Archive for: March, 2011

Ich bin a Gastblogger III: Drinking from the same well

Mar 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’m an alien

I’m a legal alien

I’m an Englishman in Nürnberg1


As an English historian of mathematics living in Germany another question that I have had put to me several times by those with somewhat more knowledge of the history of mathematics is, “who invented logarithms the Scottish aristocrat John Napier or the Swiss instrument maker Jost Bürgi?” This question would appear to provoke at least as much nationalist sentiment if not even more than the Newton Leibniz dispute as older English language histories name Napier as the inventor and ignore Bürgi whereas similar German publications claim that Bürgi was the inventor. Before I go on to the main point of this post I think I should explain something for any possibly younger readers of this post. What I am talking about here is not the logarithmic functions you learnt about in that elementary calculus course but logarithmic tables, i.e. tables that enable the user to determine the value of the logarithm to a given base of any number in order to facilitate complex calculations. These tables, an essential part of my school education, are now only found in mathematical museums, as they have been made redundant by the ubiquitous pocket calculator, destroyer of the numerical abilities of modern school children.


The first log tables where published by Napier in 1614 followed closely by those of Bürgi in 1620. Bürgi’s supporters however claim that he started work on his tables in 1588 making him the real inventor. Modern research (by a German thank god!) has however shown that Bürgi didn’t start work on his tables until much later and the priority really does go to Napier. As with the calculus the concept on which logarithms are based has a long pre-history that goes back at least to Archimedes and involves many others before Napier and Bürgi independently brought the idea to fruition. Now multiple inventions or discoveries are actually very common in the history of science and technology and this phenomenon is often explained with the cliché “the ideas time was ripe”. Other examples of this are of course Leibniz and Newton with the calculus, Darwin and Wallace with the principle of natural selection or Harriot, Snel, Descartes and James Gregory who all independently discovered the sine law of refraction in the 17th century. In many cases the time being ripe actually means that the co-discoverers were inspired by the same source or as I have chosen to express it in my title they drank at the same well. Darwin and Wallace were both inspired by the same passage in An Essay on the Principles of Population by Thomas Malthus. Newton and Leibniz both built their mathematical structures on the same works by James Gregory, Fermat, John Wallace and Isaac Barrow. Napier and Bürgi also both drank from the same well in their case one with the rather strange Greek name prosthaphaeresis.


Prosthaphaeresis means adding and subtracting and refers to the process in trigonometry where the multiplication of trigonometrical functions can be converted in the sum and or difference of trigonometrical functions to simplify calculation.


e.g. sin a sin b = ½[cos(ab) − cos(a + b)]


The first known prosthaphaeresis formula can be found in the work of the Nürnberger mathematician Johannes Werner (1468 – 1522) who however never published it and so it disappeared again for more than fifty years. Prosthaphaeresis resurfaced in the hands of the itinerant German-Polish mathematician Paul Wittich (1546 – 1586). We don’t know if he learned the procedure from a manuscript of Werner’s work or rediscovered it for himself but having it, he proceeded to spread it around Europe. He taught the method to the physician, mathematician and astronomer John Craig (died 1620) at the University of Frankfurt on the Oder who on his return to Scotland taught it to John Napier. Wittich also taught the method to Tycho Brahe and his co-workers on the island of Hven, as it could be used to simplify complex trigonometrical astronomical calculations. When he left Hven Wittich journeyed to Kassel where he taught the method to William IV and his group of astronomers including Jost Bürgi. Bürgi would go on to teach the method to Nicolaus Reimers Bär, better known as Ursus, in exchange for Ursus translating Copernicus’ De revolutionibus into German for him, as he couldn’t read Latin. This was the earliest translation of De revolutionibus and the manuscript still exists. Ursus was the first to publish the method explaining as he did so who had taught it to him and from whom Bürgi had learnt it. This was to score points off Tycho with whom he was having a plagiarism dispute about the helio-geocentric world system, as Tycho was claiming incorrectly that he had discovered the prosthaphaeresis formulae. Ironically it was probably also Wittich’s work, which inspired Tycho to develop his world system.


Having both received the method of prosthaphaeresis, directly or indirectly from Wittich both Napier and Bürgi conceived the idea of turning multiplications into additions by using the exponents of powers and set out to calculate, construct and publish their logarithmic tables. It should be pointed out that another source for the appearance of logarithms at this point in history was the necessity for mathematical astronomers to perform complex trigonometrical calculation in order to determine the orbits of planets; this necessity also led Kepler, who actually published Bürgi’s tables, to produce an improved set of log tables of his own.


