Badass Scientist of the Week: George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was a botanist, an agricultural researcher and an educator. He was born on a small farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri, where his mother and brother were the only slaves of Moses and Susan Carver. When he was a baby, his mother was taken by Confederate night-raiders, and the Carvers raised the two boys as their own. George became interested in nature at a young age but schools were racially segregated—to get an education he was forced to leave home at twelve and work to support himself while studying. Racial barriers made applying to college a struggle too, but after four years he finally became the first black student at Simpson College, Iowa. Carver soon transferred to Iowa State College to study science, and he gained a Master’s in agriculture and bacterial botany in 1896. He was renowned within the school for his academic talent and his gift as a teacher. He then took up a position as head of agriculture at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At the time, southern farming was devastated by years of civil war and the “loss” of slave labour, which was hurting the economy. Carver helped farmers recover: he recognised that years of growing cotton and tobacco had severely depleted the soil and so introduced “rotational” crops—alternating soil-depleting crops with soil-enriching crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes. To encourage farmers, he proceeded to invent hundreds of profitable applications of the crops, including adhesives, axel grease, biofuel, bleach, ink, metal polish, shaving cream, synthetic rubber and wood stain. Soon, his ingenuity led to speaking engagements, and by the 1920s he was on lecture tours of white colleges, opening students’ eyes to racial injustices and serving as a mentor to black students. He became a national folk hero, and after his death in 1943, President Roosevelt honoured Carver with a national monument. Carver never patented or profited from most of his profits—as his epitaph reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Aprille Ericsson

Aprille Ericsson (1963–) is an aerospace engineer and the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Ericsson spent her childhood in Brooklyn, New York, where she cultivated an interest in science and mathematics. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she received a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, and during her undergrad, she worked on a variety of projects geared towards manned space flight, which motivated her to attend Howard University to gain her Masters and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace).

She went on to receive a PhD in Engineering at the Goddard Space Flight Center, becoming the first African American female to do so, and has applied to NASA’s astronaut program.

Eriscsson is currently working as an aerospace engineer at GSFC, where she designs and tests spacecraft, so if you think of any major space missions over the last twenty years, there’s a good chance Ericsson was involved in their success.

She’s also a motivational speaker and a mentor to mainly girls and minorities, and has commented: “I feel obligated to continue to help spur the interest of minorities and females in the math, science and engineering disciplines. Without diversity in all fields the United States will not remain technically competitive.”

Among other honours, Ericsson has also won four NASA awards for excellence and the 1997 ‘Women in Science and Engineering’ award for the best female engineer in the federal government.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Mae Jemison

Born in 1956 to a maintenance worker and a teacher, Mae Jemison graduated high school at sixteen and went on to simultaneously earn a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in African-American Studies from Stanford University. She studied medicine at Cornell, during which she travelled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand to provide medical care, then served as a medical officer in the Peace Corps from 1983–1985 in Sierra Leone and West Africa, where she researched Hepatitis B, schistosomaisis and rabies vaccines. After returning to the US, Jemison enrolled in graduate engineering classes and applied to NASA’s astronaut program. Her first application was turned down, but in 1987 she was chosen as one of fifteen candidates out of 2,000 applicants. In 1992, she became a co-investigator on bone cell research on the shuttle Endeavour (STS-47 Spacelab-J), a cooperative mission between the US and Japan. The mission lasted eight days—Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space, making her the first female African-American astronaut. Oh, and she’s also fluent in Russian, Japanese and Swahili, she’s trained in dance and choreography, and she was the first real astronaut to appear on Star Trek in 1993.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) grew up in Germany, as the daughter of a professional musician. Her father gave all his children a broad basic education in art, music, and science. His wife did not approve of educating her daughter, and when her father died, Caroline’s mother put her to work in the kitchen. Caroline had had several childhood diseases that had left her slightly disfigured, and her mother didn’t think she’d be good enough to marry, so she settled on a life of housework for her daughter.  Meanwhile, one of Caroline’s older brothers, William Herschel, had moved to England, where he was working as a composer and music director, and built telescopes in his spare time. When he found out that his mother had put his sister to work as a servant, he invited Caroline to move in with him in England. She did, and quickly got a successful career as a singer. While Caroline stayed with William, he made a discovery that would change both of their lives. Using a telescope he built himself, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. He was hired by King George III as “King’s Astronomer”, and quit his music career to devote all his time to science. Caroline helped him out, first by cleaning lenses and taking notes, but later with astronomical observations of her own.  She discovered a number of comets, including one that was named after her, and as reward for her work, the state paid Caroline a regular stipend, making her the very first woman to receive a salary for scientific work.

