Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Poster Project

The Poster Project wants to change the way that scientists are viewed by the general public:

The primary goal of this project is to change the intellectual and emotional climate surrounding the idea of scientific research in order to increase the number of women and girls who choose to pursue careers related to the physical sciences and mathematics, and to retain, at the high school and university level and beyond, women who have already chosen such careers.

The other major goal is to encourage scientific literacy by humanizing the image of science and the scientist (from .
To that end they have a series of posters depicting real women in the sciences, created by artist Pamela Davis Kivelson. There are biographies of the project participants to go along with the posters.

You can purchase individual posters for $30 each, or buy a topically-related set. Perfect for the science classroom!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Female Canadian Scientists

Most of my posts have focused on science and scientists who were born or work in the U.S. I'm trying to remedy that a bit, but I'm mostly limited to sites in English. Anyone who knows of good sites about female scientists that aren't in English should feel free to leave a comment or email me (my address is in the sidebar). So, in the spirit of internationalism, this post focuses on America's neighbor to the north. has profiles of 50 Canadian women in science. The profiles range from pathologist Maud Abbott (1869-1940), to mathematician Cathleen Synge Morawetz, to geochemist Alice Wilson (1881-1964) to molecular biologist and current President of Princeton University Shirley Tilghman. It's a database worth perusing .

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Iranian Women Studying Science

A 2003 report by Radio Free Europe (and reposted by The Pars Times) points to the increasing number of women attending college in Iran. At some universities more than 60% of the entrants are women.

All told, [women] currently make up some 10 percent of the work force. But with women comprising 60 percent of all university students, that number is set to grow dramatically. Dr. Peyvandi says it is a historic change. "In the early years of the revolution, about one-third of the women who were working were laid off by the new regime. Now, instead of those female office workers and secretaries, Iranian women are returning as factory engineers and specialists," he said. "So in fact, Iran's labor market is facing an influx of female specialists who can replace men, and with the very male-oriented structure of Iranian society, this is a big change. In Iran there is now a labor force made up of women specialists that never existed in Iranian history."
The Education Ministry has even suggested a quota system for men in programs with a high percentage of female students, like medicine.

This influx of educated women into the workforce has spurred some social changes, with couples marrying later and having fewer children. That's not to say that there have not been obstacles: the changes are decried by social conservatives who see a "threat to traditional values", while the high rate of unemployment leaves many university-educated women (and men) jobless.

(thanks to reader Gary Doolittle for the links)

Photo: Members of the Department of Stem Cell Research at the Royan Institute in Tehran

Related Stories:
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Anniversary of the Challenger Accident

Twenty-one years ago, on January 28, 1986, NASA mission STS-51-L ended in disaster, when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds after launch.

The crew consisted of Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka; teacher Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis; Mission Specialist, Judith Resnik, PhD; Pilot Michael J. Smith, Commander Dick Scobee, and Mission Specialist Ron McNair, PhD. All of their lives were cut too short.

Since this blog is about women in science, I'd like to say a little more about Judith Resnik. Resnik received her doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977. She worked as a design engineer at RCA on NASA-related projects, as a senior systems engineer with Xerox and as a biomedical engineer at the National Institutes of Health.

She said that she never hesitated to pursue an engineering career despite the few number of women in the field. "I was always good in math and science, and I liked it. Maybe I liked it because I was good in it." (Challenger Center Profile)
In January 1978 she was selected for the astronaut program and joined NASA. Her first mission was on the initial voyage of the space shuttle Discovery in 1984, making her the second American woman in space*. The Challenger was her second mission.

Senator (and former astronaut) John Glenn noted at her memorial service that she died doing what she loved:
Now let me speak of happiness. It has been my observation that the happiest of people, the vibrant doers of the world are almost always those who are using - who are putting into play, calling upon, depending upon-the greatest number of their God-given talents and capabilities. For them, curiosity is a way of life, and the quest for knowledge and the new is insatiable and exhilarating.