Even if you have learnt nothing else reading this post you can dazzle your dinning companions at your next social engagement by casually dropping the word prosthaphaeresis but should you be tempted to do so then I would recommend practicing a bit in advance as it’s rather difficult to say casually.


1) With apologies to Sting.


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Smithsonian's Women in Science uploads, pt. 3: DIY

Mar 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My first post at Scientopia Guest Blogge was titled "Try Art," which was the phrase a physics TA wrote on one of my freshman-year quizzes. For my last post, I'm going to return to the phrase. If you have enjoyed the images from the Smithsonian's Women in Science uploads to Flickr Commons, here are some ways to enjoy them more--you can "try art."

First, the whys of these projects. They're fun, yes, but they also start conversations. When you take an image of a pioneering woman scientist into your everyday life--into Starbucks, into the post office, into the neighborhood park--you will attract comments and questions. Who was she? Wow, so women were scientists back then? Must have been tough, huh? What made you choose that woman? Once I was carrying a purse with images of a suffragette on it. The guy behind the counter said "Hey, 'Votes for Women,' like in 'Mary Poppins'!" I replied with a smile, "Yes, like in real life too!" I'm not sure he'd considered before that suffragettes weren't only colorful characters in a Broadway musical. But now he has.

I have made purses with some of the Smithsonian's Women in Science images, for example this one, featuring neuroanatomist Elizabeth Caroline Crosby (1888-1983):

Smithsonian Institution


These take a few days to make, but if you're game, here's my online tutorial for the process.

Something simpler? When I was at THATCamp So Cal, earlier this year, I ran a craft table--kind of an analog remix lab--and a lot of folks made pins using wooden craft shapes, paint and collage. The same shapes can be used to make magnets, or glued to spring clothespins for paper organization. Here's an example from the Smithsonian uploads, featuring Florence Bascom (1862-1945), geologist:

Smithsonian Institution


Those are two ideas--let your mind roam for more. With this colorful post, I conclude a very fun stint at the Scientopia Guest Blogge. Thanks for all the good comments and links and tweets.

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International Women's Day 2011

Mar 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

International Women's Day is celebrated around the world--sometimes with an official national holiday--on March 8. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first widespread observance in 1911. Here's a slideshow of the 172 images currently found in the Smithsonian's Women in Science set on Flickr Commons. Click on any picture to be taken to more information about it. I've already shared some of their stories here, and I'll share more in the days remaining for my guest blogging stint, but meanwhile, Happy International Women's Day.

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Ich bin ein Gastbloggerin: A special post for International Women’s Day.

Mar 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My fellow guest blogger Penny Richards wrote in her post on Joyce Kaufman:


Although Johns Hopkins didn’t welcome women students in those days


To celebrate International Women’s Day I thought I would draw the readers’ attention to another earlier women scientist who suffered under the negative attitude to women of Johns Hopkins University. As regular readers of my scribblings should already know I paid my dues as a historian of science working in a research project on the history of formal logic in which my special area of research was the English algebra of logic in the 19th century. Although centred on the work of George Boole and his successors such as William Stanley Jevons my remit also included the American school of logical algebra founded and led by Charles S. Peirce. One of Peirce’s group of logical researchers at Johns Hopkins University was Christine Ladd-Franklin the subject of this post.


Born Christine ‘Kitty’ Ladd in Windsor Connecticut on 1st December 1847 she was fortunate in having open minded progressive parents who enabled her to study at Vassar College, one of the first American women’s university, beginning in 1866 only its second year of operation. Here she came under the influence of the first professional female American astronomer Maria Mitchell who stimulated he interest in science. Unable, as a woman, to gain access to laboratories or observatories Ladd opted for a career in mathematics. Graduating in 1869 A.B. she became a schoolteacher for the next nine years, an occupation that she loathed. During this time she established a minor reputation publishing mathematical papers in the English Educational Times and the American Analyst


In 1878 she applied to do graduate studies in mathematics at the recently opened Johns Hopkins University, her application being submitted under the name C. Ladd. Impressed by her abilities the university offered he a place only to withdraw their offer on discovering that C. Ladd was a woman, enter J. J. Sylvester. Sylvester one of the worlds leading mathematicians was the newly appointed professor of mathematics and far and away the most prominent member of faculty of the new university. Sylvester knew of Ladd’s publications and insisted that the university grant her a place. He was possibly motivated by the fact that as a Jew he had been discriminated against in his own time as a student being denied the right to graduate at Cambridge because he was not an Anglican. At first Ladd was only allowed to study mathematics but after one year she was granted permission to attend the other courses at the university. Now she became acquainted with Charles Peirce and became a member of his logic research team writing under his supervision her doctoral thesis The Algebra of Logic. Although she had fulfilled the requirements to obtain a doctorate the university refused to grant her degree because she was a woman. Her thesis was published as part of Peirce’s Studies in Logic by Members of the Johns Hopkins University a book that is a milestone in the history of formal logic. During her time at Johns Hopkins Ladd also published several mathematics papers in leading journals.


