Diversity in Science Carnival: Women Achievers in STEM - Past and Present


It's here! The second edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival! But it wouldn't be here today without the help of Dr. Free-ride and Dr. Isis. With all the time I have had to devote to my mother and her issues the past two weeks, there is no way I could have gotten the carnival up today without their help. Indeed they really get full credit. I haven't even managed to finish a special post I wanted to do for the carnival - so check back later. I'll update when I have it done and add it in here.

But enough of my travails! Let's get on to the really good stuff submitted to this month's carnival!

Women in science through history:

In celebration of Women's History Month, the Smithsonian has uploaded oodles of photographs of women in science, many from the early 20th Century, in their Flickr Photo Commons. They have also been celebrating by blogging about some of these images.

At Adventures in Ethics and Science, a review of Renée Berland's biography of Maria Mitchell ponders the confluence of time, place, and family influence that contributed to Mitchell's success as a professional astronomer at a time when the U.S. had very few professional scientists to speak of. Mitchell's achievements included discovering a comet, computing the orbits of Venus, helping Harvard University and the United States achieve scientific credibility internationally, and revolutionizing the teaching of astronomy at one of the nation's first colleges for women. Perhaps more impressive, she steered a confident course as a woman in science when there were very few role models on whose examples she could draw.

Volcanista tells us of Florence Bascom, the first woman to be hired by the US Geological Survey. Bascom's work in mapping the northeast is still used in the creation of modern maps.

Big ideas:

At Almost Diamonds, Stephanie Zvan considers the achievement and impact of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. Her post, Changing Minds, examines how Loftus shifted the focus of her research on memory from the questions everyone else was asking to tackle questions of how memory works -- or doesn't -- in the real world. It also examines the impact Loftus's research has had on the role memories play in the context of the law and law enforcement.

Pat over at FairerScience describes her admiration of 40's film vixen and technological innovator Hedy Lamarr. Apparently Lamarr and George Anthiel developed a covert communication system using slotted paper rolls to transmit coded, out of phase messages, and synchronize and decode them. The lasting impact of her innovation is described here:

In 1957, their concept was taken up by engineers at the Sylvania Electronic Systems Division, in Buffalo, New York. Their arrangement, using, of course, electronics rather than piano rolls, ultimately became a basic tool for secure military communications. It was installed on ships sent to blockade Cuba in 1962, about three years after the Lamarr-Antheil patent had expired. Subsequent patents in frequency changing, which are generally unrelated to torpedo control, have referred to the Lamarr-Antheil patent as the basis of the field, and the concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today, for example, in the U.S. government's Milstar defense communication satellite system.

A sexy woman in hot shoes, developing technology that would revolutionize a field? Does Dr. Isis know about her?

Here at Thus Spake Zuska, the post Barbara Liskov Wins Turing Award noted the recognition Liskov received for some of her big ideas, including "foundational innovations to designing" and "achievements in programming language design [that] have made software more reliable and easier to maintain." To those of us using the pervasive computer system designs driven by Liskov's work, her big ideas are fairly invisible precisely because they work so well. Good on the Association for Computing Machinery for recognizing Liskov's achievement!

Everyday heros of diversity:

Electronic Village shares the story of a first that happened accidentally, when the replacement for an ill first officer on an ASA flight from Atlanta to Nashville resulted in the All Black Female Flight Crew. The women in this flight crew are aware that role models can make a difference, and were happy to step up to make piloting an aircraft seem like just one more dream a little girl could reasonably entertain.

Diversity in science, or in any professional sphere, makes much more of an impact when there is also community connecting diverse people and helping those people feel themselves at home. At the BDPA Foundation blog, the post BDPA Legacy: Betty Hutchins shares the reflections of Betty Hutchins on how she contributed to this community at the Mayo Clinic. Hutchins came to Mayo as a project manager in the Information Services Department and set about setting up a local chapter of Black Data Processing Associates, forming Mayo Clinic's African Descendants Support Network, and strengthening connections between workplace, local schools, and the larger community.

The BDPA Foundation blog also shares BDPA Legacy: Diane Davis, a profile of the professional achievements of a software engineer and consultant in the design and implementation of management systems. Davis made an impact not only on the Fortune 500 companies she has advised, but also on the broader community that she helped to foster in her workplace and professional circles.

In a guest post at Thus Spake Zuska, Female Seaside Scientist profiles Dr. Cindy Lee van Dover, Professor of Marine Biology, Director of the Duke University Marine Lab, and Chair of the Marine Science and Conservation Division at the Nicholas School. The profile includes some of van Dover's childhood inspirations and discusses the hazing she faced during her Navy training to pilot the ALVIN submarine.