But it becomes many-fold more meaningful when put to use for a higher purpose, for something bigger than self, for a goal that calls on those individuals to dictate themselves to accomplishment for the betterment of our nation, and indeed for all mankind. The individual's safety takes second place to that curiosity, that quest, that daring and dedication with the highest of purpose.

Judy Resnik, whom we both honor and memorialize here today, was such a person in every sense of those words. I know that from talking to her in my office after her first flight. She and her fellow crew members knew that exultation of accomplishment, the triumph of spirit that came from dedication to a purpose larger than themselves. They would never have joined those tepid and vacuous souls whose only goal is self-interest and safety, and neither can we.
Today the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) confers the Judith A. Resnik Award "to recognize outstanding contributions to space engineering" in her honor.

Additional Reading

* The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, PhD, who was a Mission Specialist on Challenger's 1983 voyage.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Valerie Sheares Ashby

UNC-Chapel Hill magazine, endeavors, profiles polymer chemist Valerie Sheares Ashby.

Ashby discovers, designs, and synthesizes new bioelastomers — soft materials which can be incorporated into human tissue. She encountered them by accident while finding new ways to combine the long chains of molecules that we call polyesters. Typically, materials that are FDA-approved for health purposes, from joint replacement to drug delivery, are crystalline and rigid, providing little flexibility or malleability. On the other hand, bioelastomers are very…well, elastic. Anything doctors put into patients’ bodies, Ashby maintains, should possess mechanical properties that allow it to mimic the tissue that’s around it, because doing so reduces scarring, irritation, and other incompatibility issues.
Her research group has ten patents, many publications, and collaborations with industry. Ashby takes her teaching role seriously too.
In the classroom, Ashby cultivates that diversity by focusing on individual students. While she claims that teaching is just in her blood, her students say she works hard at it. “She knows all of her students’ names,” says Benjamin Pierce, a fourth-year graduate student in Ashby’s lab. “She prints out seven or eight pages of faces and names and studies them. And she’ll get them.” This fall she’s teaching introductory chemistry, and with about four hundred students, it’s one of the largest classes at UNC. But Pierce doesn’t doubt she’ll know even their pets’ names by the end of the semester. She makes herself available, adds Andy Brown, a third-year graduate student, to talk to anyone, about anything, anywhere.
It sounds like the chemistry students at UNC are lucky to haver her on the faculty. (via Thus Spake Zuska)

More information:

Personal Views of Science

Here are a few posts about being a female scientist from around the blogosphere:

Megan McLaughlin discusses sex, smarts, and the under-representation of female science and engineering faculty in the context of Larry Summer's contentious women-in-science speech and the subsequent National Academies report that challenged his assumptions.

As I said earlier, I didn’t think that my gender had any relevance to my career aspirations, but I had no idea that women in science were faced with these additional challenges. While I’m relieved that research shows that the obstacles to female success in the highest echelons of academic science aren’t innate, I am also terribly intimidated by the apparent ubiquity of unintentional discrimination and the magnitude of its effects. The path to full professorship is difficult enough, without having to publish twice as many papers in order to compete with male peers.
A Natural Scientist notes that people are sometimes surprised that she
can bake and sew and do "girly" things AND be a scientist too.
I would imagine this myth springs from the dominant old-white-guy paradigm: Old white guys are scientists; they do not bake; therefore scientists do not bake. Their wives and secretaries bake. Their wives stay home; their secretaries are subordinate. Therefore women who bake are not professional scientists. In my lab, I see mental binning going on all the time: girly girl or scientist? Wearing a pretty dress implies somehow that one cannot be serious. If one wishes to be taken seriously, one does not bring in cookies. One does not wear gauzy outfits, ribbons in one's hair, or pointy heels. Above all, one does not dress like a secretary (or like anyone else who doesn't have to worry about bleach, radiation, and coomassie blue). One wears jeans and a polo shirt every day, because that is the paradigm's uniform.
Janet Stemwedel (aka Dr. Free-Ride) has made her slides from her presentation at the 2007 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference available (PowerPoint slides, links to slide references). If you don't have PowerPoint, Zuska has a brief summary and further discussion about women scientists in the blogosphere.
How to explain women popping up in such large numbers in this category of blog conversations, in contrast to some of the other areas? [Dr. Stemwedel's] hypothesis, which is quite reasonable, is as follows: In each woman's department, she may be the only woman or one of only a few women. There are far fewer opportunities on campus for traditional communities of support. The blogosphere offers a place for honest communication, a place where a virtual community of women scientists can gather and trade information and tips. It's a place where all the kinds of questions you may never dare ask in the "real" world can be safely posed, and you can draw on the accumulated wisdom of many other women who may have gone through the same thing.

