Friday, August 29, 2008

Start! Heart Walk in support of the American Heart Association

I know this is off topic, but a friend of mine just emailed me that she is going to be walking in this year's Start! Heart Walk to raise funds for the American Heart Association.

Everyone knows someone affected by heart disease or stroke. For myself and those I love, I will be walking in this year’s Start! Heart Walk. I have set a personal goal to raise funds for the American Heart Association and need your help to reach my donation goal. We are raising critical dollars for heart disease and stroke research and education.

You can help me reach my goal by making a donation online. Click on the link below and you will be taken to my personal donation page where you can make a secure online credit card donation. The American Heart Association's online fundraising website has a minimum donation amount of $25.00. If you prefer to donate less, you can do so by sending a check directly to me.

Your donation will help fight our nation’s No. 1 and No. 3 killers—heart disease and stroke. You are making a difference. Thank you for your support.

Follow This Link to visit my personal web page and help me in my efforts to support American Heart Association - Inland Empire, CA
If you are thinking of making a donation to the American Heart Association, consider either following her link or finding a Heart Walk event in your area.

Blog Roll Update

More women blogging about science and engineering:


(Female) Assistant Engineering Professor says:

I'm an assistant Engineering Professor starting down the tenure track road this year (2008). And I'm female. As my life is becoming exponentially hectic, I thought that my experiences might be helpful to others, and other's advice might be helpful to me.
Angineer is written by Angie in Colorado:
A female professional engineer who defines herself by the groups and activities she joins--I am a leader in the Society of Women Engineers, adult Girl Scout volunteer, and proud sorority alumna and adviser.

Physical Sciences

The Musings of a Life Long Scholar: A new blog by geologist Life Long Scholar, which is about "musing about her love of learning and the joys of life in the sciences."

One Astronomer's Noise
is the blog of Nicole, "Astronomy grad student, skeptic, atheist, libertarian, and belly dancer."

Life Sciences

The Minority Scientist blog has two goals:
*Share useful information to assist minorities, including women and underrepresented peoples, in science navigate a career in scientific research.
* Explore the world of science through the eyes of a single parent pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences.
A Neotropical Savanna is the blog of Mary Farmer:
The posts in this blog are my own experience working through the learning of plants in the area where I now live. Even though this area happens to be in Panama, the principles I use for learning these plants apply to the learning of all plants. Most interesting may be the mistakes I make! And I make plenty, believe me.
Farmer also runs the web site Learn Plants Now!

Microbiologist XX
says she is "finishing my PhD in microbiolgy. This consumes most of my time. I also enjoy listening to music, reading, laughing at my cats and shopping for shoes."

S. of More Than a Permanent Student is in grad school studying ecology.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nicole Kuepper: Winner of an Australian Science Oscar

Australians have a new favorite scientist: 23-year-old graduate student Nicole Kuepper has won the People's Choice Award in the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. It's actually a double win, since she's also receiving the British Council Eureka Prize for Young Leaders in Environmental Issues and Climate Change.

Kuepper is a PhD student and lecturer at the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales. While there she and her colleagues developed and patented the iJET solar cell, which can be made cheaply from common items such as nail polish, an inkjet printer and a pizza oven. According to an article in The Australian:

"Nicole's iJET solar cell will potentially bring affordable electricity to the poorest people in the world, but more than this, it will be clean and renewable."

Current production techniques for photovoltaic, or solar, cells make them expensive, but the iJET can be made without high-tech environments or components.
Kuepper has be interested in the technology every since her parents gave her a solar energy kit for her 10th birthday. But she's not just interested in the engineering side of solar power:
An advocate of green technology, she gives talks about solar energy to the public, has held miniature solar car races to teach indigenous children about renewable energy, and was a delegate at the 2020 Youth Summit in Canberra in April.
It's understandable how the technology and Kuepper caught the public's imagination.

For more technical information, here's a recent publication:
Kuepper, N., Utama, R., Guo, A., Wells, M., Ho, AWY, and Wenham, SR. “Photovoltaic technology for developing countries” 22nd European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (Milan, 2007) (pdf)
(via Dvice and Abby @ The Hacker Chick Blog)

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Technology Review's TR35

This month's issue of MIT Technology Review presents their annual list of the "top 35 young innovators under 35". Seven of the winners were women.

Michelle Chang Milica Radisic Tanzeem Choudhury Farinaz Koushanfar
Merrie Morris Aimee Rose Julie Greer

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Physicist Fay Ajzenberg-Selove Wins National Medal of Science

Yesterday the White House announced the recipients of the 2007 National Medal of Science, the US's highest honor for scientific achievement. There was one woman among the six awardees: Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, Professor Emerita of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In her memoirs, Ajzenberg-Selove wrote about being one of the few women in physics. From the book's summary:

Ajzenberg-Selove came to America at the age of 15 after narrowly escaping the Nazi takeover of France. She had planned to become an engineer like her father, but switched to physics after she was told the only engineering jobs open to women were in drafting: Marie Curie's example proved to her that women could do physics. Her first attempt at graduate work at Columbia University was a disaster, but she was struck with the intellectual beauty of the field. After taking a Ph.D. in physics at University of Wisconsin [in 1952], she did post-doctoral work with Thomas Lauritsen at the California Institute of Technology, where she began writing the first of a series of major review papers on the nuclear spectroscopy of the light nuclei, a subject of fundamental importance to nuclear physics, astrophysics, and applied physics. She continued this work and experimental research for thirty-eight years while teaching at Boston University, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
When she was hired at the University of Pennsylvania, she had to fight for her position all the way up to the state level. As an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian described it:
When Fay Ajzenberg-Selove began her days as a Penn Physics professor in 1973, some of her male colleagues were less than thrilled to be working alongside her. "They made remarks to me, they tried to put me down in all sorts of ways," she said of some of the men in her department.

