Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the US!
To everyone: thank you for reading and commenting!
And on a more serious note, to any of you who live in or have friends or family in Mumbai, I hope you and your loved ones are safe. I am sending good thoughts your way.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the US!
Posted by Peggy at 10:30 AM
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I reviewed Female Science Professor's book, Academeology: Random Musings, Strong Opinions & Somewhat Bizarre Anecdotes from an Academic Life, for the latest issue of Nature.
The very short version: I enjoyed reading Academeology, but I prefer FSP's blog.
- Read the review (it says subscription required, but I'm able to access the whole thing)
- Read the Editor's summary
- Read Female Science Professor's blog
- Check out the table of contents and order a copy of Academeology for yourself
Tags: Academeology, Female Science Professor
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Some see synthetic biology as the future of biotechnology, where standardized biological"parts" are used to simplify the creation biological machines that synthesize drugs or fuel or other useful compounds. One of the prominent scientists in this field is Reshma Shetty, who earned her Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT earlier this year.
Shetty and three other MIT PhDs have teamed up with their adviser Tom Knight to found Ginko Bioworks, a biotech startup that is developing biological parts and technologies for engineered biological systems and helping other biotechs do the same. The "Do It Yourself Life" approach of Shetty and Ginko Bioworks were featured in a special report in Forbes about scientists and engineers who are "inventing the future".
She told Forbes that she is thinking beyond the relatively simple organisms bioengineers are currently creating:
"I don't want to spend a decade making a biofuel," says Shetty. "I want to spend five years doing something even bigger."I suspect we'll be hearing more about Shetty and her work in the coming years.
Tags: Reshma Shetty, synthetic biology,
Monday, November 24, 2008
Just a reminder that the entries for the December Scientiae Carnival are due by midnight on December 1st. The Carnival's gracious hostess will be Dr. Isis.
And if you enjoy reading the Scientiae Carnival, consider volunteering to host it. You can get more information on the official Scientiae blog.
Girl Geek : Someone who is female and has an interest in technology, particularly computing and new media. Not necessarily technically minded.Are you a New York City Girl Geek? You might want to check out the premiere Girl Geek Dinner in New York City, which will be held on Friday, December 5th.
The guests are going to be:
- Ana Radovanovic, a research scientist for Google, and formerly of IBM
- Valerie D'Orazio, writer, blogger (at Occasional Superheroine) and "social media specialist". She's a former assistant editor of Acclaim and DC Comics, and is currently the President of Friends of Lulu, "a national nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry"
- If you are male and wish to attend the event then you will need to be invited by a female attending the event.
- Girls, one date only please! (We want to keep the numbers balanced!)
- The best way around these rules if you’re a guy who wants to attend? Convince or bribe someone to let you be their date for the dinner.
There are Girl Geek Dinners held all around the world. See if there is a group near you.
Tags: Girl Geek Dinners
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The winners of the annual AAAS Science Dance contest were just announced, and they are a lot of fun. Three of the four categories were won by women scientists:
The Graduate Student winner is Sue Lynn Lau, who is working on her Ph.D. at Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. She interpreted her thesis, "The role of vitamin D in beta-cell function" in a sort-of ballet. Lau "appears as the Sugarplum Fairy, delivering marshmallow glucose to four beta cell dancers. Meanwhile, a fifth dancer flings and twirls around the stage--representing the sunlight required for vitamin D biosynthesis." Read the full description of her thesis.
The Post-Doc winner is Miriam Sach, who completed her PhD, "Cerebral activation patterns induced by inflection of regular and irregular verbs with positron emission tomography. AS comparison between single subject and group analysis", at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany in 2004. She is currently a post-doc at UC San Diego. Read more about her research.
Finally, the Popular Choice winner was graduate student Markita Landry's "Sinle Molecule Measurements of Protelomerase TelK-DNA Complexes". Landry expects to complete here thesis at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in 2011. Read more about her research.
Watch all the Runner-Up and other contestants' videos.
Tags: AAAS Science Dance Contest, video
Thanks to everyone who has been linking here over the past few months. I'd like to give a couple of special thank-yous.