The lived reality of the scientific life:

Greg Laden considers the career trajectory of paleoanthroplogist Barbara Isaac in Palaeowomaen: Barbara Isaac, Women in The Field, and The Throwing Hypothesis. He considers the twists and turns of he life in the field, and also discusses her careful and important work on a point of contention in her field, the "throwing hypothesis":

The point here is that Barbara had the cachet in the field, among her peers, to look for Bigfoot and be taken seriously. And when she looked, fully prepared to reject the idea, she ended up making a reasonable argument that throwing was a plausible technique for interpersonal conflict, defense, and hunting. She would not and did not go beyond plausibility, but that is all she attempted. The idea of her work was to demonstrate the implausibility of the throwing hypothesis, and she ended up essentially unable to do so, leaving the idea standing at the end. As plausible. That is good paleoscience.

The impact of the scientist's big ideas, Greg suggests, can have a lot to do with things besides those ideas -- their resources, their histories, their reputations among others in their fields.

In Women field scientists haven't exactly had a picnic of their careers, Sciencewoman responds to an earlier version of Greg's post, noting that women in field sciences have had to struggle -- and continue to struggle -- to get access to the same sorts of training and fieldwork opportunities and support that their male counterparts have. As Sciencewoman writes:

It's damn hard physical work going out to field sites, lugging big packs, equipment, and samples around for days on end. Just because I'm built with a smaller frame than some of my male geology friends hasn't made the rocks any lighter to carry out of the wildreness. In fact, as I discovered on one backpacking trip, spending money on ultralight camping gear to lighten my load, I simply ended up with more rocks in my pack, because I had the space.

And since deciding to become a mom, I've had to make all sorts of tough career decisions. Did I take those post-docs doing really cool work in the Arctic and the Canadian Rockies for 4 months at a time? No, because I was pregnant and those post-docs would have meant leaving my newborn behind with someone else or subjecting her (and me) to insane and unsafe working conditions. Now my decisions are on a less grand scale, but they mean things like refocusing my work on urban areas so that I can do field work during the workday rather than disappearing to the mountains for a week at a time.

In other words, while it's good to have a few trailblazing women in your field, it can be even better to have the critical mass that might start changing the shape of a professional scientific life, making it the kind of thing one could have in tandem with a wider range of personal lives.

Teachers and Rolemodels

What is amazing about these entries is the fact that many of the contributors to the carnival chose to highlight the accomplishments of women who were/are both brilliant scientists and brilliant teachers.

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, ScienceGirl of Curiosity Killed the Cat offers a profile of Turing Award Winner Fran Allen. In her post ScienceGirl admires both Dr. Allen's accomplishments in computer science and her mentoring abilities, highlighting the experience of meeting her and Dr. Allen's willingness to converse about ScienceGirl's research interests. Fran Allen sounds like an incredible woman.

Sciencewoman goes above and beyond the call of duty with two stellar entries. In the first she presents a description and image of Mary Agnes Chase from the Smithsonian early women scientists photographic archive. She describes these pioneers by saying:

Some used their scientific training and passion to do research, some to save lives as doctors and nurses, some to write about science, some to break the sound barrier, and some to advance the cause of women.

Indeed, the accomplishments of these women inspired many of us and opened the doors that have allowed us to have professional careers.

Sciencewoman reminds us that people have the ability to inspire us early. In her second post Sciencewoman interviews "trailblazing teacher and role-mode Dendro, more commonly known as Mama Sciencewoman. Her interview is touching and heartwarming, but also a cold reminder of the struggles many women have faced in academia. Here, Dendro describes an interaction with a male colleague:

Dendro: "I started a faculty committee on women's affairs and then made one for the state university system. I also started a pay equity committee. Women were not given bargaining capability and were promoted more slowly. I was on the EEO committee and later the academic affairs committee and I chaired it. I was one of 3 female members of the faculty senate. I got propositioned by [an administrator] who was new on campus..."

SW: "Was this when you were single?"

Dendro: "No. It was between you and [your brother]. Haven't you been propositioned by a colleague?"

Miriam at The Oysters Garter tells us about a women she admires and wishes she could have been mentored by. Her entry reminds us that the legacy a scientist leaves can continue to be an inspiration to subsequent generations of scientists. Dr. Mia Tegner was an innovator understanding the dynamics of kelp forest regulation. Miriam describes her admiration for Dr. Tegner:

The current mandate to create marine protected areas in southern California in part stems from Dr. Tegner's work, but she did not live to see them. She died in a diving accident in 2001, when she was 53. My office is two doors down from where hers used to be (though I never met her; she died five years before I came to Scripps). Not only did her premature death deprive the world of her deep understanding of marine ecology and love of the ocean, but I bet she would have been quite a mentor as well.

Jane of See Jane Compute profiles Dr. Justine Cassell, a scientist who is developing technology and tools to help educate populations with special needs.

Using "virtual peers" -- animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children -- Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed to prepare children with autism for interactions with real-life children. ... Cassell and researcher Andrea Tartaro collected data from six children with high-functioning autism aged 7 to 11 as they engaged in play during an hour-long session with a real-life child, and with a virtual peer named Sam.

As Jane describes, the interdisciplinary nature of her work is amazing in "...how many areas it touches: Medicine. Psychology. New media. Computer science. Linguistics. Educational studies. Heck, even gaming, if you consider avatars to be a byproduct of the gaming world."