In 1882 Ladd married the Hungarian mathematics professor Fabian Franklin who would continue to support her scientific activities throughout their marriage. Unable to obtain work as a female mathematician Ladd-Franklin travelled to Germany with her husband where he had a sabbatical. It is not really known how Ladd-Franklin became interested in vision and in particular colour vision but this was to become her main area of research. Whilst in Germany she worked together with both Arthur König and Hermann von Helmholtz two of the leading expert in the field of physiological optics. Dissatisfied with the theories of both of her mentors Ladd-Franklin developed and published her own ideas establishing herself as an authority in the field. Nowadays she is better known for her work on colour vision than for her mathematics or logic.


Although now recognised as an expert she was, as a woman, still unable to obtain an academic position. In 1904 she was appointed lecturer in psychology and logic at Johns Hopkins but only on a yearly basis with her appointment requiring renewal every year. Finally in 1926 when she 79 years old Johns Hopkins granted her the doctorate that she had earned more than 40 years earlier. Vassar also awarded her an honorary Lt. D. In 1929, the year before she died, she published a collection of her papers on vision Colour and Colour Theories.


Christine Ladd-Franklin was a strong woman who earned a place in the history of science whilst having to fight against the prejudices and ignorance of the males of the species.




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Florence Violet McKenzie

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Traveling for spring break? Need something new to listen to? This isn't a new audio program, but I just heard it this week, and it was so well-done I wanted to share it here. Signals, Currents, and Wires: The Untold Story of Florence Violet McKenzie about Florence Violet McKenzie (1890-1980), Australia's first woman electrical engineer (her 1923 diploma is in the collection at the Powerhouse Museum), first Australian woman to hold an amateur radio license, founder of the Wireless Weekly, correspondent of Einstein's, founder of the Electrical Association of Women and the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps. Oh, and she taught over 12,000 servicemen at her signalling school--she was a gifted teacher of Morse code, visual signalling, and international code. And she did all that teaching as a volunteer, refusing all offers of payment, saying it was her contribution to the war effort. The podcast is a fascinating hour-long study of her life and work, starting with her girlhood tinkering with switches and wires, and following her legacy through interviews with her students and colleagues.

There's something a little funny about listening to a program about a Morse code specialist on an mp3 player. But Catherine Freyne and the folks at ABC Radio National have made an excellent program here, and it's something I would never have heard broadcast in 2009. It's the kind of content that deserves to be downloaded and heard by a very wide audience. (And now I'm off to check out some of the other Hindsight programs available for download. As far as I can tell, there aren't transcripts of the program available on the site, it's audio-only content, with online summaries and images.)

If you listen to the podcast, and decide that the untold story needs to be told more, McKenzie is still "redlinked" at Wikipedia. Perhaps you can start her an entry there?

Image below: Florence Violet Wallace (as she was known in her younger days), photographed with a wireless set. (Source)

Florence Violet Wallace, wearing a headset, at her wireless

Florence Violet Wallace, wearing a headset, at her wireless

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Smithsonian's Women in Science uploads, pt. 2

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I titled my last Scientopia Guest Blogge post with a "pt. 1" attached--which is always a bit ominous.  Wait no longer for the other shoe to drop.  Here's another recently uploaded image to the Smithsonian's Women in Science set on Flickr Commons; this time, meet Joyce Jacobson Kaufman:
Joyce Jacobson Kaufman (b. 1929)
[Visual description: Woman seated at a table, holding a tinkertoy-style model.]

Who? Kaufman was born in 1929 in the Bronx, but raised in Baltimore. She was an early reader, and remembers liking a biography of Marie Curie when she was little. When she was eight years old, she was chosen for a summer camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins, for kids who were identified as gifted in math and science, again demonstrating the effectiveness of starting early to bring girls into the science stream. Although Johns Hopkins didn't welcome women students in those days, she was admitted at 16 as a "special student," married a fellow student, had a daughter, and eventually earned her PhD there in 1960, in chemistry (dissertation title: "Ionization Potentials of Some Boron Compounds"). Read more about her busy career after that at the Jewish Virtual Library, SJSU Virtual Museum, and the Journal of Chemical Education Online.