Guest article written by Eva, who writes about scientists/musicians on and on Tumblr as MusiSci

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Sylvia Earle

Dr. Sylvia Earle (1935—) is an aquanaut, oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer—she’s led more than 70 expeditions and logged more than 6,500 hours (270 days) underwater. She learned scuba diving while completing her B.S. at Florida State, and she became determined to use the new technology to study underwater life. After earning her Masters at Duke University and starting a family, she went on a six-week expedition in the Indian Ocean in 1964, became director of Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, and somewhere in there obtained her P.h.D too. In 1968 she travelled to 100 feet below the surface of the Bahamas in the submersible deep diver (while four months pregnant with her third child, no big deal) and in 1969, she applied to the Tektite project, which allowed scientists to live underwater for weeks in an enclosed habitat off the Virgin Islands. However, those in charge didn’t want a woman living amongst the men—so instead, Earle just casually led the first all-female research expedition. By the time she surfaced two weeks later, she was a celebrity. She became an advocate for conservation and undersea research, and began to write for National Geographic and produce books, films and television shows. Throughout the 1970s, she undertook scientific missions all over the world, including following sperm whales in 1977, and in 1979, she donned a pressurized suit called the “Jim suit” and walked untethered on the ocean floor at a depth of 385 metres—deeper than anyone before or since. In the 1980s, she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies, which built undersea vehicles that enabled scientific research at depths that hadn’t before been possible. Today, Earle is Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. She has received 15 honourary degrees, authored 150 different publications, and appeared in hundreds of TV shows. She continues to be a dedicated voice for the world’s oceans and its inhabitants—and basically just continues to be really, really badass.

A Must Watch: Sylvia Earle’s TED talk about protecting our oceans

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood (1958–) is a British-Australian plastic surgeon best known for her work in burns care and skin reconstruction. Born in Yorkshire, she studied medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London and worked in various major hospitals before immigrating to Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children in 1987. Here she completed her studies in plastic and reconstructive surgery (in between having four more children) and focused her interests on burns treatments. While treating severe burns patients in the early 1990s, Wood became a pioneer in skin cell transplant technology. Traditionally, treating large burns involves grafting on sheets of cultured skin, which are grown from the patient’s own skin cells, but they usually take up to 21 days to grow. Wood realised that scarring dramatically decreased if the wound was treated within 10 days, so she developed a technique nicknamed “spray-on skin.” The sample skin cells from the patient are cultured in just five days, then sprayed evenly onto the burn area using an aerosol delivery system, where the cells are cultured more quickly than in the lab—the wound actually acts as an ideal culture medium. This leaves much less scarring, and the cells are unlikely to be rejected since they’re from the patient’s own body. When 28 victims of the Bali bombings were urgently flown to Perth in 2002, Wood and her colleagues were well-prepared with this technique—and despite how severe the burns were and how many patients they had to deal with simultaneously, they managed to save 25 of the 28 victims. The spray-on skin technology was adopted around the world, and Wood founded a company called Avita Medical and charity called the Fiona Wood Foundation to research, develop and promote tissue engineering. She received a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003, and became Australian of the Year in 2005. Wood is currently the Director of the Western Australia Burns Service and a consultant plastic surgeon, and is focusing on a way to develop “scarless healing.”

Badass Scientist of the Week: Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova (1937–) is a Soviet cosmonaut, an engineer, and the first woman to fly in space. Born to a tractor driver and a textile plant worker in the Yaroslavl Region of Russia, Tereshkova left school at 17 to work as a textile factory assembly worker and continue her education by correspondence. She was also a keen amateur skydiver through the DOSAAF Aviation Club in Yaroslavl. Tereshkova made her first jump in May 1959 at age 22, and two years later in April 1961, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1, aboard which was Yuri Gagarin: the first man in space. 