Indiana University Professor Richard Hake has included Women in Science in his list of education blogs. It's part of his larger project compiling resources for physics education.
Long ago Nina Munteanu kindly awarded me the Excellent Blog award. I was meant to pass it on by listing 10 more blogs, but I couldn't narrow down my choices to only ten. All of you reading this can consider yourself awarded and pass it on.
All Diva Media has listed me as one of 20 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2009 . Follow the link and check out some of the other cool blogs by women.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Google has just added images from the LIFE photo archive - both published and unpublished - to its image search, and there are some great photos of women scientists.
Some of my favorites (click on the photo to see a larger version and related images):
|"Biologist/author Rachel Carson sitting at microscope as she prepares to examine tissue on a petrie dish at her home." Taken September 24, 1962 by Alfred Eisenstaedt.|
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a marine biologist and writer, who is probably best known for her book Silent Spring, which revealed the detrimental effects of the widespread use of pesticides and weed killers on the environment.
| "Mathematics senior Judith Gorenstein working at blackboard at MIT." Taken February 11, 1956 by Gjon Mili.|
Judith Gorenstein Ronat was the president of the math club when this photo was taken. She is currently a psychiatrist in Israel. You can read more about her in this Technology Review article about the 50th anniversary of the Life photo shoot.
| "Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, Professor of Physics at Columbia Univ". Taken in 1952 by Gjon Mili.|
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) emigrated from China to the US in 1936, received her doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1940 and contributed to the Manhattan Project by developing a process to produce bomb-grade uranium. She was the first woman instructor in the Princeton University physics department, and was a member of the Columbia physics faculty from 1944 to 1980. According to Wikipedia, her work contributed to the development of parity laws by Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Ynag, but she did not share their Nobel Prize, "a fact widely blamed on sexism by the selection committee."
| "TIME INTERNATIONAL cover 01-19-2004 featuring Italian astronomer Sandra Savaglio re migration of Europe's top intelligencia to the US"|
Astrophysicist Sandra Savaglio is currently on the faculty of the Physics & Astronomy Department of Johns Hopkins University.
| "Chemist Marie Curie (1867-1934) in her laboratory." Taken in 1911.|
I don't think Marie Curie needs an introduction. This photo was presumably taken at the time she won her second Nobel Prize, "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."
| "Scientist, Marie P. Fish, discussing sound producing sea creatures at annual meeting of A.A.A.S., at University of California." Taken in December 1954 by Nat Farbman.|
Marie Poland Fish (1901-1989) was an oceanographer and marine biologist who studied underwater sound detection. Her research helped the US Navy devise methods for distingushing the sonar signals from schools of fish from the signals generated by submarines. Read her obituary in the NY Times.
|"Scientist looking over ampules of vaccine at the Pasteur Institute." Taken in 1938.|
The woman in this photo isn't identified. 1938 marked the 50th anniversary of the Institut Pasteur in Paris.
Tags: women in science, Life Magazine, portraits
Alom Shaha teaches science at an inner city comprehensive school in London. He has started a web project to help convince his students that science is important. He says:
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I wear my passion for science on my sleeve, but I don’t think that’s enough to convince all my students that science is important. Nor do I think, like some in my profession, that the importance of science is implicit in the courses we teach, that it will somehow seep into my students’ consciousness through the sheer number of hours they spend doing “science” at school.Shaha already has a number of responses by scientists posted on the "Why Is Science Important?" blog. He is hoping to find more women scientists to contribute, particularly video and audio items. General entries about why science is important to you are welcome, but he is also hoping to have "at least one piece that perhaps looked at why science can be important for women in particular."
So, I’ve started this film and blog project in which I want to ask the question “why is science important?” to people who feel the importance of science so deeply that they have dedicated their lives to it — working scientists, science writers and, of course, science teachers. I’m making a documentary, funded by The Wellcome Trust, and running this “collective blog” as I work on the film. Bits from the blog will appear in the film and bits of the film will appear on the blog. The idea is that the two will inform and enrich each other.
Here is an entry from Rosie Coates, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at University College London.
If you are interested in contributing, contact Alom Shaha.