Kaufman has entries in Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia, American Women in Technology: An Encyclopedia, Jewish Women in America, Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook, Notable Women in the Physical Sciences, American Women in Science, etc. etc. But no Wikipedia entry?! Nope. That makes no sense for "one of the most distinguished international scientists in the fields of chemistry, physics, biomedicine, and supercomputers." If you understand the science and feel moved to share that understanding, why not mark Women's History Month by starting a biographical entry for Kaufman?

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Ich bin ein Gastblogger II: The wrong question.

Mar 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’m an alien

I’m a legal alien

I’m an Englishman in Nürnberg1

Being an English historian of mathematics resident in Germany I have been often asked, over the years, by people who know a little about the history of mathematics, “Who invented the calculus, Newton or Leibniz?” This is probably the most famous argument about priority of discovery and possible plagiarism in the history of science and still able to provoke nationalist sensibilities 300 years after the fact. Now as I mentioned in my first post this was the first theme in the history of mathematics that caught my attention and over the years I have devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to investigating the subject. There are two possible answers to the question. The short semi-correct answer is, both of them. The much longer and much more correct answer is nobody, calculus wasn’t invented by a single person but evolved piece by piece over more than two thousand years. What follows is not a history of calculus but a very bare and incomplete skeleton naming some of the important stations between the first appearance of concepts considered central to the calculus and the work of Newton and Leibniz.

The fundamental idea behind the infinitesimal integral calculus is first recorded in the so-called method of exhaustion of the Greek mathematician Eudoxus of Cnidus who flourished at the beginning of the fourth century BCE and is used for a handful of proofs by Euclid in his Elements. Refined by possibly the greatest of all Greek mathematicians, Archimedes, it became a powerful tool for the determination of areas and volumes as well as centres of gravity and most famously for his, for the time, highly accurate determination of the value of P, the relation between the circumference and diameter of a circle. The Greeks were also nominally aware of the problem of determining tangents to given curves, the fundamental concept of the differential calculus, but it did not play a significant role in their mathematical considerations. No further progress was made in antiquity before the general decline in learning beginning in the 2nd century CE and it was first in the High Middle Ages that integration returned to European mathematics.

However earlier than that there were interesting developments in Kerala in West India. At its core calculus is about summing infinite converging series, diverging series can’t be summed, and in the 17th century several important series representing important geometrical constants such as P and trigonometrical functions such as sine and cosine were analysed and discussed by European mathematicians and named after their supposed discoverers such as Gregory, Leibniz and Newton. The series had however already been discovered and analysed by the so-called Madhava or Kerala school of mathematics founded by Madhava who flourished in the second half of the 14th century. The same mathematicians also made extensive use of the method of Archimedes to determine areas and volumes. Attempts have been made to prove the hypothesis that the further development of the calculus in the 17th century was stimulated by Jesuit missionaries bringing knowledge of the work of the Kerala School to Europe, however despite extensive research no evidence of transition has been found up to now. In the Early Middle Ages Islamic mathematicians were also aware of and used Archimedean methods.

In the 14th century the Oxford Calculatores proved the mean speed theorem, which is usually attributed to Galileo, and in the next century Oresme proved it graphically (drawing graphs two hundred years before Fermat and Descartes!) and integrating the area under the graph. In the 16th century the works of Archimedes experienced a renaissance in Europe and many of the leading mathematicians devoted themselves to determining centres of gravity using his methods. The 17th century sees an acceleration in the application of what would become the calculus. Kepler used integration to prove his second law of planetary motion, the areas law, basically summing segment of the ellipse and letting them become smaller and smaller until infinitesimal. However as he had no concept of limits even he was aware of the fact that he was claiming to be able to add areas after they had ceased to exist! This piece of highly dubious mathematics contributed to the fact that the second law was still rejected long after the first and third laws had been accepted. In fact the second law was only finally accepted in 1672 when Nicolas Mercator provided a new more reliable proof. Kepler also used a form of integral calculus in his small pamphlet on determining the volume of wine barrels, a work that is often mentioned in a mocking tone but is actually an important milestone in the history of the calculus. The developments now come thick and fast with Galileo, Cavalieri (a pupil of Galileo’s), Grégoire de Saint-Vincent (a Jesuit mathematician who first gave the method of exhaustion its name), the Frenchmen Roberval, Fermat, Pascal and Descartes, the Dutchman van Schooten and in Britain John Wallis, Isaac Barrow and James Gregory all making significant contributions. It was also in the 17th century with the development of the science of mechanics that the differential calculus came to the fore with the problem of finding tangents to curves in order to determine rates of change. Many people in the list above made major contributions to the solution to this problem. Fermat is sometimes referred to as the “father of calculus” because he was the first mathematician to use what we now call the h-method (a method that I have to explain regularly to my private maths pupils) to determine first derivatives of functions. However like Kepler he has no real concept of a limit and just lets his ‘h’ (in his case its actually an ‘e’) disappear at the appropriate moment without explanation!