After all, her complaints of Penn's gender discrimination had resulted in a state-sponsored investigation into gender equity at the University -- which found a case of discrimination and eventually led to Ajzenberg-Selove's appointment as a full professor.

As she describes it, part of the problem was men who are insecure working with women.

Ajzenberg-Selove said that in her department, many of the elder male faculty members took the competition of a female physicist as an assault on their masculinity.

"It's the old boys network," she said.

"[Some male faculty] feel that their manhood is degraded by a woman that is better than them," she added.

Ajzenberg-Selove was able to get beyond that and have a successful career in physics. Some of her honors and positions:
  • Chair, Division of Nuclear Physics, American Physical Society (1973-74)
  • Member, Governing Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1974-80)
  • Member, Department of Energy/National Science Foundation, Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC), (1977-80)
  • Chair, Commission on Nuclear Physics, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (1978-81)
  • 1999 Nicholson Medal for Human Outreach, American Physical Society
More information about Fay Ajzenberg-Selove:
The nominations for the 2009 Medal of Honor are open through December 5th.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Nina Matheny Roscher on Early Women Chemists of the Northeast

When I was surfing about for my alchemy post, I stumbled across an interesting paper: "Early Women Chemists of the Northeast" (pdf) by Nina Matheny Roscher and Phillip L. Ammons. The article was adapted from a presentation at the 182nd American Society National Meeting in 1981, and profiles a number of early 20th-century women who trained as chemists at Mt. Holyoke and other universities in the Northeastern United States, including Emma Perry Carr, Mary Lura Sherrill, Pauline Beery Mack, Mary Locke Petermann and several others. It's an interesting article that concludes:

The lives and careers of these women have inspired other talented women to enter a field that was once closed to them. Although their careers were very different, some similarites are apparent in their different paths to recognition. First, the influence of the two world wars on the supply of talented men and on the supply of good research jobs seems to have been a crucial factor in many of these women's "first break" and added new opportunities for others who already had distinguished themselves in chemistry. [...] Another similarity is the use of group research. [...]
It's a bit disturbing to think of war as a job opportunity, but it does make sense that wartime can bring both opportunities for some types of research and a shortage of researchers. At least the more recent gains of women in the physical sciences aren't based on death and destruction.

It also turns out that the primary author of the article, Nina Matheny Roscher, was herself a chemist who worked to assist women interested in pursuing careers in chemistry. She was one of only nine women graduate students - out of 450 total - in the Purdue chemistry department when she received her doctorate in physical organic chemistry 1964. After teaching at the University of Texas at Austin and Rutgers, she joined the faculty of American University in Washington, DC. In 1991 she was appointed chair of the AU chemistry department, a position she held until her death in 2001 at the age of 62.

Roscher was long an advocate for women in science. In the late 1970s administered a NSF program that "retrained women who had earned scientific degrees but had been discouraged from pursuing careers in their area of study." In 1996 she and AU mathematics professor Mary Gray were awarded a NSF grant "to encourage young women at American University to strengthen their mathematics and science studies, and to not drop such classes as often happens in college. The two faculty members devised a program that would allow 25 first-year women students to explore the connections between public policy, science, and mathematics." She was obviously also interested in the history of women in science as well. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into the Physical Sciences in 1996 and received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science , Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 1998.

It sounds like she was one of the rare scientists who cared as much about mentoring as about doing research.

More from Nina Roscher:
Image: Nina Roscher in 1996
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Femina Habilisa and Maria the Alchemist

Science fiction writer and independent scholar or Roman history Mary Jane Engh is collaborating with Washington State University professor of history Kathryn E. Meyer on a project to collect information on all the women in the ancient Roman world (through 527 CE) who were documented as playing a role other than (or in addition to) wife, daughter, mother or mistress. The work, Femina Habilis, includes tradeswomen, politicians, thieves, doctors, poets and scientists - or their equivalent during that period of history.

Among entries you can sample is one the alchemist and writer "Maria"

She was a principal founder of Graeco-Roman alchemy, the experimental science of its day. A Greek-speaking Jew, she probably lived in Egypt. She gave the earliest known descriptions of many items of chemical apparatus, some of which she presumably invented or developed.
Among the inventions attributed to her is the double boiler commonly known as a bain-marie.

Maria - also known as Mary the Jewess - likely lived in the 3th century, and much of what is known about her seems closer to myth than history. One source suggests there was a community of women alchemists in ancient times :
Because of its connection with cooking, alchemy was known as "women's work." The writings of other women alchemists such as "Cleopatra," "Isis," Theosebeia, and Paphnoutia suggest a community of women was working in alchemy at this time.
I'd like to imagine that was the case, but I'm skeptical that that is any more than wishful thinking. It would make a cool story, though.