Tags: women in science, Why is science important, video
Monday, November 17, 2008
The December Scientiae Blog Carnival will be hosted by Dr. Isis, who has chosen the theme:
My Science is Hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys Because...For those of you not in the know, Naughty Monkeys are colorful shoes.
Dr. Isis has explained further:
This month I want to hear about all the amazing science you're throwing down or reading about. Or, perhaps you have a lesson to share with more junior scientists to help increase the hotness of their science. Do you have a secret to share with those of us trying to make everything happen and still be fabulous? This month's Scientiae is prime time for male and female science bloggers to boast about their hotness to the rest of the science blogosphere. Submit your posts by midnight December 1st to email@example.com.Tags: scientiae carnival, women in science
The Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology has a fantastic online exhibit on Women's Work: Portraits of 12 Scientific Illustrators from the 17th to the 21st Century.
There are a number of pre-20th century women made important contributions to science with their illustrations of the natural world. Their work was often undervalued, at least compared to "real" science. Take, for example, the comments of John Lindley, who was the first Professor of Botany at the University of London and Assistant Secretary to the Royal Horticultural Society:
Because of his passion for his subject and his tremendous influence, he can be credited with shaping the science of botany, but he also took the lead in a movement to divide botanical studies into gender specific categories, identifying certain practices as those acceptable for women such as collecting, painting, and tutoring of children, and reserving true research as masculine science. On April 30, 1829, in his inaugural speech as Professor of Botany, he stated “It has been very much the fashion of late years, in this country, to undervalue the importance of this science, and to consider it an amusement for ladies rather than an occupation for the serious thoughts of men,” establishing a divisive agenda that was felt long afterwards.It's little wonder that women's contributions to science have been so often forgotten. Exhibits like this help correct that. Here are some of the women that are profiled (be sure to click the links to see the illustrations):
Sarah Drake (1803-1857), who trained as a botanical illustrator under the above-mentioned John Lindley.
Drake was extremely prolific, creating well over 1000 illustrations for the Botanical Register alone. Her career ended when the Botanical Register ceased publication in 1847.Anna Lister (1671-?), who, along with her sister Susanna, illustrated the publications of her father, Dr. Martin Lister.
As the sisters grew, they would have had the benefit of observing the talented William Lodge engraving their father’s early publications. Some illustrations that he had completed for previous Lister publications were used again in Historiae Conchyliorum and it is likely that he engraved some of the plates from the Listers’ drawings, but after Lodge’s death in 1689, the pair replaced him as their father’s illustrators and engravers for his grand work, as well as for the articles he and others published in the Philosophical Transactions.Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
Merian came from the tradition of flower painting, but she was foremost a scientist: she was one of the first to study metamorphosis and one of the first to publish images of tropical plants, the first to understand and describe the relationships between animals along with their host plants. The work produced from her Surinam voyage was remarkably influential.Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841), who worked with her husband, John Gould, on illustrating the fauna from around the world.
Elizabeth’s greatest adventure began on May 16, 1838. Leaving all but her oldest child with her mother, she and John set sail for Australia. Over the next two years, Elizabeth made hundreds of drawings from specimens for the publications Birds of Australia and A Monograph of the Macropodidæ, or Family of Kangaroos, as well as fifty illustrations for the Ornithology volume of Charles Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle. She also accompanied John into the Australian bush, giving her a thrilling, first-hand glimpse of her subjects.Anna Maria Hussey (1805-?) was the illustrator and author of Illustrations of British Mycology.
Hussey was a strong willed woman who approached her personal researches with an enthusiasm that she did not quite feel for her role as a clergyman’s wife. She resisted when she was called upon by “every old woman in the parish” and she chafed at her husband’s reminders of her duties. She was a prolific writer, the author of published fiction, as well as the extensive text that accompanied the plates in Illustrations of British Mycology. During her most creative period, she maintained an active and candid correspondence with her mycological mentor, Reverend M. J. Berkley, which provides many details of her daily life and work.Sarah "Sadie" Price (1849-1903) began as a watercolor teacher, who ended up collecting plants and studying the sciences.
