist, who, along with her husband George F. Dick, worked on the "etiology, prevention and cure of scarlet fever". It has been speculated that they were not awarded the Noble prize because the fact that they obtained a patent for their scarlet fever test was frowned upon by the Nobel selection committee.
    Read their paper: Dick GF and Dick GH "Scarlet Fever" Am J Public Health (NY) 14(12): 1022-1028 (1924).
  • Helen B. Taussic (1898-1986) was a professor of petriatrics at Johns Hopkins Medical School. She and Alfred Blalock developed a pioneering cardiac surgical procedure, the Blalock-Taussig shunt, to treat infants suffering from blue baby syndrome. She received the Presidental Medal of Freedom in 1964 and was the first female president of the American Heart Association.
Hopefully the Nobel Foundation will also share the nomination information for physics and chemistry.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Science Online '09

This is a duplicate post from my Biology in Science Fiction blog:

Blogging can be a lonely thing. I get a few comments and some feedback, of course, and I comment on other people's blogs too, but it's not really the same as having a face-to-face conversation. That's why I'm excited I'm going to be attending ScienceOnline09, an annual science blogging conference that meets in January at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Speculative fiction writer Stephanie Zvan and I will be co-moderating a session on "Science Fiction on Science Blogs". We are in the early stages of hammering out what exactly we'll be talking about, and suggestions are welcome. If you are interested, you can add to the discussion of our session on the ScienceOnline'09 wiki.

I'm planning on attending the Women in Science & Engineering networking dinner on Friday night, and I hope I get to meet some of you there! (See who else is attending)


Teaching Science With Crafts

The National Museum of American History has a beautiful example of a 19th century quilt depicting the solar system. It was crafted by Sarah Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa in 1876. Baker didn't select the design simply because it's pretty:

Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the 19th century, and was sometimes even fostered in their education.
It makes me wonder whether Baker or the children she taught had access to a telescope, and whether any of them dreamed of professionally studying the stars. Baker's story is also a reminder of the hardships of the 19th century. She died of tuberculosis in 1886 at the age of 39, leaving behind her husband and seven children.

(via label-free via CRAFTzine blog)

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Virologist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi Wins Nobel Prize

Today it was announced that Institut Pasteur virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was one of three winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Barré-Sinoussi and her Institut Pasteur colleague Luc Montagnier were the first to characterize and isolate the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The award announcement details their achievement:

Following medical reports of a novel immunodeficiency syndrome in 1981, the search for a causative agent was on. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier isolated and cultured lymph node cells from patients that had swollen lymph nodes characteristic of the early stage of acquired immune deficiency. They detected activity of the retroviral enzyme reverse transcriptase, a direct sign of retrovirus replication. They also found retroviral particles budding from the infected cells. Isolated virus infected and killed lymphocytes from both diseased and healthy donors, and reacted with antibodies from infected patients. In contrast to previously characterized human oncogenic retroviruses, the novel retrovirus they had discovered, now known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), did not induce uncontrolled cell growth. Instead, the virus required cell activation for replication and mediated cell fusion of T lymphocytes. This partly explained how HIV impairs the immune system since the T cells are essential for immune defence. By 1984, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier had obtained several isolates of the novel human retrovirus, which they identified as a lentivirus, from sexually infected individuals, haemophiliacs, mother to infant transmissions and transfused patients. The significance of their achievements should be viewed in the context of a global ubiquitous epidemic affecting close to 1% of the population.
Barré-Sinoussi currently heads research at the Regulation of Retroviral Infections unit (Unité de Régulation des Infections Rétrovirales) and is working towards better understanding how HIV infection is naturally controlled by infected hosts, work that may help lead to the development of a an anti-HIV vaccine. In 2006 Barré-Sinoussi was elected to the WITI Hall of Fame, and spoke about her work on HIV. Watch the video.

Many of you may recall that there was a bitter dispute in the late 1980s over who had first isolated HIV: the French group at Institut Pasteur or Robert Gallo's research group at the National Cancer Institute. The "official" negotiated settlement was that both research teams had equal priority claims to the discovery and isolation of the virus, but clearly the Nobel Prize committee decided that the French scientists made a more significant contribution to the study of HIV. You can read more about the details of the controversy:
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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Our Humongous Sky and Other Topics

For some smart and interesting woman-on-woman science discussion, check out yesterday's edition of, where science writer Jennifer Ouellette (Cocktail Party Physics) and University of Washington Associate Professor of Astronomy Julianne Dalcanton (Cosmic Variance). They discuss the Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts, the comet named after Julianne, corpse museums, science on TV and teaching science.

They mention the following links:

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can view and download the discussion at

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Portraits of Women Scientists From the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution has been uploading some of their extensive collection of historical photographs to Flickr. One of their sets is a collection of portraits of scientists and inventors. While most of the pictured scientists are bewhiskered men, there are a few women in the set:

Portrait of Agnes Mary Clerke (1842-1907), Astronomer

Agnes Mary Clerke
was born in 1842 in County Clerke, Ireland. While she did not make astronomical observations herself, she instead interpreted and summarized the results of current astronomical research. She was a member of the British Astronomical Association and made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. A number of her books are available through Google Books:

Portrait of Tatiana Ehrenfest, Mathematician
Tatiana Ehrenfest (also known as Tatyana Alexeyevna Afanasyeva and Tatjana Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa) was born in Kiev in 1876. At that time women were not allowed to enroll in the universities in Russia, instead there were special programs which allowed women to take courses in engineering, medicine, and teaching. Tatiana attended such a program in St. Petersburg. She later studied mathematics at the University of Göttingen, where she met her husband, Paul Ehrenfest. In 1912 they moved to Leiden, where Paul succeeded Hendrik Lorentz as a professor at the University of Leiden. They worked closely together and Tatiana published a number of papers on statistical mechanics, entropy and the role of chance in physical processes. She was also interested in methods of teaching mathematics - perhaps it isn't too surprising that one of the Ehrenfests' daughters, Tanja van Aardenne-Ehrenfest, also became a mathematician. A couple of Tatiana's publications:
Portrait of Marie Curie (1867-1934), Physicist
Last, but certainly not least, is a portrait of Marie Sklodowska Curie, one of the most famous women in physics. She was born in Warsaw in 1867 and received a general education there. She eventually ended up at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she earned degrees in physics and mathematical sciencies - and met her husband, Physics Professor Pierre Curie. The Curies initially worked together in their research on radioactive elements, but after Pierre was killed in an accident in 1906, she continued the research on her own. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre and Antoine Becquerel for their "research on the radiation phenomena". Maria Curie also received the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery and characterization of radium. She died in 1934 of aplastic anaemia, likely caused by radiation exposure, missing by only a single year the award of the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie.

The Smithsonian definitely selected portraits of an illustrious group of scientists. There are more portraits in the collection available at “Scientific Identity: Portraits from the Dibner Library

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