If you are interested in the history of women and alchemy, you might want to visit Robin Gordon's scholarly women alchemists site. It's focus is 16th and 17th century women who worked in the chemical arts such as Marie Meurdrac.

(via Futurismic, which reports that Mary Jane Engh is to be honored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America as 2009 Author Emerita)

Image: "... sketch of an apparatus for distilling by the aid of boiling water. The bath wherein the vessels are placed in Fig. IX. was called by the alchemists balneum Mariae, from Mary the Jewess, who is mentioned in the older alchemical writings, and is supposed to have invented an apparatus of this character." From The Story of Alchemy and the Beginnings of Chemistry, by MM Pattison Muir.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

She's Such a Geek @Google Talks

The AtGoogleTalks channel at YouTube has videos of a number of presentations by authors, politicians, and women (who don't fall into the other categories) at Google. Not surprisingly, many of the talks are aimed at the relatively geeky Google audience.

As part of the Authors@Google series Annalee Newitz, Charlie Anders, Ellen Spertus, & Jenn Shreve discuss She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff. Newitz and Anders were the book's editors, Spertus (a Google employee) and Shreve were contributors.

On a more technical level is the talk by University of Washington psychology professor Sapna Cheryan on "her research into the problems women face entering and remaining it the fields of CS and engineering." Watch Cheryan's presentation. (Unfortunately, the quality of this video isn't very good.)

(via my brother - thanks Bri!)
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sally Ride, Climate Change and Science Education

On July 23 Dr. Sally Ride gave the keynote address at the "Earth Then, Earth Now: Our Changing Climate" conference for educators at the NOAA Science Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. The conference is part of the 25th anniversary celebration of Ride's first spaceflight.

Watch video from the conference. I particularly recommend the Q&A about climate change and science education with Ride and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, oceanographer and first American woman to walk in space (watch wmv).

While Ride was in Maryland, Ride spoke to a group of middle-school girls.

"I had parents who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted," Ride told a group of middle-schools girls at the Maryland Science Center last week.

"And I had two teachers - women science teachers - who told me that if you are good at science in seventh grade, you will be good at science in high school and you will be good at science in college.

"They told me, 'You don't get dumber as you get older.' They helped me have confidence."
And Ride is trying to pass on that confidence to middle school students: Sally Ride Science runs science festivals across the US, featuring hands-on activities for 5th-8th graders.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Female Science Professor In Print

If you are a fan of Female Science Professor's writing, as I am, you'll be glad to hear that she's reworked a bunch of her old posts into a book, lengthily titled
Academeology: Random Musings, Strong Opinions & Somewhat Bizarre Anecdotes From An Academic Life. Some of the section headings (via Confessions of a Science Librarian, since Lulu is down at the moment):

  • Acquiring an academic job
  • The Graduate School Experience: Getting In
  • The Graduate School Experience: Professor-Student Relations
  • Speaking of Talks
  • Success, Failure, Ambition, Fame
  • Cruel and Unusual: Faculty Meetings
You can also read a sample from the introduction to a chapter on being evaluated as a professor. It sounds like a great source of "behind the scenes" information for anyone pursuing a science career in academia.

Academeology: Random Musings, Strong Opinions & Somewhat Bizarre Anecdotes From An Academic Life is available in print and pdf versions at

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Women in Science Link Roundup: August 16 Edition

Here are some women-in-science related blog posts and articles from the past few weeks (in no particular order):

Inside Higher Ed writes about the "Keys to Hiring Women in Science"

From the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog: Gender stereotypes can distort our memories

An initial study with 73 high school students (34 boys) showed that those students who more strongly endorsed gender stereotypes in relation to maths and the arts, subsequently showed more biased recall of their past exam performance. That is, girls who endorsed the stereotypes underestimated their past maths performance, while boys who endorsed the stereotypes tended to underestimate their past arts performance.
In an older post, Rob Knop writes about the myth of the meritocracy in physics. (via DrugMonkey)

The Barnard Alumnae magazine has a profile of applied physics and mathematics professor Gertrude Neumark Rothschild, class of '48.

UNESCO interviews two previous L'Oreal Women in Science award winners:
Khady Nani Dramé on why peasant rice farmers need no longer
sustain heavy losses in times of drought

Andrea Mantesso explains why teeth will help to shape the future
of stem cell research

From the Sunday Herald: "Ascent of woman: How females lead ape studies"

ScienceNews reviews Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics

Annalee Newitz at io9 talks to scientist and science fiction novelist Ekaterina Sedia about female robots and chemical prejudice

ScienceWoman proposes "Scientists are people too, and it's time we started traeting them that way"

Chad Orzel on why self-esteem is not why students are being turned off from science.
PZ Myers writes about motivating students (and motivating women) to pursue science careers

At Feministe Octagalore writes about the effect of the economy on women "choosing" to leave the workforce.

CNN reports "Anger in the office - it hurts women more". So just stop complaining, don't nag, and just let it go if it's not too important. Said one "expert": "I always tell women on the job, kill them with kindness," she says. So I guess the trick is to just smile, then blog about it anonymously.