She's Such a Geek posts about gender stereotypes, two new books profiling women in physics, and a sexist new reality series. There is also an interesting discussion about the "appropriateness" of the essay collection She's Such a Geek for high school students, not only because it includes discussion of sexuality, but because some of the essayists chose to leave academia.
The thing is, the thinking seems to be that to inspire girls to keep up with science and technology, you have to keep it relentlessly positive, talking about how many opportunities they have and how great it is to be someone who’s succeeded in one of these fields. And it’s true—girls really do have lots of opportunities in the scientific and technical fields if they stick with it, and many women do succeed there. Inspiration most definitely comes from having good things to aspire to.

But not every female science/technology career thrives, and for a variety of reasons that can be very different from why men leave. It could be said, with apologies to Tolstoy, that happy careers are all alike, but every unhappy career experiences its own set of obstacles and setbacks. And I think that we shouldn’t sugarcoat the very real issues that a girl could face in her future if she’s considering going into some of the tougher technical careers.
The comments are worth reading too.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Field Museum's Women in Science

The Field Natural History Museum in Chicago has interviews with thirteen women scientists in their employ, who work in fields ranging from the biological sciences to geology. They share their thoughts on both their own research and their experiences as women in science.

The site also profiles two pioneers from the museum's past, explorer Delia Akeley (1875-1970) who discovered new African animal species, and botanist Margery Carlson (1892-1985) who collected plant samples in South America and Europe and was a professor of botany at Northwestern. They both had their share of adventures.

From the Field Museum profile of Delia Akeley, on collecting an elephant specimen:

"Scarcely breathing, and with legs trembling so I could hardly stand, I waited for the elephant to move forward," she wrote in her book "All True!" "Dimly through the mist the dark shape came slowly from behind the bush, exposing a splendid pair of tusks and a great flapping ear which was my target. With nerves keyed to the point of action I fired, and the first elephant I shot at fell lifeless among the dew-wet ferns . . . He was a splendid elephant, standing ten feet ten inches tall at the shoulders and carrying 180 pounds of ivory. In his back was a great festering wound caused by a poisonous spear. The iron blade had worked its way into his flesh to his rib and he must have suffered agonies."
I'm not particularly fond of this method of "collecting" animals, but there is no doubt Akeley did her job well.

From the GWIS profile of Margery Carlson:

An energetic and adventurous woman, Dr. Carlson’s primary interaction with Field Museum was through her plant collecting program in Mexico and Central America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Using a station wagon or truck-camper as both vehicle and motel, Margery, together with her companion Kate Staley, was able to reach remote areas in southern Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Each expedition took several months and came close to or exceeded 10,000 miles of travel.

What was especially remarkable about Margery’s field trips was that both she and her companion were gray-haired ladies embarking on trips that would challenge someone half their age. The trips were not without adventures and minor mishaps. One expedition ended with the truck smashed at the bottom of a canyon but with the two women only slightly injured. Another adventure Margery loved to recount was the time she and Kate were eating lunch along the side of the road in northern Mexico, when they found themselves face-to-face with two men brandishing machetes and demanding money. Sizing up the situation quickly (these were two poor farmers and not dangerous bandits), Margery proceeded to admonish them in Spanish: "Don’t you realize you could have scared us to death? And if that had happened you could never go to heaven!", whereupon she invited them to have some lunch — which they did.

Two amazing women!

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Clip Art from IWITTS

The National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science has a nice collection of free clip art depicted women working in a variety of traditionally male occupations.