She wrote papers and gave lectures on plants, birds, insects, fishes, shells, clouds and astronomy. Between 1893 and 1907, she penned over forty scientific papers which were published in a variety of popular and scientific journals. She organized and taught classes out of her home. Her nature studies classes were so popular that that they persisted for nearly thirty years after her death.The exhibit also profiles contemporary scientific illustrators Sally Bensusen, Megan Bluhm, Marlene Hill Donnelly, Bee Gunn, Jessa Huebing-Reitinger, and Yevonn Wilson-Ramsey.
For more botanical illustrations by women, see the web site for the Getty Center exhibit "Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters: Women of Art and Science"
Image: Illustration by Maria Sibylla Merian of Surinam peppers. "She was fascinated by the interaction of plants and people, taking an approach that today would be called ethnobotany"
Tags: women in science, botany, illustration, Maria Sibylla Merian, Sarah Drake, Anna Lister, Anna Maria Hussey, Sadie Price
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Some interesting links I've collected over the past month or so:
ScienceWoman chronicles a day in her life as a 2nd year assistant professor with "an almost 2 year old": Part 1 (midnight - 8:39am), Part 2 (9:10am-5pm), Part 3 (5:20pm-midnight). ScienceWoman does not get much sleep!
There's a discussion at Dr. Isis's blog about whether (and how) women scientists should be allowed to "express their femininity". There are lots of comments (including mine), representing a wide range of opinions, from "I can't take feminine women seriously" to "I love being a girly girl" and lots in-between. And there is more discussion at ScientistMother, Candid Engineer, Professor Chaos, and Zuska's.
Asparagirl has a nice post at Metafilter about the women of ENIAC
James at The Island of Doubt writes about Alexandra Morton, who has made significant contributions to marine biology without a PhD.
Jane Goodall was one of two winners of the Leakey Prize in human evolutionary science. She was also named a Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year.
Alice of Sciencewomen reported back from a day long Association of Women in Science workshop on "what works"
Nancy Jane Moore at Ambling Along the Aqueduct points to an essay in Bitch Magazine aon women and ambition.
ScienceWoman writes about pseudonymity in the "women in science" blogging community:
Also, the I think issue of trust is different in our community than in other parts of the science blog universe. Most of us are not using women-in-science blogs as a way of increasing our scientific knowledge. They are certainly no substitute for reading journal articles or time at the bench, field, or model. We are using women-in-science blogs to to learn from others, get tips on career development, cooking, paper-writing, and child-rearing. We are using women-in-science blogs to participate in a community of people who work in scientific/engineering fields and are interested in combining our demanding career with *some* sort of life outside the lab. And in this sort of community, it seems to be less important whether the blogger is Ariel, an astronomer in Arizona, than whether the blogger can provide insight into how to reach for the stars while keeping your feet on the ground. (And commenters too have such an important role in this community when you provide support, constructive criticism, sympathy, and encouragement).Janet Stemwedel (aka Dr. Free-Ride) has some good reasons to blog under a pseudonym.
An article in Salon about "the momification" of Michelle Obama has inspired a great post by Kate about how family friendly workplaces are not only a woman's issue:
But here's the thing: making a workplace more family friendly is a fight that cannot be one by women alone. Women cannot be the only ones making a ruckus in the workplace and fighting with themselves, their peers and their bosses to effect change. If we make a nurturant woman's workplace more friendly but not her partner's, it means the woman is always being flexible, always ceding her own wishes, because it is more permissive in her workplace.There's also discussion of the article at Geeky Mom.
A study of western anatomy textbooks used at European, American, and Canadian universities has shown - not surprisingly - that the "universal model" is a white male.
The researcher also points out that using female bodies to illustrate body parts that are identical in both sexes is a recent development. “Up until virtually the 1990s, male Caucasians were used exclusively to represent anatomical bodies, with female bodies appearing only in fragments to represent their sexual organs.”Lisa at Sociological Images shows a set of books for kids for sale at the NASA John Glenn Research Center that imply that "women scientists" are a separate category from simply "scientists". Would you buy a book for your daughter titled You Can Be a Woman Zoologist?
Barral points out that these biased views persist, with an image appearing in the popular science magazine Mente y Cerebro as late as 2003 that made the female brain appear to come between that of a child and an adult male in the evolutionary process.