Business week has a slide show featuring this year's winners of the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair - all girls!

Lifehacker talks to Dr. Horrible actress Felicia Day about being a "geek-girl". Her major in math was a "fallback" degree in case music didn't pan out.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Praxis #1 @ Blog Around The Clock

The very first Praxis carnival - which focuses on different aspects of being a scientist in academia - is up at A Blog Around the Clock. It's got some great posts on doing science, getting funded, career choices, presenting data, networking, getting published, and the atmosphere in academia.

The next carnival will be September 15th at Life 3.0.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dangerous Exploration and Science

After hearing a segment about the Tinkering School on All Things Considered, I've been doing a bit more reading on it. The Tinkering School is a summer camp for kids that allows kids to build, use fire, throw spears and learn by doing.

The Tinkering School offers an exploratory curriculum designed to help kids - ages 7 to 17 - learn how to build things. By providing a collaborative environment in which to explore basic and advanced building techniques and principles, we strive to create a school where we all learn by fooling around. All activities are hands-on, supervised, and at least partly improvisational.

Grand schemes, wild ideas, crazy notions, and intuitive leaps of imagination are, of course, encouraged and fertilized.

Much of what they do looks "dangerous", at least at first glance, but it looks like a lot of fun - check out the photos and videos of the kids building a bridge.

The founder of The Tinkering School, software engineer Gever Tully, gave a talk at TED about "5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do". His philosophy is that overbearing safety regulations actually stifle creativity and has the unintended effect of raising children who never learn to safely interact with the environment around them. What struck me is how many of his suggested "5 Dangerous Things" - playing with fire, owning (and learning to use) a pocket knife, throwing a spear, deconstructing appliances - are what I think of as traditionally boys' activities. While parents may be overprotective of their children in general, it seems that boys are given more freedom to pursue those potentially dangerous kinds of exploratory activities. There's a reason why the female counterpart to The Dangerous Book for Boys is the The Daring Book for Girls (which includes activities like learning how to put your hair up with a pencil and slumber party games).

I don't think it's unrealistic to suggest that kids who are encouraged to disassemble appliances or build their own treehouse for fun are more likely to discover they are interested in engineering than kids who do not. And I think encouraging kids to explore and experiment can spark a love for science. The fact that boys are more likely to allowed and encouraged in such "dangerous" pursuits is likely one of the factors that creates the disparity in the number of boys and girls who chose to pursue science and engineering as a career. And that's what the "girls don't choose science" apologists for the gender gap are missing: career choice does not develop in a vacuum.

Anyway, I vote for more programs like the Tinkering School that promote exploration and creativity in both girls and boys.

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Women in Science at Big Think

Annelle Sheline at Big Think wrote to let me know that they have a series of interviews with women scientists. The interviewee list is very heavy on bioscientists, which is unfortunate, I think, since women are already relatively well represented in those fields. Anyway, I've linked to most of these before, but here they are collected in one handy post:

Dr. Shelley Ann des Etages is a senior principal scientist at Pfizer. She talks about being inspired by strong women, and hopes that other women will follow her into science.

Dr. Bonnie Bassler, professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, who discovered "Quorum Sensing" - a way of collaborating - in bacteria. She talks about the challenged associated with being a woman in science.

Bassler also talks about becoming a scientist.

Dr. Shirley Tilghman is President of Princeton University and a professor of molecular biology. She talks about her own experiences and women in science.

Dr. Paris Sabeti, human genome researcher and Assistant Professor at Harvard University talks about women in science

Other women in science and technology featured at the Big Think:

Related Posts:
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Joining the Boys' Club and Womens' Spaces

Apologists for the gender gap in science and engineering often seem to focus on the actions of women, particularly whether they "choose" to enter (and remain) in those professions. They point to recruitment drives and official departmental policies that, at least on the surface, appear woman friendly. What gets ignored is that the social atmosphere in those fields can be unwelcoming - even hostile - to women.

That issue came to mind when I read amberella's post at .51 about her experience at the The Last HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference last month. She notes that most of her interactions on a professional level with male attendees were pretty comfortable. It was the social interactions that made clear that the conference was a boys' club:

HOPE set aside part of the mezzanine for lounging in hammocks and watching video streamed from the talks for those who wanted a break or who were overflow from packed conference rooms. Across the bottom of this video was a scrolling marquee of comments pulled from a specially rigged up internal URL. This meant the crowd could watch and participate in a real-time chat, anonymously, with other people in the room. I happened to walk into the rest area looking to take a much needed nap during Steven Rambam’s presentation, glanced at the screen, and saw the message trolling news-ticker style:
“Rambam sucks. I want three hours of my life back“. …Funny.
Then: “Who’s the new girl in the red shirt? Look down at self: I was wearing a red shirt.
A few seconds later: “I like her more than the other girl in the red shirt. Uh, what?

Then: “I’m faithful to Red Shirt Girl #1 … I’ll take you on long walks on the beach and……” You get the picture.

