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Minutes from ME



Girls, do you know what you want to be when you grow up? May I recommend something scientific? It's an exciting, ever changing field with so, so many possibilities. Read now about some of the many outstanding women who have made contributions to the advancement of science.

As for ME, I have been a scientist for quite a while now, (however the rumor that I started out with Priestley and his phlogiston theory is not true), and I think I'll keep on working in this exciting area. Of course when I was in college and began working women scientists were thin upon the ground, but I'm sure you've heard enough about that elsewhere so I'll tell you about my personal heroes from women in science and mention others I admire. Some of those cited go back a few hundred years, others worked recently, and still others continue to work in the exciting developments happening right now. Their fields of excellence include DNA identification, environmental improvement, space exploraton and computer science.

Perhaps while looking you'll find a hero or two for yourself among this group. Just know there is scientific progress happening daily (if not hourly) and the World Wide Web is a great tool for tracking it!

In addition to my own choices I have built some beginning Treasure Hunts around databases of Women of Science available on the World Wide Web. Try solving from my clues and then come up with your own choice, maybe chronological, by specialty, by country, by choose. Better still, go out on the Web and find more sources that I have missed and let me know about them, I'd love to hear from you.


As a longtime computer enthusiast (nerd?) I utterly admire two women, Lady Augusta Ada Byron and Grace Murray Hopper, who stand one hundred years apart in the history of calculating machines.

Lady Augusta Ada Byron was born in England in 1815, the daughter of the famous poet and herself became an outstanding mathematician. She met Charles Babbage and learned of his plans for a new steam-driven calculating engine he called the Analytical Engine. Ada encouraged Babbage's progress, designing a method for the machine to calculate Bernoulli numbers. And there it was! The first computer program! Ada also surmised that this machine might compose music, produce graphics. ......... Well?

Grace Murray Hopper, was born in the United States in 1906, the daughter of an insurance broker. She too became an outstanding mathematician and worked with a very new calculating machine. Grace Hopper worked in the early 1950's on the first commercial computer, a commercial successor to the ENIAC machine, at Sperry Rand Corporation. She showed her leadership in modern computing with the invention of programming architecture, the design of compilers and the verification of the COBOL programming language which operates today in countless applications throughout the world.

Rachel Carson gains my admiration as a scientist who wrote her way to greatness, single-handedly changing (hopefully forever) the public awareness of the natural environment and the need to preserve it. As an aquatic biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service she recognized the dangers of pesticides and her 1952 book The Sea Around Us became a best seller. Her next book, evocatively titled Silent Spring, gained wide attention and challenged polluting industries to improve their performance. Rachel Carson died in 1964 having shown that a scientist's efforts can produce heroic results.

I include an unsung hero in my personal collection. Although she did the brilliant groundwork for the scientific breakthrough in determining the molecular structure of DNA the story of Rosalind Franklin is rarely heard. Assigned to the DNA task at Cambridge University in 1951, and using the new X-ray crystallography technique she eventually arrived at the basic helical structure of the molecule. Competing scientists built on Rosalind Franklin's original research (and that of others) in determining their description of the DNA molecule in 1953. Rosalind Franklin died in 1958, aged 37, she surely deserves more acknowledgment for her part in this glorious discovery.

My remaining three heroes currently work in space research and development, the most publicized and exciting area of science in my lifetime, and I am sure they will continue adding to their accomplishments as the Space Age goes on.

Jill Cornell Tarter, an engineer and astronomer, is the Director of the SETI Institute which continues to observe the heavens in Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. How about that for space exploration?

Biochemist and cosmonaut Shannon Lucid traveled on the shuttle Atlantis out there to the space station MIR, lived aboard for around six months and then came back to Earth. Yes, it is simply wonderful to see a woman scientist participating in these adventures with her fellow astronauts, I hope never to lose my sense of wonder each time a space mission leaves Earth and returns.

I thank my final hero Donna Shirley, aerospace engineer, not for wonder but delight. Who could resist the excitement when the Mars rover, Sojourner, was meandering around the Mars surface, sending back those incredible pictures? As manager of that Mars Pathfinder mission and the Mars Exploration Program Donna Shirley makes such space delight and success happen and gets my gratitude and admiration.


