A wonderful, wide-ranging interview with trailblazing astronomer Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter and who turns 88 today. In 1965, Rubin broke the glass ceiling in astronomy by becoming the first woman permitted to observe at the prestigious Palomar Observatory, home to the most powerful telescopes at the time.

Also see her abiding wisdom on obsessiveness and minimizing obstacles

Renowned Canadian scientist Ursula Franklin dead at 94
'All her career, she was always the first and the pioneer and the woman,' her daughter says

Ursula Franklin, one of Canada’s most accomplished scientists and educators, died Friday in Toronto at the age of 94.

Franklin was born in Germany and moved to Canada in 1949 to improve her education after surviving the Holocaust.

The researcher joined the University of Toronto’s department of metallurgy and materials science in 1967, and became the institution’s first ever female university professor (a special designation accorded to a small portion of the faculty) in 1984.

“All her career, she was always the first and the pioneer and the woman,” said her daughter, Monica Franklin.

Franklin accrued a long list of awards and accomplishments throughout her long career. She was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 1990, and named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1992.

In what was arguably her biggest contribution to science, Franklin discovered radioactive substances in Canadian children’s baby teeth.

“It was a little disconcerting because it was my teeth,” her son, Martin Franklin, recounted. “I was seven or so at the time and while other children had the tooth fairy, mine were being tested for strontium-90.”

Franklin’s research helped sway world opinion against nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War.

Continue Reading.

Cards Against Humanity Opens Applications for a Full-Ride Scholarship for Women Seeking Degrees in Science
Applications opened today for the Cards Against Humanity Science Ambassador Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship for women seeking undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The recipient of the award will receive full tuition coverage for up to four years, starting with the 2016 academic year.


Sexism in the workplace is used by men to bond, says academic
Sexism in the workplace is used by men "as a bonding experience”, an academic and expert on gender at work has said.

I’ve seen some comments around here about how Tim Hunt’s comments were “taken out of context” or “just a joke.”  Here is exactly why these “jokes” aren’t funny, regardless of context.  It’s called microaggression, and it makes women feel unwelcome while the men bond with each other.

Would You Go to Mars? Meet the Four Women Astronauts Who Can't Wait to Go
Mars. A next step for man? Yes, and a giant leap for womankind.
By Glamour Magazine

In first grade Jessica Meir made a drawing of herself standing on the moon. Turns out she underestimated her own ambition: Today, at 38, Meir could become the first human to touch down on an even farther destination: Mars. A next step for man? Yes, and a giant leap for womankind.

The mission itself is at least 15 years away—it will take that long to build and test every last piece of equipment. But it’s already the most hotly anticipated space-exploration effort ever. Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.

A human landing will not, to put it mildly, be easy. The shortest route to our planetary neighbor is 35 million miles. Just getting there will take six to nine months; a round-trip, two to three years. “This will be the longest, farthest, and most ambitious space-­exploration mission in history,” says Dava Newman, Ph.D., NASA’s deputy administrator. Once they’ve landed, the astronauts will have to navigate giant dust storms, temperatures that can plummet to minus 284 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, and an atmosphere filled with cancer-causing galactic radiation. If their equipment fails? NASA won’t hear an SOS for 10 minutes. And there’s no turning back. “It’s not like the moon; that’s a three-day trip,” says Jason Crusan, director of advanced exploration systems at the agency. “When you go to Mars, you’re going. You can’t abort.”

And yet the pull is irresistible: The rovers have revealed a land of swooping red dunes and craters. Evidence of water—not just ice, but actual flowing water—has surfaced, and water is often considered a sign of possible life. “Mars can teach us so much about the past, present, and future of our own planet,” says Meir. “That’s a phenomenal thing.”