I laughed and brushed it off and found a hammock. After failing to elicit a response from the women in the room (there was also “Gray Tank Top Girl” and later “Necktie Girl” in addition to me and my other red shirt counterpart) the intensity of the messages increased. I’ll spare you the details of the ensuing message thread, most of which was LOL-worthy in a purely adolescent and self deprecating way, but I will say that some of it was downright vulgar. I’m not one to flinch at vulgarity or abstain from [frequent] obscenity, but when still no women took the bait, there was an eventual message of “You won’t say anything until I rape you and then you will cry. I assume it was meant as a joke or incitement, but I think we all know that making rape funny is right up there with making Hitler funny: Imminent Fail.
She ignored the comment and continued participating in the conversation. And that's how she copes in her male-dominated profession: by ignoring the vilest comments and joining in the joking.
As demonstrated on a very small scale by my eventual acceptance into the “scrolling message quip makers club” at HOPE, it’s possible to muscle into the boys’ club with tenacity, spunk, and a heavy dose of ignore-the-troll. Women who seek out these communities, though, have to be prepared to fight for the chance to “prove their mettle,” as my grandmother would say. The women at HOPE have already jumped the largest hurdles to inclusion and the majority of male attendees respect them for it, regardless of childish message board antics.
But what can you do if you're a woman who wants to stay in the field, but isn't interested in being "one of the boys"? The atmosphere isn't likely to change if no one is calling out the trolls and telling them their behavior is unacceptable. Amberella points out that women-only events can make at least a small difference.
I can think of no quick fix, only that a growing number of tech communities geared towards women offer some refuge and an estuary environment to grow one’s confidence before trying to conquer the “real world,” and that historically, female creep into male dominated realms has been steady, unrelenting, and eventually accepted. In the short term, this offers little consolation.
But even having such spaces can offer a respite from an environment that isn't particularly friendly to women.

The frustrating thing, however, is that some men see such get-togethers and feel excluded or even discriminated against. See, for example, Jenny F. Scientist's post about women in her lab who lunch together. Zuska points out that the men should be more concerned about making the women the work with feel comfortable than worrying about being invited along.
Jenny and her friends are getting together without the guys precisely because science is unable to welcome them on equal footing with those guys. If the guys feel excluded from the conversation with the women, they shouldn't whine about how bad they feel. They should instead think about how they can work to make their neck of the science woods a more welcoming home for all women, to redefine in-group membership in a manner that includes women. Then women's safe spaces will be the same as men's, and the men needn't worry about feeling left out anymore.
Hopefully there are men planning to attend The Next HOPE (and other tech-related conferences) who are willing to do that.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

It all started with the 19th Amendment . . .

I was looking for information about the 1955 B-Movie Tarantula, and came across this review. It turns out the "line to listen for" is

“I knew it would happen. Give women the vote and what do you get? Lady scientists.”
Of course, why didn't I think of that! Maybe the election year voter drives will increase the number of women physics professors . . . Actually I think it would be pretty funny in a "look how stupidly sexist it used to be the 1950s" way if there weren't individuals currently bemoaning both the terrible effects of women voting and working as scientists.

Anyway, if you are interested in seeing Tarantula in a science-friendly environment - and you live in Southern California - you might want to check out tomorrow's showing as part of the B Movies and Bad Science series at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

And here are some links I've been collecting about the way women scientists are portrayed in film and television that I hadn't gotten around to blogging about:
  • Inkling Magazine: Babe Scientists on Film
    "For best results in science, wear short shorts. And be sure your deep intellect is matched by deep cleavage."
  • Science and Supermodels: Female Scientists in Movies: The Top 10
    "We have to make a choice in a lot of cases; great women or great science. Sometimes we get both but that’s rare."
  • io9: Television: Meet the New Science Heroes
    This is about the portrayal of scientists on TV in general, but there is at least one woman scientist who will be on-screen in the fall lineup: Deanna Russo as super-scientist Sarah Graiman on the new version of Knight Rider.
Image: John Agar as small town physician Matt Hastings and Mara Corday as scientist Stephanie "Steve" Clayton in Tarantula.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Astrophysicist Sarah Bridle

One of this year's UK winners of a L'Oreal For Women in Science Fellowship is astrophysicist Sarah Bridle. Bridle is a Lecturer and Royal Society Research Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London, where she is working on "extracting information about cosmology using weak gravitational lensing."

Last month she was interviewed on The Guardian's Science Weekly podcast:

This week, the Science Weekly team discuss dark energy and the even darker matter of the gender gap with astrophysicist Sarah Bridle - recipient of a Women in Science fellowship. It's sponsored by a well-known cosmetics company - is it worth it? Do awards like this actually help to de-beard science? And isn't this a wider societal problem anyway?
Listen to the interview (mp3).

To learn more about her research, you can download PowerPoint lectures from her recent talks from her web site.

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Women Scientists as World Leaders: Angela Merkel

A commenter on my Margaret Thatcher post points out that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also a scientist.