In early 1962, the Soviet Union recruited 50 new cosmonauts into their Vostok program—with 5 women among them, in an attempt to beat the Americans. Piloting experience wasn’t needed, but after re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the pilot of the Vostok spacecraft would be ejected to make a landing by parachute. Thanks to her parachuting expertise, Tereshkova was selected. She was the least qualified of the 5 women, who were test pilots, engineers, and world-class parachutists, but after intensive training—weightless flights, centrifuge and isolation tests, spacecraft engineering, parachute jumps and pilot training—Tereshkova was in the final two candidates: herself and Ponomaryova. 

At first it was planned that Tereshkova would launch first in Vostok 5 and Ponomaryova would follow in Vostok 6, but the plan was scrapped in early 1963; instead, a male cosmonaut flew Vostok 5, and Tereshkova flew in Vostok 6. She was 26 years old. 

She spent 70.8 hours in space, making 48 orbits of the Earth, and with one single flight she logged more flight time than all previous American astronauts put together. She also conducted experiments on the effects of space on the human body and took photos that helped identify aerosols in the atmosphere. 

After her return to Earth, Tereshkova never flew again, but studied engineering at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and eventually obtained her PhD in 1977. She also became a prominent politician, served on international councils and spoke at international conferences, played a critical role in socialist women’s issues, and was awarded with the USSR’s highest honour, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, along with many other awards. 

After Tereshkova, it took 19 years until another woman flew to space: another Soviet cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya. A year after that in 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Of the 536 people who have flown in space to date, only 10% of them have been women. 

Tereshkova also married astronaut Andrian Nikolayev. Their daughter, Elena, was the first person whose parents had both flown in space. 

On her 70th birthday, Tereshkova said that if she had a chance, she would like to fly to Mars even if it was only a one-way trip, showing she still retains her pioneering spirit to this day.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa (1958—) is an astronaut, engineer and musician best known as the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut. Born in Los Angeles, Ochoa completed her undergraduate degree in physics at San Diego State University in 1975, then went on to achieve her Masters and PhD at Stanford University in electrical engineering. She’s a pioneer of spacecraft technology—she researched optical systems for automated space exploration at the NASA Ames Research Center, and she has co-invented an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method to remove noise from images. In 1990, she was selected by NASA as a mission specialist and flight engineer, and served on her first space flight in 1993: a nine-day mission on the shuttle Discovery, during which the crew conducted atmospheric and solar studies, and Ochoa operated a research satellite in the study of the sun. Ochoa went on to undertake four space flights in total, logging over 950 hours in space. Her assignments while in the Astronaut Office included flight software, computer hardware development, and robotics development, and her awards include NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal (1997), Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995) and Space Flight Medals (2002, 1999, 1994, 1993). Aside from being an astronaut, Ochoa is also a classical flutist and a private pilot, and she currently lives in Texas with her husband and two children, where she serves as Director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center, Houston.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Nathalie Cabrol 

Dr. Nathalie Cabrol is a planetary scientist and explorer currently working with the SETI institute. 

Born near Paris, she spent her childhood fascinated with the world above her head and the world below her feet. She pursued her interest in science and gained a degree in Earth Sciences at Nanterre University, but was soon hooked on planetary science when a professor showed her maps of Mars in the mid 1980s. Cabrol gained her Masters and P.h.D from Sorbonne, and while she was a P.h.D student, she became interested in the formation of lakes on Mars—an area that very few scientists were talking of at the time. 

In 1994, Cabrol took up a postdoctoral position at NASA. She was influential in arguing for Gusev Crater to be the landing site of the Mars Spirit Rover, on the basis that it may have housed water billions of years ago—and sure enough, Spirit found traces of ancient salty water in the rocks. 

