Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Women Scientists and Engineers on NOVA's scienceNOW

PBS has just made a bunch of their programs available online, including their science news show, NOVA scienceNOW. Each episode includes a profile of a scientist or engineer doing interesting research.

The segments are short and full of human interest, with "how we met" bits from the spouse, and emphasis on hobbies. There's some science too, of course, but the overall tone is light and breezy. The take home message is science is cool and so are scientists, which isn't a bad thing at all.

The women profiled in the full online episodes are:

Cynthia Breazeal, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and Director of the Robotic Life Group at the MIT Media Lab.

"A daring engineer designs robots to communicate and interact the way people do.
Watch the complete episode with the segment on Breazeal. Read the program's transcript.

More information:

Edith Widder, marine biologist and bioluminescence specialist, deep-sea explorer and founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association.
"Meet a marine biologist and explorer who has engineered new ways to spy on deep-sea creatures."
Watch the complete episode with the segment on Widder. Read the transcript.

More information:

Other ScienceNOW segments are available online too, but only as Quicktime movies:

Yoky Matsuoka, neuroboticist (robotics + neuroscience) at the University of Washington.
Profile page (with video). Transcript.

Pardis Sabeti, Harvard geneticist and genomics expert.
Profile page (with video). Transcript

Bonnie Basler, Princeton biologist who studies how bacteria "talk".
Profile page (with video). Transcript.

Naomi Halas, Rice University nanotech expert.
Profile page (with video). Transcript.

Julie Schablitsky, archaeologist studying the Donner Party site and other areas important to the history of the American West.
Profile page (with video). Transcript.

Watching the videos (or reading the transcripts) of a bunch of the profiles, it's striking how much more the women profiled talked about their personal lives than the men. I don't know if that is because of the questions they were asked or not, but I was pretty surprised that Naomi Halas was asked point blank whether the reason she and her husband didn't have children because of her work. The answer: no, they wanted children, but she couldn't have them, which seems like a very personal revelation. When most the men were interviewed we don't even find out whether they have children or not, let alone whether they wanted to have kids. I realize that's likely because there is a social expectation is that "normal" women want to be mothers and are more interested in having a life outside the lab then men, but it's disappointing that the show's questions went in that direction.

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