Valleywag notes that a recently touted milestone - more than half of Silicon Valley companies have at least one woman on the their board of directors - isn't really so great. That's actually still far less than the 89% of S&P 500 companies include at least one woman on their boards.
Tags: women in science, gender gap, stereotypes
Friday, November 14, 2008
Joan Ramage Macdonald is an Assistant Professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences department at Lehigh University. Maura E. Sullivan is a graduate student in ecology. Both of them do their research in the field, rather than in the lab. And both of them had a baby last year. They wrote about their experiences doing fieldwork with their babies for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
They were happy to bring their babies into the field as long as conditions permitted. And they have what seems like a broad definition of acceptible conditions. For example, Macdonald took her baby Iona while she did her research in the Arctic:
As someone who prefers a climate-controlled environment, I find that hard to imagine. But Joan and her family are obviously of hardier stock than me.
When we got to the Yukon in March, the temperatures were well below freezing (-13ºF, -25ºC) but balmy by northern standards, and our baby was just nine weeks old. On the first day of field work, we snowshoed to the research site with Iona strapped on. We had to outfit her for cold weather and protect her from the sun. We had to carry both Iona and our field gear, and learn when and how to change a wet diaper in the deep snow.
Three Lehigh students came to help me with the fieldwork for three weeks, while my husband took care of our baby. I had to pump breast milk far from electricity or the warmth and power of the car, so I modified my pump to make it battery-powered and portable, and fit it into a backpack with the rest of the gear. I pumped on many a snow bank.
Both Joan and Maura are fortunate to have helpful spouses and other family members who share the child care responsibilities so they can focus on their research. They list the lessons they learned while with their babies in the field, and conclude it's good for everyone:
- Fieldwork is good for babies: It teaches them adaptability and a love of the outdoors. Their exposure to students is mutually stimulating and fun, and they benefit from a strong relationship with their caregiver, whether that is a parent, a grandparent, or a nanny.
- Fieldwork is good for mothers: It helps you maintain a field program and your involvement with students. Outdoor time with your baby blends interests. Exercise at this stage is key for your psyche (and physique).
(via ScienceWoman, who notes it's trickier with a toddler, and Zuska)
Tags: women in science, geoscience, mothers
Those of you who read my other blog have probably seen this, but for those of you who don't:
ScienceOnline09 is an annual science communication conference that brings together scientists, bloggers, educators, and students to discuss promoting public understanding of science. Stephanie Zvan and I will be moderating a session on science fiction as a tool for science communication. We're looking for input on the topic and to start an online conversation between science fiction writers and science bloggers.If you'd like to participate in the online discussion, get the questions, then post your answers on your blog.
Participation is easy:
Questions about science and its relationship to science fiction are posted at my blog - Biology in Science Fiction - and at Stephanie's blog Almost Diamonds. Send us a link to your answers on your own blog or post the link the comments at either site. If you're a writer without a blog, you can post your answers directly at either site.
We will then collect links to the posts on the ScienceOnline09 conference wiki, as well as our own blogs, and facilitate a discussion on the different ways science and science fiction are used.
I look forward to seeing your contributions!
Tags: ScienceOnline09, science fiction, blogs
Thursday, November 13, 2008
MIT engineering instructor Amy Smith eschews high tech gadgets and glossy technology for practical solutions to the problems of some of the poorest people in the world. An article about Smith in Popular Mechanics focused on her recent work in Peru, developing a method of turning old corncobs into charcoal:
[...] Smith is a rising star in a field known as appropriate technology, which focuses on practical, usually small-scale designs to solve problems in the developing world. She has brought four undergrads to Compone, along with Jesse Austin-Breneman, an MIT graduate who works for a community organization in Peru, and one of her engineering collaborators, 53-year-old Gwyndaf Jones. To get here, the team has lugged bags of tools and low-tech gadgets, water-testing equipment and a heavy wooden crate bearing a pedal-powered grain mill more than 3500 miles in taxis, airplanes and buses.I imagine it's quite a shock for students to go from relatively cushy student life in Cambridge to countries where rough conditions are the norm and access to clean drinking water isn't guaranteed (it certainly would be fore me). I think it would also be quite challenging to try to come up with engineering solutions when resources are extremely limited - a far cry from the well-equipped labs at MIT. But it must be immensely satisfying to work on projects that directly improve people's quality of life, even if it does mean the occasional case of the runs.
