Saturday, April 18, 2015

You've come a long way baby!

I've spent much of my career teaching and preparing others for a career in STEM. Most of those students were men. That wasn't my choice, and I often wondered why there weren't more women in science. While studying for my graduate degree in Mathematics, the scales were much more balanced with lots of women in the classroom with the males. Later — twenty years later — working on my second Master's in Computer Science, there were two ladies and 14 men including me. Why? CompSci seems like a great job for women. Why weren't they interested? Ah, that is the question.

I served on the "Industry Advisory Council" at Metropolitan State University in Denver for many years. We focused regularly on the issue of getting more women involved in technology and engineering. Some of that attention was simply an attempt to increase our market share by attracting more female (paying) students, but many on the committee and working groups were very focused on why more women don't pursue these scientific career paths.

At IBM, a company that went to extra efforts to attract skilled women, the percentage of women increased steadily during my tenure. IBM has been creating meaningful roles for female employees since the 1930s. This tradition was not the result of a happy accident. Instead, it was a deliberate and calculated initiative on the part of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., IBM's legendary leader. Watson discerned the value women could bring to the business equation, and he mandated that his company hire and train women to sell and service IBM products.

Soon IBM had so many women professionals in its ranks that the company formed a Women's Education Division. Those early pioneers may not have realized it then, but block by block they laid the foundation for a tradition that lasts to this day. The tens of thousands of women who have been IBM employees since the 1930s have built upon that foundation, for women now comprise more than 30 percent of the total U.S. IBM employee population. The current CEO of IBM is a woman.

However, across the technology sector in general, there is a major disparity between men and women. While 57 percent of occupations in the workforce are held by women, in computing occupations that figure is only 25 percent. Of chief information officer jobs (CIOs) at Fortune 250 companies, 20 percent were held by a woman in 2012. In the United States, the proportion of women represented in undergraduate computer science education and the white-collar information technology workforce peaked in the mid-1980s, and has declined ever since. In 1984, 37.1% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women; the percentage dropped to 29.9% in 1989-1990, and 26.7% in 1997-1998. Figures from the Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey indicate that fewer than 12% of Computer Science bachelor's degrees were awarded to women at U.S. PhD-granting institutions in 2010-11.

We have now reached a point where more women than men graduate with college degrees, yet there continues to be an imbalance in the pay scale for female workers in most fields including the technology areas. Since these high technology companies often pay a premium salary compared to other industries, more women working in technology would help correct the short-coming of women's pay compared to their male counterparts.

IBM was very serious about mentoring. The Mentor - Protégé relationship was very formal. My first Protégé was a women and my last near the end of my career was also a female. In addition, I worked closely with the only IBM "Fellow" at Printing Systems, a wonderful, smart, and accomplished women named Joan Mitchell. She took special care to mentor and nurture females. I saw that system work, even in the "men's world" of high tech. So I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why women are so under represented in STEM. There are some cultural issues and high tech can be a "boy's club," that's for sure. But I expect my female colleagues to just fight for the right. Here are some example of ladies that fought the fight … and won.

Whether the issue is pay equality or simply wanting our wives, sisters, and daughters to participate in this modern technological society that I revisit this topic. I've written before about women and science and women in society. Perhaps this biographical list of famous women in STEM will encourage a little more progress. And, if some young lady should find a motivation in this essay to enter the field of science — just one women who chooses a career in the study of the natural world — then I will have accomplished a meaningful goal and I can rest easy. You've come a long way baby. You've got the vote. Unlimited opportunity lies before you. Step up to the plate and swing at the mixed metaphors. Here's a few that pioneered the path for you.

Hypatia (c 351-415 AD) Greek astronomer and mathematician

Hypatia was one of the first women to study mathematics and astronomy. She rose to become the head of the Platonist school in Alexandria, but her pioneering life ended in tragedy: she was murdered by zealots during a period of religious strife. Some consider her death the end of classical scholarship.

No written work widely recognized by scholars as Hypatia's own has survived to the present time. Many of the works commonly attributed to her are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus. This kind of authorial uncertainty is typical for female philosophers in antiquity.