Merkel was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. [...] After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) based on a doctoral thesis on quantum chemistry she worked in research [at a scientific academy in East Berlin].
Unlike many of the women scientists I've profiled here, it wasn't her life-long dream to become a scientist. As The Independent reported in 2005:
Science, however, had been a purely pragmatic choice; merely a vehicle to keep her nose out of Communist politics. "I would have loved to have become a teacher," Merkel has admitted. "But not under that political system. Physics was harmless and uncontroversial." Her move into politics came late, in 1989. But Merkel positioned herself well, and it was a rapid rise to the top.
While some might quibble at the characterization of physics as "uncontroversial", she does seem like a good example of someone whose decision as to whether to pursue a career in science was based on external social factors rather than based on purely innate preferences.

In 2006 she wrote an editorial for the journal Science about German science policy.
German science and research have a long and proud tradition that we must cultivate and build on. We want to offer German science and research conditions that rival the best in the world. Our benchmarks are excellence, internationality, and freedom. With our new 6-billion-Euro program to fund innovative beacon projects, we are investing more than ever before in top-flight science and research. The conceptual framework for this will be provided by a comprehensive high-tech strategy action plan. Our efforts to promote higher education and research institutions are geared to encouraging healthy competition. With our Excellence Initiative, Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation, and Pact for the Universities, we want to strengthen institutions and academics that are particularly outstanding and creative and also network successfully. By 2010, we aim to increase spending on R&D to 3% of gross domestic product. Science and research will be one of the priorities of Germany's European Union (EU) presidency.
I'm not sure what that means in practical terms. My impression is that she is more focused on applied, rather than basic research, but my knowledge of German politics is basically nil, so that may be way off base.

At least one prominent German scientist, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard believes that having a scientist as Chancellor is a a good thing.

Q. Your country is being led by a Ph.D. physicist. Do you think Chancellor Angela Merkel's election has improved the status of German women in science?

A. It might be of influence. I am happy that she is there because she understands science outside of ideology. In the Green Party and among some in the Socialist Party, there are people who are anti-science. They are against genetically modified foods and atomic energy. She sees through it, and maybe this will help.

It remains unclear whether her chancellorship boosts women in science or not. Germany has a particularly low proportion of women scientists compared to most other countries in the EU, particularly in more senior positions (see She Figures 2006, pp.25, 28, 58), so there is certainly room for improvement.

See also:
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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Kiss My Math

Actress (and math major) Danica McKellar has a new book about math targeted to girls: Kiss My Math: showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss. Based on the book's description, it's definitely got a girly vibe:

Stepping up not only the math, but also the sass and style, Kiss My Math will help math-phobic teenagers everywhere chill out about math, and finally “get” negative numbers, variables, absolute values, exponents, and more. Each chapter features:

• Step-by-step instruction
• Time-saving tips and tricks
• Illuminating practice problems with detailed solutions
• Real-world examples
• True stories from Danica’s own life as a student and actress

Kiss My Math also includes more fun extras--including personality quizzes, reader polls, and real-life testimonials-- ultimately revealing why pre-Algebra is easier, more relevant, and more glamorous than girls think.
Even though I don't remember finding pre-algebra particularly daunting, I sure don't remember it being glamorous either. It's hard to remember exactly what my Junior High School-self was like, but I was definitely shy and self-conscious. I suspect that adding personal quizes and boyfriend talk (*blush* *blush* would have been my response to that) would have made math class a bit uncomfortable and less appealing to me. But obviously, not every girl is like that. As Veronica at Viva La Feminista points out:
While I didn't quite like the concept of teaching "girl" math, there is a real need to make science, math & engineering more girl-friendly. Even I, the math nerd I am, zoned out each time we had to do a problem about shooting two bullets or when two rockets would meet. I'd rather spend time trying to figure out how long it would take a fish to outswim a predator. McKellar is sticking to her girly examples and well, I have to admit, I bet it works.
I like the idea of a making math more appealing to girls, as long as there is no assumption that this is an approach that would necessarily turn on every girl to the glamorous world of pre-algebra.

Here is some video of Danica McKellar talking about girls and math:
And if you have read the book and want to talk about the math problems, math in general, or "beauty and brains", check out McKellar's forum at

ETA: McKellar was interviewed by Ira Flatow on this week's Science Friday show.

(via Zuska)

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Science Careers: Why Did You Become a Scientist?

The journal Science has a "Science Careers" Facebook profile that has posted brief videos of scientists talking about why they went into science.

Molecular biologist Fan-Li Chou, PhD is currently an AAAS Diplomacy Fellow and Assistant Trade Director, Africa and the Middle East, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for the USDA. She's also on the a board member of the San Diego chapter of AWIS. She talks about her research focused on the genetics of disease and her hope for the future of science. There is a bit of "rah rah join AAAS and subscribe to Science", but it doesn't dominate the interview.

Pamela Clark is a graduate student in molecular and cell biology at Howard University. She talks about how her interest in science developed and what she finds exciting about science. Both of her parents are life scientists so she "grew up in the lab".

Katherine Socha, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at St. Mary's College of Maryland. She talks about how she got interested in math and her research using "differential equations to describe the motion of water waves."

Note: You can also watch the videos at if you prefer to watch using RealPlayer rather than Flash.