"More and more women are entering trades, technology, and science careers. Yet, images of women in traditionally male-dominated occupations can be difficult to find. For this reason, IWITTS is collecting clip art and photos of women in nontraditional occupations from various sources to generate this gallery for your use. Some of the clip art and photos in our collection consist of copyright free pieces, however where specified, the clip art and photos may require credit to the artist or photographer, or a credit line link back to the original owner."
(They are also seeking contributions)

If you are looking for an image of a female scientist, carpenter, computer technician, police officer or fire fighter, check here first.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Susan Soloman

Susan Solomon is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who first hypothesized that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the Antarctic ozone layer. She lead two expeditions to the South Pole, in 1986 and 1987, to collect the data that eventually confirmed her hypothesis. She received the National Medal of Science in 1999 and has two Antarctic geographical features named after her: Solomon Glacier and Solomon Saddle. According to her recent profile in California Monthly:

Solomon's discovery blew the whistle on CFCs and resulted in substantial amendments of the Montreal Protocol, an unprecedented international agreement established in the mid-1980s to protect the ozone layer. CFCs were banned in the 1990s and their concentration in the atmosphere recently has started to decline.
Solomon has also written a book, The Coldest March about Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1911 fatal expedition to Antarctica.

For more information:
Illustration: NOAA
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Four Thousand Years of Women in Science

4000 Years of Women in Science is a database of women scientists from ancient Egypt, Greece, China and India to the 20th Century. You can browse by date, name or field of study.

The biographies are very brief, but would make great jumping-off point for further research.

Illustration: Merit Ptah, Egyptian physician, ~2700 BCE (image from Wikipedia_.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Rocket Scientists

Women have made many contributions to the exploration of space. Both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA share profiles of women who have worked for those organizations as scientists and administrators.

Profiles of Women at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory starts by pointing out:

Say "rocket scientist" and you probably think of a man in a white lab coat. Say "JPL" to some people, and the image of the man in the white lab coat remains. Actually, JPL isn't populated entirely by men, nor is it thick with rocket scientists. We're a population of women and men of all colors, ages, backgrounds and professions. We are all part of JPL's mission to explore and to discover.
The site is plain vanilla, but that doesn't make the profiles any less interesting.

Women of NASA includes profiles of of women who work in many different fields - computer scientists, engineers, biologists, geologists, physicists, and, of course astronauts. The site is sleek, with lots of information for teachers, students, and the general public interested in science.

Photo: Aprille Joy Ericsson, Ph.D., aerospace engineer at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Annoyingly, NASA felt the need to "girlify" the site with a predominantly pink theme (looking at sites aimed towards women and girls makes me oh-so-very-tired of the color pink). I guess I should be thankful they decided against sparkles and flowers.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Inkling Portraits: Ursula Franklin

Inkling is a new science e-zine edited by science writers Anne Casselman and Anna Gosline. The current issue has an interview with Ursula Franklin, the first female professor in Canada.

Ursula Franklin, 85, received her PhD in experimental physics from the Technical University in Berlin in 1948. In the decades that followed she became a renowned metallurgist, a pioneer of the physics of archaeological materials, an activist, an author, a philosopher, and Canada’s very first female University Professor, at the University of Toronto. Here she dishes about sexism in academia, interdisciplinary research, and being a radical.
She discusses her own experiences as a pioneering woman in science. Franklin points out that women have been at the forefront interdisciplinary studies.
Women are not only the pioneers in that area, but very often the ones who created that area. Much of it has come out of a time where women in their own professions were marginalized. The whole notion of taking knowledge or a colleague from another discipline to do something neither could do alone has been very much pioneered by women.
She helped work for acceptance of women in the sciences:
Q: Can you recall a moment when you realized things were changing for women in science?

When I was teaching at the faculty of engineering [at the University of Toronto] there were a set of excuses that engineering firms would offer for why they wouldn’t take female students on. One was that there were no women’s washrooms, another was that the safety boots or hats wouldn’t fit, or the foreman on the floor didn’t like girls.