Now a senior research scientist at SETI—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—as well a member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Team, Cabrol is focused on searching for evidence for life in the solar system, especially Mars. She is currently looking for signs of subsurface life, but while she uses evidence from the Mars rovers in her work, she also uses a lot of evidence from here on Earth, by studying extreme terrestrial environments that may be similar to the Martian environment billions of years ago. The Andes are especially pertinent to her research, as the elevated lakes are exposed to high UV radiation—in fact, her expeditions to one of the highest lakes in the world, atop 20,000-foot volcano Licancabur in South America, have uncovered new microbial and zooplankton species, and she’s planning further research in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Australia. 

Cabrol is also currently leading the Planetary Lake Lander project, which is developing strategies to explore the lakes of Titan and to monitor the impact of melting glaciers on the biodiversity in the Chilean Andes. These results are also expected to give insight into the potential of lie on Mars.

According to Cabrol, exploring Mars and its environment is vitally important because it can act as a warning sign, showing us the potential future of Earth. 

Watch Dr. Nathalie Cabrol’s TED Talk

Badass Scientist of the Week: Ellen Swallow Richards

Ellen Swallow Richards (1842–1911) was the most prominent female American chemist of the 19th century, and a pioneer in sanitary engineering. Her family was relatively poor, so she had to work to save enough money to attend Vassar College. She earned earned a Bachelor of Science in 1870, and was most attracted to astronomy (as a pupil of Maria Mitchell) and chemistry. After being rejected by various industrial chemists, she instead applied to MIT and soon became their first female student. She received her second bachelor’s degree, then a master’s from Vassar, and continued with hopes of earning a doctorate from MIT. Although MIT would not award doctorates to women until 1886, Richards perservered, establishing a Women’s Laboratory and becoming an (unpaid) instructor in chemistry and mineralogy. When MIT opened the nation’s first laboratory of sanitary chemistry, she was appointed its instructor. Around this time, Richards also undertook a survey of the pollution Massachusetts’ water supplies, and from this the first water quality standards were born. She served as a water analyst for the State Board of Health as well as working as an instructor at MIT, and she was primarily concerned with both public health and applying scientific ideas of domestic ideas—she believed that having good nutrition, proper clothing, fitness, sanitation and efficiency would give women more time to pursue interests other than cooking and cleaning. Richards co-founded the American Association of University Women, which helps open the doors of higher education to other women even to this day, and in 1910 she was granted an honorary doctor of science degree from Vassar College. A powerful leader, a wise teacher and a tireless worker, Richards died from illness in 1911.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr Lise Meitner

Dr Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was a Jewish Austrian-Swedish physicist known for her co-discovery of nuclear fission. Her passion for physics was inspired by her teacher at university, Ludwig Boltzmann, who taught her to see physics as “a battle for ultimate truth”, and in 1906 she became the second woman ever to graduate with a doctorate of physics from the University of Vienna. After moving to Berlin in 1907, she began to collaborate with Otto Hahn, a German chemist. Their partnership would last for 30 years and, by pooling their knowledge of physics and chemistry, they made huge breakthroughs in nuclear physics. In 1934, after Enrico Fermi split uranium, it fell to them to puzzle over the results. As a Jewish woman in Nazi Germany, Meitner was always in danger, but the Anschluss of 1938 forced her to flee under cover of darkness, breaking for the Dutch border. She travelled on to Stockholm, while Hahn and Fritz Strassmann continued to work in Berlin. The three later met secretly to plan their next experiments. Back in Berlin, Hahn and Strassmann bombarded uranium with neutrons and sent the results to Meitner; they had detected barium, a smaller nucleus. She and her nephew, Otto Frisch, correctly interpreted this as proof of nuclear fission, and recognised the potential for weaponisation. When asked to join the Manhattan Project, Meitner refused, declaring ‘I will have nothing to do with a bomb!’After downplaying Meitner’s contribution for years, Hahn won the 1944 Nobel Prize for Chemistry while Meitner was ignored; modern commentators call this one of the most glaring omissions of the 20th century, though this was somewhat rectified when Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann won the US Fermi Prize in 1966. Meitner eventually retired to Cambridge, England in 1960, where she lived until she died. The inscription on her headstone, composed by her nephew, reads “Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity.”    