A partial list of Hypatia's works as mentioned by other antique and medieval authors or as posited by modern authors:

  • A commentary on the 13-volume Arithmetica by Diophantus.
  • A commentary on the Conics of Apollonius.
  • Edited the existing version of Ptolemy's Almagest.
  • Edited her father's commentary on Euclid's Elements.
  • She wrote a text "The Astronomical Canon". (Either a new edition of Ptolemy's Handy Tables or commentary on the aforementioned Almagest.)
  • Her contributions to science are reputed to include the invention of the hydrometer, used to determine the relative density (or specific gravity) of liquids. However, the hydrometer was invented before Hypatia, and already known in her time.

Sophie Germain (1776-1831) Mathematician

A challenge was issued in Napoleonic France to explain why sand on small glass plates settled into patterns when the glass was vibrated. The only entrant was Sophie Germain. It took her six years, but she eventually won with a pioneering paper on elasticity. Despite her work, she was never accepted by the male establishment of the time.

Even with initial opposition from her parents and difficulties presented by society, she gained education from books in her father's library and from correspondence with famous mathematicians such as Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss. One of the pioneers of elasticity theory, she won the grand prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences for her essay on the subject. Her work on Fermat's Last Theorem provided a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject for hundreds of years after. Because of prejudice against her gender, she was unable to make a career out of mathematics, but she worked independently throughout her life. The modern view generally acknowledges that although Germain had great talent as a mathematician, her haphazard education had left her without the strong base she needed to truly excel.

In addition to mathematics, Germain studied philosophy and psychology. She wanted to classify facts and generalize them into laws that could form a system of psychology and sociology, which were then just coming into existence. Her philosophy was highly praised by Auguste Comte.

Marie Sktodowska-Curie (1867-1934) Radioactivity pioneer, two-time Nobel laureate

A giant of science, Marie Sktodowska-Curie or "Madame Curie" conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, a term she coined. She discovered two elements, founded two medical research centers, won two Nobels, and invented mobile X-ray units (dubbed petites Curies), saving countless lives in World War I.

She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win twice in multiple sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

In 1895 Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the existence of X-rays, though the mechanism behind their production was not yet understood. In 1896 Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts emitted rays that resembled X-rays in their penetrating power. He demonstrated that this radiation, unlike phosphorescence, did not depend on an external source of energy but seemed to arise spontaneously from uranium itself. Influenced by these two important discoveries, Marie decided to look into uranium rays as a possible field of research for a thesis.

She used an innovative technique to investigate samples. Fifteen years earlier, her husband and his brother had developed a version of the electrometer, a sensitive device for measuring electric charge. Using Pierre's electrometer, she discovered that uranium rays caused the air around a sample to conduct electricity. Using this technique, her first result was the finding that the activity of the uranium compounds depended only on the quantity of uranium present. She hypothesized that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction of molecules but must come from the atom itself. This hypothesis was an important step in disproving the ancient assumption that atoms were indivisible.

As one of the most famous female scientists of all time, Marie Curie has become an icon in the scientific world and has received tributes from across the globe. In a 2009 poll carried out by New Scientist, Marie Curie was voted the "most inspirational woman in science.” Curie received 25% of all votes cast, nearly twice as many as second-place Rosalind Franklin (14%).

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) Nuclear physicist

When Lise Meitner was a teen, Austria restricted female higher education. She pursued physics anyway, and 25 years later became the first woman in Germany to hold a professorship in physics. She helped discover nuclear fission, but was contentiously not awarded the 1944 Nobel alongside collaborator Otto Hahn.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Meitner was acting director of the Institute for Chemistry. Although she was protected by her Austrian citizenship, all other Jewish scientists, including her nephew Otto Frisch, Fritz Haber, Leó Szilárd, and many other eminent figures, were dismissed or forced to resign from their posts. Most of them emigrated from Germany. Her response was to say nothing and bury herself in her work. In 1938, Meitner fled to the Netherlands and finally arrived in Sweden. She later acknowledged, in 1946, that "It was not only stupid but also very wrong that I did not leave at once.”

Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann performed the difficult experiments which isolated the evidence for nuclear fission at their laboratory in Berlin. The surviving correspondence shows that Hahn recognized that fission was the only explanation for the phenomenon (at first he named the process a 'bursting' of the uranium), but, baffled by this remarkable conclusion, he wrote to Meitner. The possibility that uranium nuclei might break up under neutron bombardment had been suggested years before, notably by Ida Noddack. (Ida Noddack, née Ida Tacke, was a German chemist and physicist. She was the first to mention the idea of nuclear fission in 1934. With her husband Walter Noddack she discovered element 75, Rhenium.)

By employing the existing "liquid-drop" model of the nucleus, Meitner and Frisch were the first to articulate a theory of how the nucleus of an atom could be split into smaller parts: uranium nuclei had split to form barium and krypton, accompanied by the ejection of several neutrons and a large amount of energy (the latter two products accounting for the loss in mass).

She and Frisch had discovered the reason that no stable elements beyond uranium (in atomic number) existed naturally; the electrical repulsion of so many protons overcame the strong nuclear force holding the nucleus together against the electromagnetic repulsion of positive charges. Frisch and Meitner also first realized that Einstein's famous equation, E = mc2, explained the source of the tremendous releases of energy in nuclear fission, by the conversion of rest mass into kinetic energy, popularly described as the conversion of mass into energy.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935) Mathematician

Amalie “Emmy” Noether was a pioneer of Abstract Algebra. She was also a trailblazer who refused to accept that women should not join the pursuit of knowledge. When German’s Nazi government hounded her of of academia, she taught in secret. Today, Noether’s theorem underpins much of modern physics.

Abstract Algebra (occasionally called Modern Algebra) is the study of algebraic structures. Algebraic structures include groups, rings, fields, modules, vector spaces, lattices, and algebra over a field. The term "Abstract Algebra" was coined in the early 20th century to distinguish this area of study from the other parts of mathematics. Just as common algebra abstracts arithmetic, in some sense replacing the numbers with letters and formulas that represent generic and abstract operations on numbers, Abstract Algebra replaces the common mathematical operations themselves such as addition and multiplication and their inverses with generalized operations and studies more abstract mathematical ideas. These much more abstract and powerful methods are at the heart of modern physics in quantum mechanics and such advanced ideas as string theory.

When you begin to solve a physics problem, one of the first and most important questions to answer is this: When I have an object moving through a given environment, what quantities are conserved?

Noether’s Theorem gives an answer to this question. What’s more, it provides a way to identify other conserved quantities that you might not even have thought to look for. And the theorem is so simple that you can usually figure out the conserved quantities just by drawing a picture.

Noether’s Theorem can be stated this way: For every continuous symmetry that an environment has, there is a corresponding conserved quantity. The theorem gives a simple recipe for calculating what these conserved quantities are. Probably the most profound insight of Noether’s Theorem comes from its view of the principle of energy conservation itself. Energy conservation appears naturally from Noether’s Theorem when you assume that the environment is symmetric with respect to translations in time. That is, saying that energy is conserved is equivalent to saying that the laws of physics are unchanging in time.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979) Astrophysicist

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin studied at Cambridge, but was denied a degree because the college didn’t grant them to women in 1948. She pursued a PhD in the United States, and in her thesis showed the sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium. It has been called “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy."

In 1925 Payne wrote her doctoral dissertation, and so became the first person to earn a PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard). Her thesis was titled "Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars.”

Payne was able to accurately relate the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures by applying the ionization theory developed by Indian physicist Meghnad Saha. She showed that the great variation in stellar absorption lines was due to differing amounts of ionization at different temperatures, not to different amounts of elements. She found that silicon, carbon, and other common metals seen in the Sun's spectrum were present in about the same relative amounts as on Earth, in agreement with the accepted belief of the time, which held that the stars had approximately the same elemental composition as the Earth. However, she found that helium and particularly hydrogen were vastly more abundant (for hydrogen, by a factor of about one million). Thus, her thesis established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars, and accordingly was the most abundant element in the Universe.