Also phenomenal? For the first time NASA’s latest class of astronauts is 50 percent female. A fearless group, Meir and her colleagues Anne McClain, 36, Christina Hammock Koch, 37, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, 38, have already flown combat missions in Iraq, braved the South Pole, and dived under thick layers of ice in Antarctica. Last fall they gave Glamour exclusive access to watch them train at NASA’s facilities in Houston—and talked about their epic adventure.

Continue Reading.

Most known for playing the first major African-American female role on television, Nichelle Nichols has used her fame to advocate for science by recruiting women and underserved candidates for science careers. Despite being in her 80s, she continued this commitment with her flight aboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a telescope-bearing Boeing 747 airplane, in September.

Teen Girls to Create Africa’s First Private Satellite

Africa’s first private satellite will be launched in 2016.

But scientists and engineers will not be behind this bold move – it is being powered by a group of South African high school girls. Pupils from across Cape Town on Youth Day attended the launch of the ambitious project, run by the Meta Economic Development Organisation (Medo). A shortage of technical skills required for building businesses motivated the company to launch a science, technology, engineering and maths focused programme, explained Medo CEO Judi Sandrock.

“The intention of this programme is not to be a once-off. It is to be the start of at least a decade-long drive to inspire young people to enter the science and technical fields,” she said.



As a former student of biology and history of science, the topic of women in science is one that is near to my heart. These three portraits feature three 20th century women scientists who made seminal contributions to their fields: Barbara McClintock in genetics, Grace Hopper in computer science, and Chien-Shiung Wu in nuclear physics.

The idea of a pantheon isn’t limited only to figures in traditional mythologies. Famous figures in modern times, when present in our collective consciousness, can also form their own pantheons. With this project I explored the roles of prominent 20th century women scientists: the symbols associated with them and their work, the larger-than-life nature of their accomplishments, and their contributions to their respective fields.

[genetics] Barbara McClintock’s most famous accomplishment is the discovery of transposons, or jumping genes. She used phenotypic color variations in corn kernels to study transposable elements. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983.

[computer science] Grace Hopper invented the first compiler for a programming language, helped develop COBOL (one of the first high-level programming languages), and popularized the term “debugging” after removing a moth from a computer. She was also a US Navy Rear Admiral and an avid teacher, among her many accomplishments.

[nuclear physics] Chien-Shiung Wu was an experimental physicist and one of the leading experts in her time on beta decay. She is best known for conducting the Wu experiment, the results of which contradicted the then-widely accepted law of conservation of parity. She was also a respected professor.

Read more about each of these wonderful women of Science below:

Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968)

Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)

Lise Meitner has a chemical element named after her: Meitnerium. Meitner co-discovered the process of Nuclear Fission (of which her colleague Otto Hahn won a nobel prize). Many feel that she was overlooked for the Nobel because she was a woman.

Marie Curie discovered Polonium (and named it after her home country of Poland) and won 2 nobel prizes.

In defense of crying

I’ve been sharing a lot of coverage of the fallout from Tim Hunt’s horrendous comments about female scientists who “cry” and “fall in love.”  I’m really enjoying the outpouring of protest in his wake.  I do, however, want to talk about how it’s okay to have emotions such as these.

This speaks of a society that views emotions as intolerably effeminate.  Dr. Hunt apparently sees himself above such frivolity.  His comments not only further alienate him from female scientists, but from every professional who has had a bad day at work.

Emotions are not gendered.  Sure, in this world men are expected to deal with their emotions internally, or else with anger and violence.  To state the obvious, Hunt not only shames women with these comments.  He shames all the men who feel the need to cry.  He perpetuates this stereotype that boys don’t cry, but girls do.  This is a terribly stunted way of dealing with personal trials.  It’s an attitude that keeps people from being open about their feelings and recognizing real issues.

About a year ago, I had a very bad day in the lab.  I had gotten a deeply nasty email from a professional I thought I admired, but had never actually met.  I was already feeling really fragile from family issues and a baseline existence with depression and anxiety, so I cried something awful.  My (male) supervisor, however, brought me outside the museum, and I told him everything while we walked the perimeter.  He helped me through it.  He didn’t flinch at my girlish tears.  He was supportive and encouraging, flatly rejecting the contents of the email.  That is how you mentor.

