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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

Woman of the Week - Émilie du Châtelet

Posted November 28, 2016 4:30 PM by lmno24

By today’s standards, Émilie du Châtelet’s resume would be an impressive one. She was a French natural philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and author during the early 1730s until her untimely death due to childbirth complications in 1749.

She grew up studying languages and showed much promise in that area of study, but as she grew up, she found her favorite area of study – mathematics.

From a young age she was most interested in science and math, much to her mother’s displeasure. These interests were not viewed as proper for young ladies, and her mother even threatened to send her away to a convent. Fortunately, her father recognized her intelligence and encouraged her interests. He even arranged for her to discuss astronomy and math with prominent scientists he knew.

Émilie was rejected by scholarly institutions and men from higher education because she was a woman. She hired tutors to teach her mathematics, science, and philosophy. Émilie wanted very much to be equal to her counterparts of mathematics, but most of them were men. She was always denied to sit in the King's library at the Louvre. She was also denied entrance into the Gradot's coffeehouse when male mathematic scholars were discussing the latest science information. One day, she dressed up as a man and they allowed her in for discussion.

Émilie also had a flair for gambling, perhaps using her math skills to get ahead. She used the money she won to buy laboratory equipment for her science experiments.

By 18, she knew getting married was what was expected of her. She accepted the proposal of Marquis Florent-Claude du Châtelet, a distinguished army officer. The arrangement worked to her advantage, however, as he was often away for work. Émilie was often left time to work on her experiments as she pleased.

She also carried on an affair with writer and philosopher Voltaire. He appreciated both her intelligence and scientific pursuits. Some of Emilie's most significant work came from the period she spent with Voltaire at Cirey-sur-Blaise in France. This time was a safe and quiet haven distant from the turbulence of Paris and court life for the pair.

Voltaire once noted: "We long employed all our attention and powers upon Leibniz and Newton; Mme du Châtelet attached herself first to Leibniz, and explained one part of his system in a book exceedingly well written, entitled Institutions de physique.”

She soon abandoned the work of Leibniz and applied herself to the discoveries of the great Sir Isaac Newton. She added to this book an "Algebraic Commentary," which very few understood, and translated some of his other work into French.

In the spring of 1748, Émilie met and fell in love with the Marquis de Saint-Lambert, a courtier and very minor poet. This affair, however, did not destroy her friendship with Voltaire.

She even became pregnant with Saint-Lambert’s child, but Voltaire continued to support her. In fact, she convinced the two men to help her make her husband believe the child was his.

Childbirth complications for this baby eventually caused her death at the age of 43. Many scholars write about her life, though short, and note that she was a truly unique woman both in personality and in intelligence.

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3 comments; last comment on 11/30/2016
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Woman of the Week – Anne McLaren

Posted November 21, 2016 4:30 PM by lmno24

Dr. Anne McLaren was a notable British scientist whose work helped make significant progress in reproductive mechanisms, specifically in vitro fertilization. She broke ground with both her experiments and her ethics, raising questions about the ethical and sometimes controversial area of reproductive technology and health.

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She studied zoology at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford University and in her later years of study, began to look at the genetics of rabbits and later, mice. In 1952, she completed school and started working at University College with her fellow students and later, husband, Donald Michie.

There she and another researcher, John D. Biggers, were successful in removing mouse embryos, holding them for days, then implanting them into the uterus of another mouse. This was part of a larger idea the two had. They wanted to find out if offspring were formed simply by genetics or if developing inside a surrogate mother’s womb would have any measurable influence on development.

Their findings were shocking. The embryos implanted into a surrogate developed a different number of vertebrae from the amount their genetic mothers had. They concluded that there was an effect on the embryos while developing in a surrogate’s womb, though the exact effect was not determined. This work however, was useful for others in refining in vitro fertilization.

McLaren continued her studies on a different note from there. She went on to study chimeras, a single organism composed of from different zygotes, in mice.

McLaren’s work inspired many other scientists to further research reproductive topics. Brigid L. M. Hogan, a professor of cell biology at Duke University said McLaren’s study of chimeras helped create important questions about how an organism’s sex is determined.

Much of McLaren’s work fell into tricky ethical territory, especially for its time. McLaren also became very involved in helping to define the ethical and legal implications of new developments in genetics.