Guest article written by Emma (

Badass Scientist of the Week: Mary Anning

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a British fossil collector and paleontologist most well-known for a number of finds that she made in the cliffs surrounding her seaside home in Dorset, England. Fundamental changes in scientific thinking, especially regarding prehistoric life and the history of the Earth, were due in large part to her work. Dorset, where she also lived as a child, was quickly becoming a popular tourist destination by the early 1800s. The wealthy visitors were more than eager to gobble up the variety of fossils that the Anning family found and sold as ‘curios.’ In 1811, Anning made her first important discovery at the age of 12. It was the four foot skull of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that lived during the time of dinosaurs. She soon unearthed the rest of the fossil. The discovery shook up majority England’s long-held belief in Biblical Creation and forced people to question the assumption that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Anning also found the first complete Plesiosaurus fossil, another large marine reptile, and the first British pterosaur fossil, a flying reptile. Fossil hunting was most successful during the winter when landslides on the cliffs would reveal what lay underneath. It was through one of these winter slides that her dog Tray, her faithful fossil hunting companion, was crushed to his death at her feet. Because Anning was a working woman, she did not have much say in the scientific community of the time. In fact, she only ever published in one scientific journal. However, her sketches and writings on ancient life are some of the most-detailed and highly-revered from the time period. Mary Anning has since become a figure of increased interest, and finally received a little of the recognition that she deserves when–only one hundred and sixty-three years after her death–she was ranked among the ten most influential women in the history of science.

Guest article written by Jake Heller

Badass Scientist of the Week: Richard Feynman

Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) was perhaps the most original theoretical physicist of his time, best known for his work in quantum mechanics and particle physics. He taught himself elementary mathematics before he learnt it in school, and by fifteen he’d mastered differential and integral calculus. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree at MIT in 1939 (after switching from mathematics to electrical engineering to physics), and then went on to receive his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1942, where he assisted in the development of the atomic bomb project. Feynman soon became head of the theoretical division of the project in Los Alamos. After WWII, he was appointed as a professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University, and in 1950 he moved to Caltech to fill the same position, returning to researching the quantum theory of electrodynamics he’d been working on before the war, including the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and a model of weak decay. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 with Schwinger and Tomonoga for his fundamental work in this field. His other work included particle spin and a theory of ‘partons’, which led to the current theory of quarks, and he wrote many popular books. He became part of a committee to investigate the explosion on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and became a public scientific figure, but his health gradually deteriorated. Cancer was found in his abdomen, and he died in 1988. He’s remembered for his insatiable curiosity, gentle wit, brilliant mind and playful temperament.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910–1995) was an Indian-American astrophysicist. Born into a large family in 1910 in Lahore, which was at the time a part of British India, Chandrasekhar was homeschooled until 12 and graduated high school at 15. He went on to earn a bachelors degree in physics from Presidency College in Madras, and subsequently went to Cambridge on a scholarship for graduate studies. After receiving his PhD in 1933, he and his wife emigrated to the US in 1937 so Chandrasekhar could join the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he remained for nearly sixty years until his death.

He’s widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century, and one of the first scientists to marry the two disciplines of physics and astronomy. Early in his career, he demonstrated something that every introductory astronomy class teaches: there is an upper limit to the mass of a white dwarf star. The Chandrasekhar limit, which numerically is 1.4 times the mass of our own Sun, ultimately determines the fate of a star once is ends its life—whether it will become a white dwarf, a neutron star, or a black hole.

But Chandrasekhar’s work was much more far-reaching than this, covering almost all aspects of theoretical astrophysics, from star atmospheres to black holes to star structures. He published ten books all on different topics, including one on the intersection of art and science, as well as serving as editor of the Astrophysical Journal for 19 years. In 1983, Chandrasekhar was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his study into the physical processes of stars.

He was also well loved and respected by hic colleagues and students, supervising over 50 PhD students. Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, said of him: “Chandra probably thought longer and deeper about our universe than anyone since Einstein.”