The charcoal project is the responsibility of Mary Hong, a 19-year-old branching out beyond her aerospace major this semester. She and the other students, coincidentally all women, are enrolled in Smith's D-Lab, a course that is becoming quietly famous beyond the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass. The D is for development, design and dissemination; last fall, more than 100 students applied for about 30 slots. To prepare for their field work, D-Lab students live for a week in Cambridge on $2 per day. (Smith joins in.) Right now, eight more D-Lab teams are plying jungle rivers, hiking goat trails and hailing chicken buses in seven additional countries—Brazil, Honduras, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, India and China. In Smith's view, even harsh aspects of Third World travel have their benefits. "If you get a good bout of diarrhea from a waterborne disease," she says, "you really understand what it means to have access to clean drinking water."
Smith has received a number of honors for her work: she was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2000, and was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004.
In 2006 she gave a TED talk about turning farm waste into fuel:
Smith also organizes the annual International Development Design Summit, which brings together professors, students, craftsmen, members of industry and others interested developing innovative prototypes to help the developing world. See her 7 Rules of Low-Cost Design for more about her approach to engineering.
Tags: Amy Smith, D-Lab, Appropriate Technology
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
This may be old news to some of you, but I recently stumbled onto this interesting podcast about Margaret Wertheim's 1997 book Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars. Her central premise is that physics has been linked to religion since Pythagoras' time in ancient Greece, and the historical exclusion of women from physics has a similar basis as the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Very interesting!
Read the transcript or listen to the program.
Also check out the interview with Wertheim at Inkling Magazine for more about her recent projects.
Tags: Margaret Wertheim, Pythagoras Trousers, physics
In 1795 a shy young man by the name of Antoine-August Le Blanc enrolled at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. Le Blanc's brilliance in a mathematics course caught the attention of the class's supervisor, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, because the student had been notorious for his poor math skills. The student eventually was forced to confess the truth to Lagrange: the real Le Blanc had dropped out and, in fact, he was really a she named Sophie Germain.
Germain was the daughter of a merchant whose interest in mathematics was inspired by the reading a history of Archimides, who, legend has it, was killed because he was so focused on studying a geometric figure he failed to hear the questioning of a Roman soldier. Equally fascinated, she taught herself basic number theory and calculus, often studying late into the night. Her parents tried to deter her from her new-found passion by taking away her candles and source of heat, but Sophie continued her studies despite those hardships. Eventually she received her parents' blessing, and her father ended up supporting her research financially.
Her outing to Lagrange turned out to be a blessing:
Lagrange was astonished and pleased to meet the young woman, and became her mentor and friend. At last Sophie Germain had a teacher who could inspire her, and with whom she could be open about her skills and ambitions.Unsure of how Gauss would respond to a woman, she wrote to him using the Le Blanc pseudonym, and under that name continued a regular mathematical correspondence with him. Her true identity was only revealed when she asked a friend who was a General in Napoleon's army to guarantee Gauss's safety during the French invasion of Prussia. Like Legrange, Gauss turned out to readily accept her true identity, writing:
Germain grew in confidence and she moved from solving problems in her course work to studying unexplored areas of mathematics. Most importantly, she became interested in number theory and inevitably she came to hear of Fermat's Last Theorem. She worked on the problem for several years, eventually reaching the stage where she believed she had made an important breakthrough. She needed to discuss her ideas with a fellow number theorist and decided that she would go straight to the top and consult the greatest number theorist in the world, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.