Finally, Dr. Isis of On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess features a video of Dr. Marian Diamond, a famous neurophysiologist and brilliant educator. Sometimes the biggest impact we can have is as teachers. Dr. Isis writes:

I find Dr. Diamond's passion inspiring and it's touching to hear her speak to her students as she steps away from the camera. To hear her students applaud when she enters the room, openly displaying their excitement for what she has to teach them, and verbally engage her is heartwarming. In my career I aspire towards two goals -- to conduct experiments whose findings contribute to my field and to give to more junior scientists the tools, both personally and professionally, they need to have fulfilling careers. Part of that, I hope, includes sharing my passion for my work with them and encouraging them to pursue questions they find remarkable. I think the best way to do that is to speak honestly about one's enthusiasm and Dr. Diamond does it with grace.

Dr. Diamond sounds like a tremendous academic and educator and her students are certainly fortunate to have had the opportunity to know her.

And that wraps it up for this edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival. Thanks to all of you who contributed! The next carnival will be May 20th (there will be no DiS carnival in April), hosted by DN Lee at Urban Science Adventures!, on the topic "Dealing With Diversity - what have you done with it, what obstacles have you faced, what success stories do you have". I'm sure Danielle will put up a more detailed announcement in the near future so check back with her blog frequently. You should be reading it anyway!


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So much reading to do, so little time...

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 26 Mar 2009 #permalink

Thanks for compiling these wonderful entries and thanks to everyone who submitted something to the carnival. I'm so looking forward to reading all of the posts.

AWESOME. Thank you. I'll show this to my daughter.

Hedy Lamarr's work helped make cell phone technology possible -- the applications span far beyond the military.

Lamarr, who had starred in German films and was mathematically gifted, learned about military technology in the 1930s when her first husband, a Viennese arms dealer and an abusive and controlling man, met with technicians and Nazi industrialists while Lamarr was expected to play hostess. Lamarr said: "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

She escaped the marriage through a ruse, and left Austria, eventually going to Hollywood.

Awesome job, Z, Janet, and Isis! Went to a meeting this morning and sounded intelligent because I learned here yesterday what the BDPA was! All entries are great but WOW! on the interview with Mama Sciencewoman.

Tried to comment on my own entry posted last night but it seems to have been eaten. I wrote about the late NIH/NIGMS minority scholar pioneer, Dr Geraldine Pittman Woods. There's also a little blurb in there about Dr Ruth L Kirschstein, for whom NIH individual postdoc awards are now named. This was a really fun opportunity to delve into the history of programs that today impact me and my students.

Nice job. You've raised the bar for all carnivals. Thanks for your effort.

Some military women STEM accomplishments/firsts:

â¢In the early 1900s, civilian Lelia Jefferson Harvie Barnett worked at the Naval Observatory, conducted physics research and co-authored a number of papers with her husband and Albert Einstein.

â¢As an enlisted Sailor and later a civilian, from 1918 to 1949, Agnes Meyer Driscoll was a lead Navy cryptanalyst, breaking a multitude of Japanese code and cipher systems and helping develop early cipher and cryptanalyst machines. Not surprisingly, in college she majored in mathematics, physics, foreign languages, and music.

â¢In 1953, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper invented the âcompiler,â a program that translates English language into computer instructions. Her legendary work in the field of computer science stretches well beyond the Armed Services.

â¢In 1977, Maj. Lou Ann Rickley enlisted in the Marine Corps as its first female aviation mechanic, and went on to become its first female Aircraft Maintenance Limited Duty Officer.

â¢In 1978, Brigadier Gen. Rhonda Cornum first entered the Army with a Ph.D. in biochemistry and nutrition. She later augmented that degree with an M.D.; and parlayed both into a highly successful career.

â¢In 1984, Senior Executive Michelle Bailey obtained a Masterâs degree in computer science, adding to a long list of achievements that led to her current position as Deputy Chief Engineer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

â¢From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Sheila E. Widnall served as Secretary of the Air Force, taking a sabbatical from a distinguished career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Widnall was the first female to service as chief of one of the armed forces.

â¢In 2006, Rear Adm. Carol Pottenger, who started her career as an engineering division officer aboard USS Yosemite, became the first woman to command an expeditionary strike group.

â¢Earlier this week, Navy analytical chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss announced that her lab has produced signficant new results that could indicate cold fusion reactions. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/6333164.html

AWESOME. Thank you. I'll show this to my daughter

Not sure how old your daughter is, but I am sure that she will be encouraged and excited by it. I think that boys should also see this carnival, because after all, we hope that more and more of their oolleagues will be women.

@ Mike Haubrich, FCD


My daughter is fifteen and very good at math. And you're right. I will show it to my son as well, who is thirteen and also very good at math . . . thanks for the reminder!

My daughter's a bit young for this, but I'll see if I can hold onto a few of these references for her. I'll also be following up on Dr. Cassell's research, since Koboldling is autistic. Good work.