Chandrasekhar died in 1995. In 1999, NASA launched the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has helped us peer into the heart of galaxies, including our own.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper (1906–1992) was a pioneer computer scientist who primarily helped to develop programming languages. She graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in mathematics in 1928, then went on to teach at Vassar while simultaneously earning her MA and PhD. She came from a military family, and so it was not surprising when she left her position of associate professor in to join the United States Naval Reserve. In 1944, she was appointed to a research team at Harvard University to work on the electromechanical Mark I computing machine. Her main aim was to create a program called the compiler to translate English language instructions into the language of the computer—she realised that in order to give computers a larger audience, programming languages must be developed so that anyone could use them. In 1949, Hopper join the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to provide businesses with computers, and began to work on the first large-scale electronic digital computer. She later returned to the Navy as a leader in the Naval Data Automation Command, and after she retiring from the Navy, she became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation and worked well into her eighties. She died in 1992 and was buried with full Naval honours. Her visionary contributions to computer science were vital to the sophisticated computers we know today, but Hopper felt her greatest contribution had been “all the young people I’ve trained.”

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Benjamin Carson

Dr. Benjamin Carson (1951—) is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon, author, public speaker and surgical pioneer. He came from humble origins, raised in Detroit by a single mother, Sonya, who worked several jobs to keep her family afloat. Sonya had dropped out of school in third grade, but she was dedicated to helping her two young sons become successful—thanks to her, the unwilling Carson became a voracious reader and rose from the bottom to the top of his class. He attended Yale on a scholarship, where he completed a degree in Psychology, but in medical school his interests switched from psychiatry to neurosurgery—his ability to visualize the brain in three dimensions and his excellent hand-eye coordination made him an ideal surgeon. He soon became the first African American accepted into the residency program at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. After a time in Perth, Australia, as chief neurosurgical resident at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Carson returned to the US and was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins—the youngest doctor ever to receive the honour, at age 33. He still holds this position today. He quickly became renowned as a skilful surgeon who would take on risky or hopeless cases, combining surgical skills and knowledge with new technology. Carson is particularly well known for his work on conjoined twins, and he made medical history in 1987 by separating a pair of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head. He’s also revived a procedure called a hemispherectomy to treat patients who suffer from chronic seizures, developed a method to treat brain-stem tumours, was the first doctor to operate on a fetus in the womb, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Carson currently operates on 300 children a year, and is in high demand as a public speaker—he’s dedicated to helping young people realise than anything is possible, no matter who you are.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Felix Baumgartner

Felix Baumgartner (1969–) is an Austrian skydiver known for his daredevil stunts. He spiralled to fame last week when became the first man to break the sound barrier in a breathtaking, death-defying jump from the edge of space. Born Salzburg, Austria, Felix began to skydive at 16, and honed his expertise in the military as part of a demonstration and competition team. In 1988, Baumgartner teamed up with Red Bull and began to perform skydiving exhibitions, and in the 1990s he set his sights beyond traditional skydiving, and made record-breaking BASE jumps—which involve parachuting off low-altitude fixed landforms or objects, and require lightning-fast reflexes and precision. Baumgartner then turned his gaze to the sky. I’ve previously written about Joseph Kittinger, who made a record breaking skydive in 1960 at an altitude of 31 kilometres—and under Kittinger’s mentorship, Baumgartner made a jump from a 39 kilometres up. He was so high that he was actually in the stratosphere—the edge of space—and had to wear a spacesuit to survive. If there had been the slightest crack or tear in his suit, it would have instantly depressurised and Baumgartner’s blood would have boiled. If this didn’t faze him, then it’s unsurprising that a mere technical malfunction—causing the fogging of his visor on the ascent up—didn’t bother him either. This nearly forced the mission to abort, but the unshakable Baumgartner made the badass decision to jump anyway. He was in freefall for 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and reached speeds of 1342 km/h (1.24 times the speed of sound)—so he smashed he soundbarrier and broke world records for highest jump, highest balloon flight, and fastest jump. Luckily, he didn’t break himself, and landed successfully on Earth in one piece. His last words before the milestone jump: “Sometimes, you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.”