Women Programmers of ENIAC
Being here in Phiadelphia a few blocks from the University of Pennsylvania where ENAIC, the first electronic digital computer, was developed I confess to feelings of pride and fondness for the female "computers" who worked there in the 1940's before, during and after its invention.

During World War II these dozens of women math graduates worked at hand-computing the huge ballistics calculations necessary to create separate firing tables for the thousands of guns operating in battle. When ENIAC was built to speed up and replace their efforts these same women programmed the machine manually, learned how to debug it and created the original flowcharts and operating documentation. Looking back to that time 50+ years ago and at the developments in computing since, those women must be pretty proud to have been an important part of the beginning of electronic computing.



Marie Curie , famed 19th century co-discoverer of radioactivity. First woman Nobel prize winner in 1911 for the isolation and analysis of the element radium.
Maria Gaetana Agnesi, 18th century Italian mathematician. A child prodigy who mastered mathematics in her teens and at age 30 published a textbook summarizing mathematical analysis to date, including the "Witch of Agnesi" curve.
Annie Jump Cannon, Astronomer, hired on at Harvard Observatory as a human "computer" in the early 1900s. Became the world's expert in classifying stars - over a quarter million of them.
Barbara McClintock, winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. She pioneered the analysis of genetic phenomena, working from the varied pigmentation in maize which visualizes inherited qualities.
Sophia Germain, outstanding 19th century French mathematician, said to have been inspired in her field of study by the story of the death of Archimedes. Developed the theory of elasticity, the characteristic of materials that, for example, permits construction of steel bridges which sway in the wind rather than breaking.
Lynn Margulis, biologist. An authority on the microcosmos and the role of microorganisms in evolution, their role being symbiotic rather than competitive.
Flossie Wong-Staal, biologist, specializing in the field of retro-viruses and co-discoverer of the HIV virus.
Gertrude B. Elion, chemist and Nobel prize winner. Graduated as an organic chemist and her interest expanded to include biochemistry and virology working on cancer fighting drugs.
Maria Mitchell, first recognized woman astronomer in the United States. Discoverer of a comet and professor of astronomy at Vassar College from 1865 to 1888.
Sally Kristen Ride, physicist, first American woman in space as a member of the shuttle Challenger's crew.
Mae C. Jemison, engineer and physician, the first woman of color to go into space, as a Science Mission Specialist on the Space lab flight in 1992.



Using the 4000 Years of Women in Science website answer the following questions.
How many languages did Maria Agnesi speak?
How long ago did En Hedu'Anna live?
Which formula did Mary Hebraea discover?
What is Hildegard von Bingen's connection to Newton?
Which copmuter term, named for a moth, did Grace Hopper invent?
What was Lady Augusta Ada Byron's full title?
What is the name of the comet Maria Mitchell discovered in 1847?
Apart from rabbits, what was Beatrix Potter's scientific research topic?
Which useful machine did Ellen Eglui invent?

From the Biographies of Women Mathematicians website answer these questions.
How did Hypatia die?
Where was Sophie Germain born? Which Archimedes story interested her?
What did Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace learn from Thomas Babbage?
Florence Nightingale. How did she use her knowledge of mathematics?
How did Sonya Kovalevskaya say she first began to study mathematics?
Sonya Kovalevskaya, which “first” is hers?
Which modern industry did Irmgard Flugge-Lotz have a central role in developing?


Ask an Engineer - career advice in engineering from members of the Society of Women Engineers.
WOMEN OF NASA PROFILES first person descriptions by the scientists who work in that organization. Yvonne Pendleton, a current NASA astronomer, has a job I envy.
Women in Science Hall of Fame from Vasser College. - Women in Engineering Organization.


National Women's Hall of Fame
Women in Physics
Women in American History
Womens Internet Resources - Science & Technology
Pioneering Women of Computing from the ADA Project website.


(The illustrations on this page show sections of the The Bayeux Tapestry, a 230 ft. length of wool embroidery on linen dating from the 11th century. It panoramically illustrates the Norman Conquest of England. I just have to believe that gifted French women of the time participated in the design, drafting and handworking of this masterpiece.)

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