Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Being Inspired by Women Scientists

I was reading an interview with Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barret, and his description of cool woman astrophysicist who inspired him in high school made me smile:

Well, believe it or not, I was inspired in high school, by my astronomy class, to become an astrophysicist, which I kind of laugh at now. I knew an astrophysicist. And learned -- remember, this is the mind of a teenager -- I knew a lady who worked at Mt. Wilson [Observatory]. She was an astrophysicist. And while she was taking readings at night looking through a telescope, during the day she would chop hot rods and rebuild them and she had this amazing gun collection and flame throwers and she would go to festivals and stuff. I put the two together and thought, “You can be smart AND cool.” And so I figured I could do both. So I thought being an astrophysicist would be cool. Unfortunately, three years into calculus and physics, I realized that it might not be my forte. So I had had a backup, which was photography, and I had been pursuing that in an amateurish fashion ever since.
Amazingly, women don't always have to be wearing cheerleader outfits to interest dudes in science. Even though Roddenberry didn't pursue a career in astrophysics, he has collaborated with NASA, The Kennedy Space Center and other groups to promote space travel and astronomy.

Roddenberry doesn't name the astrophysicist, but she is almost certainly Sallie Baliunas, who indeed has fixed up cars into hot rods and was a friend of Majel Barrett Roddenberry. She also has been involved in some Star Trek-related geekery.

Baliunas is a former Deputy Director of Mt. Wilson Observatory and is currently affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She has gained recent notoriety for her strong skepticism of human causes for global warming.

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