Watch the recap of the jump

Badass Scientist of the Week: Sir Bernard Lovell

Sir Bernard Lovell (1913–2012) was a radio astronomer and physicist, famous for developing a 76-metre radio telescope in 1957 that is still one of the largest telescopes in the world. Lovell was born Gloucestershire, and his interest in science was sparked by a public lecture given by AM Tindall, a professor of physics. Lovell received a degree in physics from Bristol University in 1934, then completed his PhD in the conductivity of thin metallic films by just 1936. He turned to the study of cosmic rays, but his work was interrupted by WWII, when he instead led a team in the research of radar technology. After, he wanted to use this new research to study the trails left behind by cosmic rays, but his first attempts instead the detected the ‘echoes’ of meteors. These studies of cosmic noise led him to radio astronomy, and in 1952, after becoming a professor of radio astronomy at Manchester University, Lovell began to build a radio telescope out of parts of WWII battleships. Just days after the telescope’s completion, the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched, and tracking the satellit became the telescope’s first spectacular success. Fifty years later, the telescope is still contributing to the frontier of science—used to detect both the first Soviet and American satelllites, to search for the Beagle 2 lander on Mars, and still researches pulsating stars. Lovell was knighted in 1961 for his contributions to astronomy—as Professor Brian Cox said, Lovell “was a pioneer of radio astronomy and almost invented the subject.”

Badass Scientist of the Week: Sir Douglas Mawson

Sir Douglas Mawson (1882–1958) was an Australian geologist and Antarctic explorer. In 1902 he completed his Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Sydney, and he went on to become a lecturer in petrology and mineralogy at the University of Adelaide in 1905, while simultaneously studying the glacial geology of South Australia.

He had his first Antarctic experience as a member of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907–1909 Nimrod Expedition, but while Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott were focused on reaching the South Geographic Pole, Mawson was more interested in the scientific advances of the journey, lamenting that most tales of Antarctica were told by whalers and sealers motivated by financial gain. Instead of staying for the summer as planned, he and Edgeworth David completed a sledge journey of 122 days and were the first to climb to the summit of Mount Erebus alongside Alistair Mackay.

Scott offered Mawson a position on the Terra Nova Expedition in 1910, but Mawson turned it down and led his own expedition: the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which aimed to explore and study wholly unknown regions of the Antarctic continent, directly below Australia. In November 1912, Mawson and a small team set off on what was supposed to be a short journey out of base, but it soon became a desperate feat to stay alive and return with their data and specimens. One team member died falling down an ice crevasse, and another died after eating one of their dogs, so Mawson struggled back alone—only to be so late, he missed the ship home. His prolonged stay proved to be scientifically beneficial, and scientific advances of the expedition included work in cartography, geology, meteorology, aurora, geomagnetism, biology and marine science. On Mawson’s return home the next year, he was knighted, and he wrote a book about the expedition, The Home of the Blizzard.

During WWI, Mawson used his skills with explosives and chemicals to work with the British Ministry of Munitions. Afterwards, in 1921, he was appointed a professor at the University of Adelaide, and he later returned to explore vast sections of the Antarctic coastline in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

He died in 1958 aged 76, and numerous places have been named after him from university buildings to Antarctic coastlines. In leading Australia’s first major scientific exploration expedition beyond our own continent, he became one of the nation’s most famous and respected heroes.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) was born in Massachusetts, USA, to a mother who was related to Benjamin Franklin and a father who believed that studying the natural world was the best way to praise God. While working as a librarian, Maria helped her father complete star observations for the US Coast Guard in their home observatory, equipped with a four-inch telescope. She memorised the sky, so in 1847 when she noticed a new star above the Pole Star, she knew it was a comet. It was named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”, and she received a gold medal from the King of Denmark for her discovery which read: Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars. After travelling Europe with novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family, Maria became Professor of Astronomy at Vassar University. She studied sunspots, Saturn and its rings, the double nebulae in the Great Bear constellation, the 1869 solar eclipse, and the color variations between stars—correctly concluding that the colours were caused by their chemical compositions. Maria became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Philosophical Society, and helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women and served as its president from 1874–76. After her death in 1889, she was elected to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket was named after her, and so was the Mitchell crater on the moon.

(Painting by H. Dasell, 1851)