But how to describe to you my admiration and astonishment at seeing my esteemed correspondent Monsieur Le Blanc metamorphose himself into this illustrious personage who gives such a brilliant example of what I would find it difficult to believe. A taste for the abstract sciences in general and above all the mysteries of numbers is excessively rare: one is not astonished at it: the enchanting charms of this sublime science reveal only to those who have the courage to go deeply into it. But when a person of the sex which, according to our customs and prejudices, must encounter infinitely more difficulties than men to familiarize herself with these thorny researches, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, then without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius.Eventually Gauss broke off his correspondence, and Germain shifted her own research from number theory to applied mathematics and physics, at which she also excelled.
The occasion was the demonstration by a visitor to Paris, one E. F. F. Chladni, of curious patterns produced on small glass plates covered with sand and played, as though the plates were violins, by using a bow. The sand moved about until it reached the nodes, and the array of patterns resulting from the "playing" of different notes caused great excitement among the Parisian polymaths. It was the first "scientific visualization" of two-dimensional harmonic motion. Napoleon authorized an extraordinary prize for the best mathematical explanation of the phenomenon, and a contest announcement was issued.With the help of other mathematicians, she reapplied and eventually won the prize. Her paper "Memoir on the Vibrations of Elastic Plates" laid the foundation of the modern theory of elasticity. The prize helped Germain meet other prominent mathematicians and gave her entrance to sessions at the Academy of Sciences and Institut de France, the only woman so honored.
Sophie Germain's entry was the only one. While it contained mathematical flaws and was rejected, her approach was correct. All the other possible entrants in the contest were prisoners of the ruling paradigm, consideration of the underlying molecular structure theorized for materials. The mathematical methodologies appropriate to the molecular view could not cope with the problem. But Germain was not so encumbered.
Her old friend Gauss eventually convinced the University of Gottengen to award her an honorary degree, but sadly she lost her two year battle with breast cancer before she could receive it. She was only 55 at the time of her death. She never married.
Despite the awards and honors she received during her lifetime, she was not completely accepted because of her sex. HJ Mozans noted in his 1913 history Women in Science:
All things considered, she was probably the most profoundly intellectual woman that France has ever produced. And yet, strange as it may seem, when the state official came to make out her death certificate, he designated her as a rentière-annuitant [a single woman with no profession]—not as a mathématicienne. Nor is this all. When the Eiffel Tower was erected, in which the engineers were obliged to give special attention to the elasticity of the materials used, there were inscribed on this lofty structure the names of seventy-two savants. But one will not find in this list the name of that daughter of genius, whose researches contributed so much toward establishing the theory of the elasticity of metals—Sophie Germain. Was she excluded from this list for the same reason she was ineligible for membership in the French Academy—because she was a woman? If such, indeed, was the case, more is the shame for those who were responsible for such ingratitude toward one who had deserved so well of science, and who by her achievements had won an enviable place in the hall of fame.Today there is a street named after her in Paris, and her statue stands in the courtyard of the Ecole Sophie Germain.
More information about Sophie Germain:
- NOVA: The Proof: Math's Hidden Woman
- Sophie Germain: Revolutionary Mathematician
- Biographies of Women Mathematicians: Sophie Germain
- Sophie Germain and Fermat's Last Theorem
- Science News: A Mathematical Tragedy
Monday, November 10, 2008
Today's post is about a woman scientist doing some cool research.
Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London, studies resistance to disease in wildlife, including wild boars and sea lions. However, some of her research subjects are much larger: the blue whales, gray whales, and sperm whales that migrate along the Gulf of California. She's trying to understand what diseases wild populations of these whales carry, but taking blood samples - the usual method of analysis - is impossible. Instead she and her research team have devised a novel method of sample collection (picture):
Her new technique involves using a 3.5-foot (about a meter) remote-controlled helicopter with Petri dishes attached to the craft's bottom. When the equipment is ready, Acevedo-Whitehouse and her colleagues work aboard a small boat, scanning the ocean for the whales' blows, which appear as a sprinkler mist shooting from the ocean surface. The mist contains the whale's exhalation of air, water vapor and sometimes mucus. Once the whale is spotted, an operator directs the helicopter directly above and through the mist, which sprays up onto the Petri dishes.Any microorganisms collected on the Petri dishes are identified by DNA sequence analysis.
I wonder if the members of her research team squabble over who gets to run the mucus-collecting helicopter, which sounds like a lot of fun.