She was a member of the Warnock Committee, which laid the groundwork for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990, as well as for parts of the Family Law Reform Act of 1987. She also helped establish the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which she served on for 10 years.

Fun fact about McLaren’s childhood – At the age of seven she successfully auditioned for a role in the London film production of H.G. Wells novel Things to Come. Her parents had a wide social circle of some of London’s most notable literary and artistic community members, including Wells.

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McLaren died tragically in July 2007 in a car accident. Her work certainly set the stage for the future of family planning technology, a field of science that only continues to advance today.

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Barbara McClintock : Pioneer Of “Jumping Genes”

Posted November 14, 2016 4:30 PM by lmno24

Growing up in a time when it was more important for women to marry than be educated, Barbara McClintock defied her family’s wishes and enrolled in the only genetics course offered to undergraduates at Cornell in 1921.

This was at a time before much had been discovered about genetics; it was only a couple decades after Gregor Mendel’s principles of heredity had been rediscovered. Even so, there was a certain hesitation to accept these new ideas among the existing community of professional biologists.

As she continued through school, McClintock quickly found her passion for both learning and genetics. During graduate school, she began some of the work that would define much of her professional life. She studied the chromosomes of corn using a microscope and staining techniques that allowed her to see and identify individual corn chromosomes.

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When she began her Ph.D studies, she met George W. Beadle, a Nobel laureate and American scientist in Professor Rollins A. Emerson’s course at Cornell. Emerson was an up-and-coming geneticist whose courses attracted many other bright scientists. During a subsequent semester, she met Marcus M. Rhoades, a maize (corn) geneticist. McClintock, Beadle, and Rhoades quickly became friends and all recognized the need to explore the relationship between chromosomes and genes. The three formed a close bond and conducted significant research and work. McClintock has called this an “extraordinary period” in each of their lives and possibly the “most influential in directing” her scientific life.

After college, she wrote papers on her experiments, including her continued corn studies, which helped her establish that chromosomes were the basis of genetics. Based on her work in the 1930s, McClintock was elected vice president of the Genetics Society of America in 1939 and president of the Genetics Society in 1944. She was offered a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1933 to study in Germany, but she left early because of the rise of Nazism. When she returned to Cornell, she found that the university would not hire a female professor. She continued research there though, through funding by The Rockefeller Foundation.

In the early 1940s, she moved to Long Island, New York to work at the Cold Spring Harbor Lab, where she spent the rest of her working life. She continued her study of corn by tracing pigmentation changes and further observing chromosomes. She experimented with variations in the kernel’s coloring and revealed that genetic information is not stationary. Through tracing these pigmentation changes, she isolated two genes that she called the “controlling elements.” Later, she found those genes were responsible for pigmentation. By observing that the controlling elements could move to a chromosome elsewhere, she saw those changes affected the behavior of nearby genes. She offered that those transposable elements were responsible for pigmentation mutations, among other things.

She spent much time trying to challenging existing genetic concepts, and she did so by proving that some genes could be mobile. Her work was not taken seriously at first; many thought it was too radical or simply ahead of its time. After becoming disappointed with her colleague’s close-mindedness, she stopped publishing her results and lecturing, but continued research.

It was not until the 1960s and ‘70s that her work was taken seriously. After biologists discovered that genetic material was DNA, scientists then began to verify her findings. When people finally saw that her work was valid, she was inundated with awards and honors – including the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

McClintock defied the odds of her time, and her work set the frame for much further genetic study. By putting aside the naysayers, she was able to achieve significant work in a field where little was known.

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3 comments; last comment on 11/17/2016
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Women Redefining Leadership in STEM and IT

Posted May 10, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

As of 2014, there is still a lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Women hold just about 32 percent of IT-related positions in the federal workforce, account for just 14.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and comprise 10 percent of information security professionals.

The documentary, titled "Tenacity: Women Redefining Leadership", below dives into the root cause for this disparity through the eyes of women in STEM fields. The film looks at how the field has changed since they started and the obstacles that remain in today's work environment.

There is hope: the federal IT space has a proven track record of women in leadership roles. There are an increasingly growing number of female chief information officers in the federal government and in industry leadership positions. These women are doing big things and making a difference.

Below is the full 15-minute documentary, plus extended interviews with each of the women who appear in the film.