Dr. Hunt wouldn’t have seen me as a person with feelings; he would’ve seen me as a frail girl who couldn’t handle criticism.

I’ve been ashamed of my tears since forever.  It turned into this vicious cycle of crying because something upset me to continuing to cry because I felt humiliated for crying.  It took several years of crying in the middle of class to realize that maybe it’s not because I’m a fragile little girl who needs to learn to control her emotions.  

I don’t cry because I’m female; I cry because I’m a human with feelings.  I’m also a human with some mental health issues that needed to be addressed, rather than shamed and ignored.  Of course, in addition to getting medical help, I have also mellowed with age.  I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, and to communicate when I’m upset and seek advice.  I’ve also learned to recognize and avoid particularly stressful situations.

It’s okay to cry.  Things get stressful.  Every grad student I’ve talked to says they’ve cried, in front of their supervisor and not.  We’ve got to stop seeing tears as a thing women do.  Crying is a legitimate reaction to stress, and frequent crying can be a sign of a health issue, in women and men.  Don’t let assholes like Hunt make you feel like you have no right to appear vulnerable.  Don’t wrestle with your emotions just because some might see you as weak.  A good supervisor should never make you feel even worse when you’re having a tough time.

Now please go and have a good cry, and remember that you are still a good scientist.

UBC undergrad discovers four new planets
Graduating on Monday, astronomy student Michelle Kunimoto got a shout-out from William Shatner for her discovery.

When astronomy honour’s student Michelle Kunimoto graduates on Monday, she’ll do so already holding the honour of being a galactic pioneer with distinction.

The 22-year-old University of British Columbia undergraduate has discovered four new planets in the Cygnus (Swan) constellation, known as “exoplanets” because they’re outside our solar system.

“I got interested in exoplanets from Star Trek,” she told Metro in an interview in UBC’s physics department. “The whole theme of Star Trek, curiosity and exploration, is really important for the long, long, long term. We want to answer the age-old question: Are we alone?”

She spent months poring through 400 different data samples from the Kepler space telescope, which captures the curves of light from distant stars. Sudden dips in their light can correspond to planets passing in front of them.

Kunimoto likened her method to trying to hear one quiet voice in a crowded room full of loud talkers. But when she first noticed the faint but tell-tale dip, she didn’t allow herself get excited.

“I had to be very careful,” she explained. “I ran them through a lot of tests, but the more tests I ran, the more confident I felt.

“When they all passed the right tests, and I had these four planets remaining, that was really exciting!”

The planet she’s most enthusiastic about is called Kepler Object Of Interest 408.05, which she nicknamed “Warm Neptune,” because it’s roughly the size of its namesake planet, but is within the distance needed for the warm, Earth-like atmosphere needed to host life. It’s 3,200 light years from Earth.

Technically, what she found are still considered “planet candidates” until they can be independently confirmed, but for her UBC supervisor the results are clear.

“It’s rare that you have that ‘Eureka!’ moment any more,” astronomy professor Jaymie Matthews told Metro proudly. “Michelle’s discovery was time-consuming, and she’s done this for only 400 out of 150,000 light curves.”

But will Kunimoto’s “Warm Neptune” — located within what Matthews dubbed the “Goldilocks” zone of planets that are neither too hot nor too cold to support life — potentially be home to intelligent life?

“You can bet that once the results are confirmed and more widely disseminated, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute will put KOI-408.05 on their list of higher-priority targets to monitor,” Matthews said. “If there is life and signals we could eavesdrop on, these are the places they’d be coming from.”

On Saturday, Kunimoto got a shout-out before a large UBC audience from Star Trek star William Shatner, who praised her discoveries on stage. “I was really honoured!” she said. “That was completely unexpected, my face was going red.”