(via The Urban Scientist's Science, Education and Society blog)
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World Leaders Should Understand Science

Sometimes when I'm surfing I stumble across a factoid that I think will make an interesting post and I stash it away for later. With the US election season heating up, I've put new significance on the following tidbit: Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, was a chemist. According to Wikipedia:

Finishing school during the Second World War, she subsequently applied for a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford and was only successful when the winning candidate dropped out. She went to Oxford in 1943 and studied Natural Sciences and specialised in Chemistry. She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. Thatcher graduated with a BA from Oxford in 1946 with Second Class Honours in Final Honours School. She subsequently studied crystallography and received a postgraduate B.Sc. degree in 1947. Her BA status was converted to MA by Oxford in 1950. Following graduation, Margaret Roberts moved to Colchester and worked as a research chemist for BX Plastics. During this time she joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association. She was also a member of the Association of Scientific Workers.
Her tutor at Oxford was Nobel prize-winning crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin.

Reading Thatcher's bio it seems pretty clear that she was heavily involved in politics from at least her early 20s and that was likely always part of her long term plans. She first stood for election as a Member of Parliament in 1950 at the age of 25. At the time she was the youngest ever female Conservative candidate, and, even though she lost, it was the start of her long career in politics.

Did her science background affect her politics? It certainly gave her a different view of science issues than those currently in favor with American conservatives. In a 1988 speech to the Royal Society she talked about the importance of basic science:
It is mainly by unlocking nature's most basic secrets, whether it be about the structure of matter and the fundamental forces or about the nature of life itself, that we have been able to build the modern world. This is a world which is able to sustain far more people with a decent standard of life than Malthus and even thinkers of a few decades ago would have believed possible. It is not only material welfare. It is about access to the arts, no longer the preserve of the very few, which the gramophone, radio, colour photography, satellites and television have already brought, and which holography will transform further.

Of course, the nation as a whole must support the discovery of basic scientific knowledge through Government finance. But there are difficult choices and I should like to make just three points.[fo 2]

First, although basic science can have colossal economic rewards, they are totally unpredictable. And therefore the rewards cannot be judged by immediate results. Nevertheless the value of Faraday's work today must be higher than the capitalisation of all the shares on the Stock Exchange!

[. . .]

Second, no nation has unlimited funds, and it will have even less if it wastes them. A commitment to basic science cannot mean a blank cheque for everyone with—if I may put it colloquially—a bee in his bonnet. That would spread the honey too thinly.

So what projects to support? Politicians can't decide and heaven knows it is difficult enough for our own Advisory Body of Scientists to say yea or nay to the many applications. I have always had a great deal of sympathy for Max Perutz's view that we should be ready to support those teams, however small, which can demonstrate the intellectual flair and leadership which is driven by intense curiosity and dedication.

[. . .]

We accept that we cannot measure the value of the work by economic output but this is no argument for lack of careful management in the way specific projects are conducted. The money is not for top-heavy administration but for research.

[. . .]

My third point is that, despite an increase in the basic science budget of 15 per cent in real terms since 1979, the United Kingdom is only able to carry out a small proportion of the world's fundamental research and that of course is true of most countries.

It is therefore very important to encourage our own people to be aware of the work that is going on overseas and to come back here with their broadened outlook and new knowledge. It is also healthy to have overseas people working here.
In that same speech she also famously spoke about the human-related problems of global warming, the ozone hole and acid rain.

I don't know whether Thatcher's opinions on basic scientific research and the environment were effectively translated into public policy. And, while I don't care for Thatcher's politics beyond her support of science, it is in sharp contrast to the dismal use of science by the current Bush administration.

So, what about Bush's successor? While both McCain and Obama both apparently support (to some extent) the reduction in greenhouse gases and stem cell research, only Obama has come out with specific suggestions for the improvement of science, technology and mathematics education. However there are many science-related issues that have not been addressed by either candidate. That's why I strongly support Science Debate 2008.
"Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy."
And if the candidates are unwilling to have a debate focused on science (which appears to be the case), I support the efforts of Science Debate 2008 to get the candidates to submit answers to 14 important questions about science and technology.

As Thatcher said in 1988:
From my experience let me say this: in today's world it is no bad thing for a politician to have had the benefit of a scientific background. And not only politicians. [. . .]
Science and the pursuit of knowledge are given high priority by successful countries, not because they are a luxury which the
prosperous can afford; but because experience has taught us that knowledge and its effective use are vital to national prosperity and international standing.
(Thanks to Angela Jones for suggesting I blog about ScienceDebate2008)

Image: Margaret Thatcher in her mid-twenties, from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation web site.
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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Upcoming Blog Carnivals

The September Scientiae Carnival, which focuses on "stories of and from women in science, engineering, technology and math" has a apt theme: "My Summer Vacation".

You can write about anything to do with summer - for example, pick your best experience this year or talk about what summers and vacations mean to you in general. Feel free to use a post you have already posted; this year I have read some great summer vacation posts. As always, you are free to ignore the theme and write about anything to do with women in science and your posts will still be considered for Scientiae.
Submit your (or someone else's) post by 8am [EST] on August 30th. The Carnival will be hosted by Lab Cat.