Acevedo-Whitehouse, who is originally from Mexico, chose to pursue her PhD in Europe because there were better opportunities ther for both her and her husband, who is also a scientist. A crude translation into English of what she said in an interview earlier this year:
I decided to come and study in Europe because wanted a place where my husband and I were able to conduct the studies that we are interested. In Mexico there was no chance, not for his area, which is neuroscience, or mine that is the study of diseases with molecular techniques. We're looking at a site where the two could do what we wanted, and found Cambridge.After earning her doctorate at Cambridge, she joined the Institute of Zoology in London.
Acevedo-Whitehouse's ties to Mexico have been useful in her research. Her whale disease study is in collaboration with colleagues in Mexico, and she currently serves as the European delegate for the Mexican Society of Marine Mastozoology (SOMEMMA).
Tags: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, zoology, marine biology
Saturday, November 08, 2008
The finalists for the 2008 Blogging Scholarship have been announced and there is one woman science blogger on the list: Danielle Lee of St. Louis, who blogs at Urban Science Adventures. Lees studies the behavior of prairie voles, both in the lab and in the field. She blogs about her own research and urban wildlife in general.
She'll also be at the ScienceOnline09 conference moderating the "Race in science - online and offline" panel.
The winner of the scholarship will receive $10,000. You can vote for Danielle Lee here.
(And as a side note: I realize I haven't updated the women science bloggers blogroll in a while. That's in my plans for next week. Apologies for you bloggers waiting to be added.)
Tags: women in science, blogs
Friday, November 07, 2008
The November Scientiae blog carnival is up at See Jane Compute, with the them of "trick or treat". My parents are visiting from out of town, so I haven't had a chance to read the entries yet, but it looks like she's collected a bunch of interesting links. Go check it out.
Tags: scientiae carnival
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Stanford University plant biologist Sharon R. Long is the only woman on the team of science advisors assembled by Barak Obama in September. Long's lab studies the symbiotic interaction of Rhizobium bacteria and alfalfa roots to form nodules. Root nodules are able to take nitrogen from the air to form ammonia, which is used by plants to synthesize amino acids, nucleotides and other cellular components. This ability allows the plants to grow with less nitrogen fertilizer than required by other crops, making the process of great interest to the agricultural industry. There has, in fact, been some criticism of Obama's choice of Long because of her ties to the agricultural biotech company Monsanto, on whose board of directors she served until last fall.
Long was interviewed about science under the Obama administration by Steve Mirsky for the Scientific American Science Talk podcast. Listen to the interview.
More information about Long:
- Monya Baker of "The Niche" (Nature's stem cell blog) on Long's talk at the annual gathering of science writers in Palo Alto last month.
- Dean of the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, 2001-2007
- Monsanto Board of Directors, 2002-2007
- MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 1992
- Elected National Academy of Science Member
- Current member of the National Academy of Science governing Council
Monday, November 03, 2008
The ASU School of Life Sciences podcast has a episode that talks about
women, girls and science:
Author and freelance writer Linley Hall takes us on a journey through the classrooms and hallways of American in search of what nurtures or hobbles the genius in children, particularly girls, and women as they pursue their interests and careers in math, science, and technology. How can men and women help themselves to advance and get the mentorship they need or become the mentors they need to be? Listen in and discover some of the stumbling blocks in academia and business that can hold you back or your students, associates, partners and faculty?Listen to the podcast "Who's Afraid of Marie Curie?"
Tags: women in science, gender gap
I just loaded up the front page of the blog and noticed that the ad at the top was for voting Yes on California's Proposition 8. I am actually strongly opposed to Prop 8, which would eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry in California and was dismayed to see the ad there at the top of the page. It points out one of the risks of using Google's Adsense ads: they are based on "keywords" in the content of the text on the page. Usually that works pretty well, but there is no guarantee that the advertisers who have bid on a particular keyword or keywords are advertising something you'd actually want associated with your site.
I've removed the ads, at least until I've figured out if this is fixable.
ETA: Now I'm seeing those ads on almost every web site using Adsense. I wonder if that's because I'm surfing from a California IP address.
Posted by Peggy at 9:54 AM