In order of appearance:

Ellen McCarthy, chief operating officer, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Alec Ross, former senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Stephanie Hill, vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions - Civil

Maria Horton, former CIO, National Naval Medical Center, and CEO of EmeSec

Marisa Raether, senior principal consultant, Intuitive.IT

3 comments; last comment on 05/11/2014
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Women Who Inspire in Space and Science

Posted November 19, 2013 10:57 AM by CR4 Guest Author

The world of engineering, technology and science is often associated with men, but if you look around this trend is starting to turn on its head. If you put on the television or listen to the news you will see and hear that there are inspiring women dominating these fields, and recently the space NASA program reported they hired more women to come on board the program. Jobs are evolving, technology is enhancing and more women are being encouraged to get involved in science, space and engineering.

The universal success from television programmes such as The Big Bang Theory, and Countdown with a young mathematical genius Rachel Riley means just one thing: being smart is cool for women. The 'nerds' as we are often referred to as are the heroes of today. More and more women are being attracted to successful careers in science and engineering because of the female nerds that are leading the way and may it long continue. Space in itself may be the final frontier, but women are the ones spearheading the exploration.

Adventurous Female Explorers

Did you know that the first woman in space was the adventurous factory worker Valentina Tereshkova? She was actually chosen out of 400 applicants to become a Soviet cosmonaut, launching the Vostok 6 Mission in 1963. She was the fifth Russian to go into space and was entrusted to attempt the first docking manoeuvre with another spaceship. Incredibly forward-thinking for the time!

What is inspiring is not only was this the first female into space but the Prime Minister Khrushchev spoke of his fatherly pride for her - she was a propagandists' dream and nicknamed the Greta Garbo of space, much was made of her gender and looks, something that her male colleagues never encountered. Nevertheless, she paved the way at such an early stage for women in space. Sadly, it was another twenty years before the next woman entered space, and it was another Russian called Svetlana Savitskaya, who was also the first woman to complete a spacewalk in 1984. image source

Then you have Sally Ride, who was the first American woman in space, aged 32. The Physics graduate from Stanford University answered an advert from NASA and joined the team in 1978. Just five years later she had been integral to communications in two shuttle flights and developed a robotic arm for the shuttle. In 1983, she was then chosen for a space flight. During a press conference, much like Tereshkova twenty years previously, the focus was on her gender. The reaction was perhaps even more vehement than her Soviet counterpart met. Ride had to field incredible questions such as, "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep if things go wrong on the job?" However, since then there have been 45 female US astronauts and their organs and weeping are all normal.

In It To Win It

You may not be aware but sometimes a competition through a radio advertisement can get you to Space. Yes, the first British woman in space was chemist Helen Sharman from Sheffield, who visited the Mir Space Station in 1991 when she beat 13,000 other contestants to win her place in space. Whist Sharman was orbiting space, she was involved in the agricultural and medical testing which was a fascinating adventure for her.

At just 27 years old, she was the fifth youngest person in space (out of the 528 people who have been in space). As Helen states in the video below it was something she never expected and did not attend to follow on as an astronaut in her career path but one moment changed everything and so can a moment for you if you grasp that opportunity.

Now, as space shifts into the tourism industry there is a whole new exploration dimension. It is worth mentioning that the first woman space tourist was Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari in 2006. Space is fast becoming a female friendly industry, with four women serving together simultaneously on the International Space Station in 2010.

Social Media Following

If space, science and engineering are areas that pique your interest, you should now follow the newest and the best astronauts' careers and experiences via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. Social networks are a really good way to keep up with the latest trends and developments of individuals exploring so do get using these social streams.

Karen Nyberg is the one to follow at the moment (@AstroKarenN). She is currently in space and posts breathtaking pictures of and views from the International Space Station. She is the embodiment of an ambitious career mom. Juggling life aboard the Space Station, her family life back home and being on camera all week, she is a hero. image source

The ones to watch in the future are NASA's new crop; announced recently and include equal female-to-male ratio. The successful women in the latest AstroClass are Christina Hammock, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and Nicole Mann (all aged 34-35). They are highly qualified and from a number of different backgrounds including the military and science.

As you can see the stumbling blocks have been overcome and the future of women in space is bright and varied.

Editor's Note: Jenny Ann Beswick is a graduate of engineering who has worked in various fields of engineering work. Her experience within the industry started through a scientific role through her telegraph jobs in engineering and since then her work has branched off and led her to project manage construction sites and develop strategies.

9 comments; last comment on 11/20/2013
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