Later Payne studied stars of high luminosity in order to understand the structure of the Milky Way. She surveyed all the stars brighter than the tenth magnitude. She then studied variable stars, making over 1,250,000 observations with her assistants. This work later was extended to the Magellanic Clouds, adding a further 2,000,000 observations of variable stars. These data were used to determine the paths of stellar evolution. Her observations and analysis, with her husband, of variable stars laid the basis for all subsequent work.

In 1956 she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Later, with her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to head a department at Harvard. The trail she blazed into the largely male-dominated scientific community was an inspiration to many.

Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906-1972) Theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate

Despite spending most of her career working in unpaid positions, Maria Goeppert-Mayer made huge contributions to both theoretical and chemical physics. Her biggest breakthrough was a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, for which she earned a Nobel prize.

In December 1941, Goeppert-Mayer took up her first paid professional position, teaching science part-time at Sarah Lawrence College. In the spring of 1942, with the United States embroiled in World War II, she joined the Manhattan Project. She accepted a part-time research post with Columbia University's Substitute Alloy Materials (SAM) Laboratories. The objective of this project was to find a means of separating the fissile uranium-235 isotope in natural uranium; she researched the chemical and thermodynamic properties of uranium hexafluoride and investigated the possibility of separating isotopes by photochemical reactions. This method proved impractical at the time, but the development of lasers would later open the possibility of separation of isotopes by laser excitation.

Through her friend Edward Teller, Goeppert-Mayer was given a position at Columbia with the Opacity Project, which researched the properties of matter and radiation at extremely high temperatures with an eye to the development of the Teller's "Super" bomb, the wartime program for the development of thermonuclear weapons. In February 1945, her husband was sent to the Pacific War, and Goeppert-Mayer decided to leave her children in New York and join Teller's group at the Los Alamos Laboratory.

During her time at Chicago and Argonne in the late 1940s, Goeppert-Mayer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, which she published in 1950. Her model explained why certain numbers of nucleons in an atomic nucleus result in particularly stable configurations. These numbers are what Eugene Wigner called magic numbers: 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126. Enrico Fermi provided a critical insight by asking her: "Is there any indication of spin orbit coupling?" She realized that this was indeed the case, and postulated that the nucleus is a series of closed shells and pairs of neutrons and protons tend to couple together.

Three German scientists, Otto Haxel, J. Hans D. Jensen, and Hans Suess, were also working on solving the same problem, and arrived at the same conclusion independently. In 1963, Goeppert-Mayer, Jensen, and Wigner shared the Nobel Prize for Physics "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure."

Grace Hopper (1906-1992) Computer scientist

A US Navy rear admiral and computer science pioneer, Grace Hopper was among the programmers of a computer used near the end of World War II. She coined the term “debugging” after she removed an actual moth from the circuitry of a malfunctioning Harvard Mark II computer in 1947.

She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944, and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages. Owing to the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace.” The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC.

In the spring of 1959, a two-day conference known as the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL) brought together computer experts from industry and government. Hopper served as a technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language COBOL (an acronym for COmmon Business-Oriented Language). The new language extended Hopper's FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the IBM equivalent, COMTRAN. Hopper's belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English (rather than in machine code or in languages close to machine code, such as assembly languages) was captured in the new business language, and COBOL went on to be the most ubiquitous business language to date.

In the 1970s, Hopper advocated for the Defense Department to replace large, centralized systems with networks of small, distributed computers. Any user on any computer node could access common databases located on the network. She pioneered the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. The Navy tests for conformance to these standards led to significant convergence among the programming language dialects of the major computer vendors. In the 1980s, these tests (and their official administration) were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) “The First Lady of Physics”

In her extraordinary career, Chien-Shiung Wu disproved a “law” of nature (conservation of parity), worked on the Manhattan Project, became the first female instructor in Princeton’s physics department, and earned a reputation as the leading experimental physicist of her time.

Wu worked on the Manhattan Project, where she helped develop the process for separating uranium metal into the uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion. She is best known for conducting the Wu experiment, which contradicted the law of conservation of parity. This discovery earned the 1957 Nobel Prize in physics for her colleagues Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, and also earned Wu the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978.

Her expertise in experimental physics evoked comparisons to Marie Curie, and her many honorary nicknames include "the First Lady of Physics,” "the Chinese Madame Curie,” and the "Queen of Nuclear Research.”