One year we collected all the excuses and made up clipboards for the girls to take into interviews. It frazzled the interviewers to no end that when an excuse was offered, the women students would just tick it off. The girls would say, “And you have no problems with the foreman?” That beginning of strength among women collectively, and making the companies look pretty ridiculous, was the turning point.
As I read this, it first made me laugh, then made me say a quick "thank you" to women like Franklin who opened the way for women in science and engineering.

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Women Scientists in the Movies

Sidney Perkowitz is a physicist at Emory University who writes about science and scientists in the movies. Last July he had and interesting article in The Scientist: "Female scientists on the big screen". His search through the IMdB "identified 84 women scientists out of 382 films containing scientists" or 22% of films*. He notes that the stereotypical female scientist is portrayed differently than the stereotypical male scientist:

Surprisingly, women scientists are not particularly mad, evil, or nerdy. Indeed, Steinke notes in her survey that in 23 films, only two were mad and only three were absent-minded or antisocial. Moreover, in contrast to male scientists, women scientists do not work on "dubious" projects in secret laboratories, but remain solid "with their feet on the ground," Flicker reports. Female scientists also didn't contribute to "negative myths surrounding the image of science," she notes.

But it's with looks that the discrepancy becomes really obvious. The female film scientist tends to be gorgeous. In Flicker's words, she is "remarkably beautiful and, compared with her qualifications, unbelievably young. She has a model's body -- thin, athletic, perfect -- is dressed provocatively and is sometimes 'distorted' by wearing glasses."
He points to his favorite fictional female scientist: Elisabeth Shue's cold fusion-inventor Emma Russell in The Saint:
... Emma is the scientific center, and shows grit and moral courage. When she finds that Simon Templar (Val Kilmer) has romanced her only to steal her cold fusion secrets, she persuades him that the ethical thing is to give the secrets to the world. Emma emerges as having it all: her work, idealism, intelligence, femininity, sexuality, good looks -- and Kilmer.
Other female scientist characters who escape being mere sex objects in lab coat are Jodie Foster's Ellie Arroway in Contact, and Laura Dern's paleobotanist Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park. Hopefully, we'll see more scientists - both female and male - positively portrayed on the big screen in the future.

More reading (scholarly articles that require subscription or purchase):
*Confusingly Perkowitz goes on to discuss the numbers as if 22% of scientists in those movies were women. I suspect the number is lower in that, because movies with female scientists usually also have male scientists, while there are many movies with only male scientists. For example, in Contact, a good example of a female scientist in film, all of Jodie Foster's colleagues are male.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

The Impact of Women in Food and Agricultural Research

Today's Seeds for Tomorrow's Harvest is an exhibit from the Iowa State University Archives of Women in Science and Engineering that focuses on women who performed scientific research nutrition-related fields. Profiled scientists include Helen E. Clark (born 1912), Amy Daniels (born 1875), Jacqueline DuPont (born 1934), Ercel S. Eppright (born 1901), Pilar Garcia (born 1926), Allene Jeanes (born 1906), Belle Lowe (born 1886), Bernice Kunerth Watt (born 1910) and Evelyn Weber (born 1928).

These women aren't "nutritionists" in the popular sense of "people who give advice on nutrition". Instead they are chemists, biochemists, physiologists, and food scientists who work to understand how nutrients are used by the body and to improve the nutritional quality of our food supply. Their research accomplishments include determining dietary requirements for and metabolism of various nutrients, development of food additives such as xanthan gum, breeding special plants such as "high-oil" corn, and more.

In related out these video clips of Ruth Rogan Benerito, "pioneer in alfalfa breeding and genetics", and Janice M. Miller, who discovered the virus causing bovine leukemia, from their induction into the Agricultural Research Service Hall of Fame.

The Ada Project

The Ada Project is named after Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace and pioneer in computer science.

The Ada Project (TAP) is a clearinghouse for information and resources related to women in computing. TAP serves primarily as a collection of links to other online resources, rather than as an archive. TAP includes information on conferences, projects, disucssion groups and organizations, fellowships and grants, notable women in Computer Science, and other electronically accessible sites. The goal of TAP is to provide a central location through which these resources can be "tapped".
The site includes brief biographies of Pioneering Women in Technology, including computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Janna Levin on the Colbert Report

Last August, theoretical physicist and author Janna Levin was on the Colbert Report. Stephen asked her if "being a theoretical physicist is like studying unicorn husbandry" - Levin answers with aplomb.

