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October 15 2017

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Albany Ledger, Missouri, June 17, 1898

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October 14 2017

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Chainsaw art
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(via xkcd: Marie Curie)

I’ve been reading about Lise Meitner tonight. She was the first woman to work with Max Planck, ran her own lab at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, and was the first person to realize the enormity of Otto Hahn’s work with uranium, and how he’d split an atom.

She’s been dubbed the “mother of the atomic bomb”, because she explained what happened in the first fission experiments before anyone else in scientific publications, but she had no role in the Manhattan Project, or the development of any wartime use of fissionable elements.

The extremely radioactive element 109, meitnerium, is named after Prof. Meitner.

Learning new shit feels awesome, y’all. Especially when it’s about cool shit like awesome humans and interesting fields that I hardly understand.

Let’s include some women of color!

Meet Chien-Shiung Wu (Also Known As: “The First Lady of Physics” / “Queen of Nuclear Research”) [1912 - 1997]

Wu’s parents provided a home environment for her that gave her ample amounts of love an support. Her father believed in making sure girls had equal opportunities, especially in education. So he opened up an elementary school for girls and encouraged his own daughter to pursue her interests. And she did! She was first in all her classes in STEM, and then went to the United States to study abroad and earn her PhD. But after finding out the poor treatment of female students at UofM, Wu changed her mind and decided to study at University of California, Berkeley. 

Despite trying hard to avoid prejudice, she still faced sexism and racism throughout her education and career. There were times when her scholarships would be cut down. Regardless, she earned her PhD and accepted a job at Princeton, then later Columbia as a professor.

She made huge contributions to the nuclear physics field. And she was a significant part of the Manhattan Project. The Project had unexpected problems and delays that many of the engineers and scientists could not figure out. Wu was contacted and she provided her unpublished typewritten drafts of research to the team and they isolated and amended the problems.

She also disproved a long established law in science called The Law of Conservation of Parity. The law stated that two physical systems—like atoms—that were mirror images would have to behave in identical ways. Even though this law had been accepted for decades, Wu disproved it with her two male colleagues who originally approached her, needing her help. This was a huge milestone in STEM, but her two male colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for “The Wu Experiment.”  Wu received an honorable mention decades later. And then subsequently died from a stroke years after that.

Meet Dr. Shirley Jackson [1946]

Born in Washington, D.C., her parents were strongly supportive of her education. They always took time to help her with her schoolwork. Her interest in science specifically was ignited when she and her father worked together on her science projects.

In the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, she was one of few African American students studying theoretical physics and became the first black woman who earned a PhD from MIT.

A few years after that she started researching subatomic particles in several prestigious laboratories in the United States and Europe.

She collaborated in hundreds of scientific articles, and her major breakthroughs in her research that helped other scientists and inventors create faxing, solar cells, fiber optic cables, caller ID, and caller waiting.

When Bill Clinton was president, he appointed Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). She became the first woman and first black person ever to hold that position.

She’s now an active voice in many science committees like the National Academy of Sciences and National Science Foundation. She’s also one of the board of directors for:  the New York Stock Exchange, FedEx, Marathon Oil, etc.

“The absence of women in history is man-made“.

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