In her research, Wu continued to investigate beta decay. Enrico Fermi had published his theory of beta decay in 1934, but an experiment by Luis Walter Alvarez had produced results at variance with the theory. Wu set out to repeat the experiment and verify the result. She suspected that the problem was that a thick and uneven film of copper sulphate (CuSO4) was being used as a copper-64 beta ray source, which was causing the emitted electrons to lose energy. To get around this, she adapted an older form of spectrometer, a solenoidal spectrometer. She added detergent to the copper sulphate to produce a thin and even film. She was then able to demonstrate that the discrepancies observed were the result of experimental error; her results were consistent with Fermi's theory.

At Columbia Wu knew the Chinese-born theoretical physicist Tsung-Dao Lee personally. In the mid-1950s, Lee and another Chinese theoretical physicist, Chen Ning Yang, grew to question a hypothetical law of elementary particle physics, the "Law of Conservation of Parity.” Lee and Yang's theoretical calculations predicted that the beta particles from the cobalt 60 atoms would be emitted asymmetrically if the hypothetical "Law of Conservation of Parity" proved invalid.

Wu's experiments at the National Bureau of Standards showed that this is indeed the case: parity is not conserved under the weak nuclear interactions. This was also very soon confirmed by her colleagues at Columbia University in different experiments, and as soon as all of these results were published — in two different research papers in the same issue of the same physics journal — the results were also confirmed at many other laboratories and in many different experiments.

The discovery of parity violation was a major contribution to particle physics and the development of the Standard Model. In recognition for their theoretical work, Lee and Yang were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) Inventor and actress

To get secret messages past the Nazis, Hedy Lamar co-invented a frequency-hopping technique that helped pave the way for today’s wireless technologies. For years, her achievement was overshadowed by her other career, as a Hollywood star.

Lamarr co-invented the technology for spread spectrum and frequency hopping communications with composer George Antheil. This new technology became important to America's military during World War II because it was used in controlling torpedoes. Those inventions have more recently been incorporated into Wi-Fi, CDMA (cell phones), and Bluetooth technology, and led to her being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Lamarr appeared in numerous popular feature films, including Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer, I Take This Woman (1940) with Spencer Tracy, Comrade X (1940) with Clark Gable, Come Live With Me (1941) with James Stewart, H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) with Robert Young, and Samson and Delilah (1949) with Victor Mature.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) Biophysicist

English chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin used X-ray diffraction to reveal the inner structures of complex minerals and living tissues, including — famously — DNA. Had she not died in 1958 at the age of 37, it is widely believed she would have shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with colleague Aaron Klug.

She made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her DNA work posthumously achieved the most profound impact as DNA plays a central role in biology since it carries the genetic information that is passed from parents to their offsprings.

Her early death from cancer disqualified her from the Nobel Prize which is only given to living recipients. However, there has been controversy regarding Franklin getting full credit for her part in the discovery of DNA. In their original paper, Watson and Crick do not cite the X-ray diffraction work of both Maurice Wilkins and Franklin. However, they admit their having "been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins, Dr. R. E. Franklin and their co-workers at King's College, London." Watson and Crick had no experimental data to support their model. It was Franklin and Gosling's own publication in the same issue of Nature with the X-ray image of DNA, which served as the main evidence.

Ursula Franklin (1921-) Physicist and activist

After earning a PhD in experimental physics in Berlin, Ursula Franklin moved to Canada, eventually becoming the first female professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Engineering. A tireless pacifist, feminist, and human rights advocate, her work on nuclear blast fallout led to the end of atmospheric weapons testing.

Franklin is best known for her writings on the political and social effects of technology. For her, technology is much more than machines, gadgets, or electronic transmitters. It is a comprehensive system that includes methods, procedures, organization, "and most of all, a mindset.”

According to Ursula Franklin, technology is not a set of neutral tools, methods, or practices. She asserts that various categories of technology have markedly different social and political effects. She distinguishes for example, between work-related and control-related technologies. Work-related technologies, such as electric typewriters, are designed to make tasks easier. Computerized word processing makes typing easier still. But when computers are linked into work stations — part of a system — word processing becomes a control-related technology. "Now workers can be timed," Franklin writes, "assignments can be broken up, and the interaction between the operators can be monitored.”