There is a Q & A with Levin on her website that touches on her novel writing, her science, and her experiences as a woman in science.

(via Seed Magazine)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Women with Significant Contributions to Science

The San Diego Supercomputer Center presents biographies of 16 women who had "significant contributions" to science. The women they included:

Mary Anning (1799-1847): "Finder of Fossils"

Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852: "Analyst, Metaphysician, Founder of Scientific Computing"

Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941): "Theorist of Star Spectra"

May Edward Chinn (1896-1960): "Physician", member of the Society of Surgical Oncolgy and master of Public Health.

Rosa Smith Eigenmann (1858-1947): "First Woman Ichthyologist of Any Accomplishment"

Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958), "Pioneeer Molecular Biologist", who helped determine the structure of DNA

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972): "Mother of Modern Management"

Sophie Germain (1776-1831): "Revolutionary Mathematician"

Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906-1972): "Nobelist in Physics", developer of the nuclear shell model of atomic nuclei.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994): "A Founder of Protein Crystallography"

Helen Sawyer Hogg (1905-1993): "A Gift of Stars", researcher on variable stars in globular clusters, and writer of a popular astronomy column in the Toronto Star

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992): "Pioneer Computer Scientist"

Lise Meitner (1878-1968): "A Battle for Ultimate Truth", who produced the first theoretical explanation of the fission process.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935): "Creative Mathematical Genius"

Rózsa Péter (1905-1977): "Founder of Recursive Function Theory"

Roger Arliner Young (1899-1964): "Lifelong Struggle of a Zoologist", first African-American woman to receive a zoology doctorate

Women Pioneers in Plant Biology

The American Society of Plant Biologists has a site dedicated to Women Pioneers in Plant Biology.

Recognizing that plant physiology was an area of study that very few women actively pursued until the 1980s, the Women on Plant Biology Committee would like to acknowledge those women who were pioneers in studying plants and how they work. Their research areas are very diverse: genetics, biochemistry, structure, as well as physiology. Their education, training, and career paths are also diverse. However, as witnessed by the biographies written by former students, fellow researchers, admirers, or good friends, each of these women has contributed to the broad field of plant physiology, and we are grateful to them.
The Their biographies span one thousand years, starting with Hildegard of Bingen, born in current professor emeritas Lynn Margulis.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Her Lab in Your Life

Her Lab in Your Life: Women in Chemistry is an exhibit by the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

The site covers the lives and research accomplishments in many fields of chemistry, from early 20th century food chemists to structure and function of DNA to the invention of Kevlar. There is a whole section on the female pioneers who lead the way into a field that historically excluded women. It also (unfortunately in my opinion) has a section on "chemical chic" that lumps together work on cosmetics with research on gold and synthetic gemstones for lasers. There is something belittling about classifying what appears to be hard-core chemistry as about "jewelry" (and displayed on a pink background, natch). However, that's a small annoyance about a site with so many profiles to inspire budding young chemists.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Maxine Singer awarded 2007 NAS Public Welfare Medal

The 2007 National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal has been awarded to biochemist-molecular biologist Maxine Singer.

Singer is a pioneer of molecular biology and an accomplished leader in science policy. She has championed the cause of women and minorities in science by fostering equal access to education and career opportunities, and has worked tirelessly to improve science education.

As president of the Carnegie Institution from 1988 to 2002, Singer reinforced the institution's position of preeminence among U.S. scientific organizations through innovative programs and initiatives. Highlights of her tenure include spearheading the Magellan Project, which culminated in the construction of the twin Magellan telescopes at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in La Serena, Chile, and the development of the Department of Global Ecology, the institution's first new department in decades.