Praxis There's also a new carnival: PRAXIS, the carnival of scientific life.
The carnival is intended to cover all aspects of life as an academic, whether it's the lifestyle, career progress, doing a Ph.D., getting funding, climbing the slippery pole, academic life as a minority, working with colleagues and students, dealing with the peer-review process, publishing, grants, science 2.0, amusing anecdotes, conference experiences, philosophical musings, public engagement, or even historical articles about what life was like in the good (or bad) old days.
Submit your entries before August 15th. This month's host will be Coturnix at "Blog Around the Clock".

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Think Science Now and Supporting Science Education

Big Think: Think Science Now is a project by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and other research organizations that video profiles 10 outstanding scientists. Once you have watched the videos (or even if you haven't), you can vote for your favorite. Pfizer will donate $1 per vote to science projects for classrooms through

The women scientists profiled so far:

  • Sarah J. Schlesinger, associate professor at The Rockefeller University, who is working on an HIV vaccine
  • Pardis Sabeti, assistant professor at Harvard University, who studies the evolution of the human genome
  • Sonia Patel, pharmacologist at Pfizer
  • Bonnie Bassler, professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, who works on methods to create new antimicrobial drugs

Note that the Think Science Now is only on week 7, so be sure to come back in a couple of weeks.

See for more information on the programs waiting to be funded. You can also donate to the programs directly to get a special thanks.

Every donor receives an email "thank-you" message from the teacher, which is sent about a week after the project is fully funded.

In addition, if you complete a project's funding or give $100 or more, you will receive a "thank-you" package in the mail with student photos and hand-written cards; this usually arrives within 3-6 months of your donation.

(via Sandra at Discovering Biology in a Digital World)
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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Women in Science Link Roundup: August 2 Edition

Here's a bit of what I've been reading the past few weeks, in no particular order:

Martin @ The Lay Scientist is starting a new blog carnival tentatively titled "Carnival of Scientific Life". He wants feedback, so go check out his post. (via Coturnix)

Jake Young at Pure Pedantry looks the variance in boys and girls' math scores in the recent report by Hyde and colleagues. Janet Stemwenel @ Adventures in Ethics and Science also takes a look the latest news about girls, boys and math. There's a discussion of the topic at the NY Times Freakonomics blog (thanks Abby the hacker chick). And don't miss the Onion's "man on the street" look at the news.

NIH has a research supplement grant "to promote re-entry into biomedical and behavioral research careers"

The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), participating Institutes and Centers (ICs) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) announce a continuing program for administrative supplements to research grants to support individuals with high potential to re-enter an active research career after a qualifying interruption for family or other responsibilities.
Google has announced their 2008 European Anita Borg Scholars, who received a a scholarship awarded to female students studying computer science, computer engineering, infomatics or related subjects.

The Society of Women Engineers honored Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX0 with the SWE President's Award.
SWE selected Congresswoman Johnson as its first-ever recipient for her efforts to implement the recommendations of the 2006 National Academies report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” and promote gender equity in academic science and engineering.
At Crooked Timber Eszter relates an anecdote about a woman professor who wanted the chair of her department to sign off on two students entering her lab. The chair responded that he wasn't sure he could sign off because "how do I know you are not going to meet a man and run off and be with him?" Some people (men?) in the comments are defending the chair because, you know, some women do get married and quit their careers, doncha know.

eduwonkette writes about Gender and Stereotype Threat in Math and Science

GrrlScientists looks at Women, Science, and Publishing Revisited

At Simostronomy Mike Simonsen writes about 19th century astronomer Maria Mitchell.

PhysioProf exposes a sinister conspiracy at the heart of a major scientific society: all four Presidential Special Lecturers at this year's meeting of the Society for Neuroscience are women (Carol A. Barnes, Allison J. Doupe, Catherine G. Dulac, and Leslie C. Griffith). The conspiracy? The president of the Society is Eve Marder, who is (you guessed it!) a woman.

And on a more serious note, PhysioProf also writes about Gender Inequity in Science: Why Legal Remidies are Grossly Inadequate. Be sure to read the discussion in the comments.

Mike Brotherton points to a pretty depressing essay by Phillip Greenspun about why there are fewer women in science than men. His thesis is that there are fewer women in science because women find better jobs.
Having been both a student and teacher at MIT, my personal explanation for men going into science is the following:
  1. young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group
  2. men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question "is this peer group worth impressing?"
Reading his essay makes me wonder why anyone would ever consider going into science at all.

Drug Monkey posts about the women of MDMA Research.

Dr. Medusa has done a little poking into the statistics about the salaries of women in the US. A woman professor who earns $50,000 per year puts her in the top 13% of income for women in the US, while a $75,000 salary puts a woman in the top 5%.
So assuming the US census bureau knows that they are doing in their Current Population Survey, women science professors are another odd minority: we’re in the top 3-13% of earnings by US women. We work, and we’re wealthy.
FemaleScienceProfessor has some funny answers to the stupid and sexist questions commonly asked of Female Science Professors.

Finally, if you are interested in stories with a heavy dose of science, check out the works of Andrea Barrett. Says commenter Isabel at Feministe:
Andrea Barrett, who is doubly awesome cuz she’s a female fiction writer who writes a lot about science (her undergrad degree was in bio). Check out Ship’s Fever(National Book Award winner, FWIW) for 9 of the cleanest, most elegantly-crafted short stories about naturalists, biologists, and chemists you will ever read.