One of the most striking ideas she espoused from my personal perspective is the concept of “silence.” "Silence," Franklin writes, "possesses striking similarities [to] aspects of life and community, such as unpolluted water, air, or soil, that were once taken as normal and given, but have become special and precious in technologically mediated environments."

She argues that the technological ability to separate recorded sound from its source makes the sound as permanent as the Muzak that plays endlessly in public places without anyone's consent. For Franklin, such canned music is a manipulative technology programmed to generate predictable emotional responses and to increase private profit. Rock on sister!

Vera Rubin (1928-) Astronomer

Vera Rubin saw something unusual in galaxies: outer stars orbit just as quickly as those int he center. She surmised that each galaxy must contain more mass than meets the eye. It was the first observational evidence of dark matter, which today is one of the the most studied topics in cosmology.

Rubin began work which was close to the topic of her previously controversial thesis regarding galaxy clusters, with instrument maker Kent Ford, making hundreds of observations. The Rubin–Ford effect is named after them, and has been the subject of intense discussion ever since it was reported. It describes the motion of the Milky Way relative to a sample of galaxies at distances of about 150 to 300 Million Light Years, and suggests that it is different from the Milky Way's motion relative to the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Wishing to avoid controversy, Rubin moved her area of research to the study of rotation curves of galaxies, commencing with the Andromeda Galaxy. She pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates, and uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion.

Galaxies are rotating so fast that they would fly apart if the gravity of their constituent stars was all that was holding them together. But they are not flying apart, and therefore, a huge amount of unseen mass must be holding them together. This phenomenon became known as the "galaxy rotation problem" since this additional mass can't be observed. Her calculations showed that galaxies must contain at least ten times as much dark (or invisible) mass as can be accounted for by the visible stars. Attempts to explain the galaxy rotation problem led to the theory of dark matter. That is, "dark" since it isn't observed.

In the 1970s Rubin obtained the strongest evidence up to that time for the existence of dark matter. The nature of dark matter is as yet unknown, but its presence is crucial to understanding the future of the universe.

Currently, the theory of dark matter is the most popular candidate for explaining the galaxy rotation problem. The alternative theory of MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) has little support in the community. Rubin, however, prefers the MOND approach, stating "If I could have my pick, I would like to learn that Newton's laws must be modified in order to correctly describe gravitational interactions at large distances. That's more appealing than a universe filled with a new kind of sub-nuclear particle."

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-) Astrophysicist

As a PhD student, Jocelyn Bell Burnell was analyzing radio telescope data when she noticed radio pulses from one point in the sky. She had discovered pulsars: rating neutron stars that emit beams of radiation, like cosmic lighthouses. The work earned her graduate supervisor a Nobel, and launched an eminent career.

As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars while studying and advised by her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Martin Ryle, while Bell Burnell was excluded, despite having been the first to observe and precisely analyze the pulsars. The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Hewish's name was listed first, Bell's second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with Martin Ryle, without the inclusion of Bell as a co-recipient. Many prominent astronomers expressed outrage at this omission, including Sir Fred Hoyle. The fact that Bell Burnell did not receive recognition in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics has been a point of controversy ever since.

Sandra Faber (1944-) Astronomer

As a child, Sandra Faber spent countless evenings lying in her backyard, gazing at the stars. Decades later, when the first photos from the Hubble Telescope came back blurry, she led the team that diagnosed and solved the problem, enabling the telescope to capture some of the most stunning images of space ever seen.

Faber was the head of a team (known as the Seven Samurai) that discovered a mass concentration called "The Great Attractor." She was also the Principal Investigator of the Nuker Team, which used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. Faber was deeply involved in the initial use of Hubble as a member of the WFPC-1 camera team, and was responsible for diagnosing the spherical aberration in the Hubble primary lens, a situation later repaired by a Shuttle mission.