While at Carnegie, Singer's personal concern for education in the nation's capital led her to establish the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE), a program for D.C. K-12 teachers. CASE works to increase teachers' knowledge of science, while providing them with new methods to teach their students about science. In 1989, she introduced Carnegie's "First Light" project, an imaginative Saturday science school for D.C. public school students. Both programs continue to this day.
According to her profile at the Carnegie Institution website:
Singer's research contributions have ranged over several areas of biochemistry and molecular biology, including chromatin structure, the structure and evolution of defective viruses, and enzymes that work on DNA and its complementary molecule, RNA. Around 1960 she collaborated intensely with her NIH colleague Marshall Nirenberg in the elucidation of the genetic code. In recent years, her foremost contributions have been in studies of a large family of repeated DNA sequences called LINES—sequences interspersed many times in mammalian DNA. She and her co-workers have been especially interested in the LINE-1 sequence, which is repeated thousands of times in human DNA. LINE-1, she early concluded, is capable of insert into new places on chromosomal DNA, and researchers elsewhere later found that LINE-1 insertions into a gene whose product is required for blood clotting are associated with cases of hemophilia. Believing that the mechanism of LINE-1 transposition might have broad significance for understanding genetic diseases, Singer and colleagues have concentrated their experiments on learning how LINE-1 elements move.

For more information:
Profile at Women in Chemstry
Entry in the American Association for Clinical Chemistry Hall of Fame
Publications in the PubMed database

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Barbara Barres and Ben A. Barres

This is old news, but better late than never.

Ben Barres had just finished giving a seminar at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 10 years ago, describing to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other top institutions his discoveries about nerve cells called glia. As the applause died down, a friend later told him, one scientist turned to another and remarked what a great seminar it had been, adding, "Ben Barres's work is much better than his sister's."
The punchline to this story is that Ben Barres doesn't have a scientist sister.
Prof. Barres is transgendered, having completed the treatments that made him fully male 10 years ago. The Whitehead talk was his first as a man, so the research he was presenting was done as Barbara.
Barres has unique insight into how men and women are treated differently by the scientific community.

Read the articles:
Wall Street Journal "He, Once a She, Offers Own View on Science Spat"
New York Times "Dismissing 'Sexist Opinions' About Women's Place in Science"
Nature "Does Gender Matter?" (subscription only)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maud Menten

Sandwalk points to the plaque honoring Maud Menten at the University of Toronto. Menten is best known to biochemistry students as one of the creators (if that's the right word) of the Michaelis-Menten equation.

Michaelis and Menten are responsible for establishing the fundamental principles of enzyme kinetics and for putting biochemistry on solid mathematical ground. They were never recognized by the Nobel committee for their important contributions.
"Maud Who?" from the PittChronicle has a nice recounting of Menten's life at the University of Pittsburg, where she was on the faculty of the School of Medicine, and, eventually, head of the Department of Pathology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The article notes:
The [Michaelis-Menten Equation] equation, which provides a mathematical means for determining the rate of an enzyme reaction, has been called the foundation of modern enzymology, and it is a standard for most subsequent enzyme-kinetic measurements. Moreover, the development of most drugs in this century would not have been possible without that understanding. When Michaelis and Menten published their work in 1913, little was known about enzymes, including their basic chemical nature.
The equation was not her only scientific achievement.
More importantly, Menten is believed to be the first to study human hemoglobins using electrophoresis (an innovation widely credited to Linus Pauling, though her work on this predated his by many years). And with Junge and Green, she discovered the azo-dye coupling reaction. This finding is credited as the first example of enzyme histochemistry.
It's unfortunate that her research is so little remembered today.
To this day, Menten is little known. The famous paper she wrote with Michaelis, in which they describe their equation for the first time, refers to her only as “Miss Menten,” according to published reports. Some called her simply “Michaelis’s assistant.” And for those who want to learn more about this mysterious woman, there is little to find. Most who knew Menten have gone, and few wrote down their thoughts and memories of her.
Here's hoping more people learn of her achievements.

Additional links:
Enzymes Make It Happen @ Her Lab in Your Life
Wikipedia article on Michaelis-Menten kinetics

Friday, January 05, 2007

Around the blogs

Check out the post round up on Being a Scientist and a Woman