Lene Hau (1959-) Physicist

In 1999, Lene Hau slowed a beam of light down to the pace of a fast bicycle ride. Then, in 2001, the Danish physicist stopped light completely. The now-famous work holds important implications for quantum computing and quantum cryptography.

She led a Harvard University team who, by use of a Bose-Einstein condensate, succeeded in slowing a beam of light to about 17 meters per second, and, in 2001, was able to stop a beam completely. Later work based on these experiments led to the transfer of light to matter, then from matter back into light, a process with important implications for quantum encryption and quantum computing.

More recent work has involved research into novel interactions between ultra-cold atoms and nanoscopic scale systems. In addition to teaching physics and applied physics, she has taught Energy Science at Harvard, involving photovoltaic cells, nuclear power, batteries, and photosynthesis.

Fabiola Gianotti (1960-) Particle physicist, first female director general at CERN (starting 2016)

Fabiola Gianotti first studied arts and philosophy, because she loved asking big questions. Then physics won her heart, because it provides big answers. Now, she’s a leading researcher at the biggest particle physics laboratory on Earth.

Gianotti holds a PhD in experimental particle physics from the University of Milan, Italy. She joined CERN in 1987, working on various experiments including the UA2 experiment and ALEPH on the Large Electron Positron collider, the precursor to the LHC at CERN. Her thesis was on data analysis for the UA2 experiment.

The ATLAS collaboration at CERN consists of almost 3,000 physicists from 169 institutions, 37 countries, and five continents. It is the biggest detector ever built at a particle collider. ATLAS is about 45 meters long, more than 25 meters high, and weighs about 7,000 tons. It is about half as big as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and weighs the same as the Eiffel Tower or a hundred 747 jets (empty).

Gianotti served as ATLAS physics coordinator from 1999 to 2003 and as deputy spokesperson to Peter Jenni (the "founding father" of the ATLAS experiment) from 2004 to 2009. She worked with the collaboration since its inception. After 18 years of working with CERN, Gianotti became the ATLAS experiment's coordinator, leading the lab's strategic planning, and presenting findings to the international media.

On July 4, 2012, at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, Gianotti announced that a team at CERN had discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson predicted by the Standard Model of physics. She also was a finalist for the Time's Person of the Year for that year.

She has been selected by CERN Council as the Organization’s next Director-General. The appointment will be formalised at the December session of Council, and Dr Gianotti’s mandate will begin on January 1, 2016 and run for a period of five years. She will be the first woman to hold the position of CERN Director-General.

Gianotti is also a member of the Physics Advisory Committee at Fermilab, the particle physics laboratory at Batavia, Illinois. A trained pianist, she has a professional music diploma from the Milan Conservatory.


I will conclude with the answer that Ms. Gianotti gave to the question “Do you have any advice for kids wanting to go into the field of science?”

"Science, i.e. contributing to the progress of knowledge, is one of the most exciting and noble activities. It requires passion, enthusiasm, dedication, and a lot of motivation. If a young person wants to take this path, I can only encourage him/her strongly.

The path is long and difficult; there will be many challenges and dark moments, which need to be addressed with courage and determination. But the satisfaction of contributing to advance the limits of knowledge is extremely rewarding.

Also, be modest. Although mankind has made huge progress, the things we don't know are far more numerous than those we know. Only a modest attitude can push us to give the best of ourselves.

Whatever you choose to do, don't give up on your dreams, as you may regret it later.“

Good advice for young women as well as young men. “Don’t give up on your dreams.”

"Touch a scientist and you touch a child." — Ray Bradbury

"Young children attack life with passion and are not afraid of hiding their enthusiasm. Now, take a look at old photos and video footage of Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. They hide nothing! They are kids!” — Fabiola Gianotti

And this is just the beginning. Time and space prevents me from saying more. Here are just names for the interested reader to explore further:

  • Emilie du Chatelet (1706 – 1749)
  • Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)
  • Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)
  • Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)
  • Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)
  • Irène Curie-Joliot (1897 – 1956)
  • Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992)
  • Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994)

You have come a long way, baby. Don't stop now. Keep reading. Keep studying. Don't let prejudice and ignorance stand in your way. The time has come. Now go out there and show us what you've got.

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