I hope I have said enough to make it clear that there was an awful lot of calculus around before Newton and Leibniz even considered the subject, so what did they do? It is often claimed that their major contribution was the discovery of the fundamental theorem of the calculus, i.e. that integration and differentiation are inverse operations but even this is not true. The theorem first appears in an implied form in the work of James Gregory and more explicitly in that of Isaac Barrow both of which are explicitly cited by both Leibniz and Newton in their own work. Newton and Leibniz collected up the strands scattered throughout the work of the mathematicians listed above and collating, sorting and standardising create a coherent body of work that we now call infinitesimal calculus but even their effort where actually only a milestone along the route. Finding sums of numerous infinite series and determining integrals and derivatives of many functions proved a very difficult process and many 18th century mathematicians won their spurs by solving a particularly difficult problem in the now developing analysis, most notably Leonard Euler. However one central and absolutely fundamental problem still remained, neither Leibniz nor Newton had a limit concept and their rather cavalier attitude to elimination of infinitesimals led to Bishop George Berkeley’s famous and very justified retort about ghosts of departed quantities. This problem was not really solved until the German mathematician Karl Weierstraß came along in the 19th century.

I have entitled my post “The wrong question” because I personally thing that in any area of science the question as to who discovered/invented a particular discipline, method, theory etc is almost always displaced. We shouldn’t be asking who invented the calculus Leibniz or Newton but rather what did Leibniz and Newton contribute to the on going evolution of that branch of mathematics that we now call the calculus? All branches of science (and I consider mathematics to be a science, see my last guest post here next week), all theories all discoveries have long evolutionary histories and individuals only make contributions to those histories they don’t write the whole history alone.

Let’s take a very brief look at another example where people tend to express themselves as if one individual had produced a major scientific theory complete in one go, like Athena springing fully armed from the head of Zeus, the theory of relativity. If one were to take the popular accounts literally then Einstein dreamt up the whole affair whilst travelling to his work at the Patent Office in Bern on the tram. However the theory of relativity also has a long history. The principle of the relativity of motion to a frame of reference can be found in the works of Galileo, to whom it is oft falsely attributed, but it can also be found in Copernicus’ De revolutionibus and two thousand years earlier in the works of Euclid. The central discussion as to whether time and space are absolute or relative can be found in the Leibniz Clarke correspondence at the beginning of the 18th century with Samuel Clarke basically fronting for Newton. Einstein own work was largely prompted by the incompatibility of the theories of Newton and James Clerk Maxwell, a problem much discussed and analysed in the 19th century. Einstein famous discussion of synchronicity of clocks is foreshadowed by a similar discussion in the 19th century by the operators of railway networks.  Moving from special to general relativity we have the contributions of Minkowski, Hilbert and others.

To close I have made much use of the concept of evolution in this post and anybody who regularly reads John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts will know that the biological theory of evolution has a long history before Darwin published that book 150 plus years ago and readers of Larry Moran or the fearsome P Z Myers will know that modern evolutionary theorists object to being called Darwinians because the theory of evolution has evolved since Charles’ day. To recap, it is wrong to ask who invented or discovered a scientific discipline or theory, one should instead ask what did a given individual contribute to the theory or discipline in question?

For those who wish to know more about such things as the method of exhaustion or the fundamental theory of calculus then the articles at Wikipedia are mostly OK. On the individual mathematicians and their contributions to the history of calculus a visit to MacTutor is recommended.

For those who prefer books, you can read about the details of the priority dispute between Leibniz and Newton in definitive form in Rupert Hall’s “Philosophers at War” or in more popular form in Jason Bardi’s “The Calculus Wars”. A very general popular account of the history of infinite in mathematics is Ian Stewart’s “Taming the Infinite” a much more challenging book on the history of the infinite in mathematics is David Foster Wallace’s “Everything or More”.

On the history of calculus the standard works are, in ascending order of technical difficulty, Carl B. Boyer’s “The History of the Calculus”, Margaret E. Baron’s “The Origins of the Infinitesimal Calculus” and C. H. Edwards Jr.’s “The Historical Development of the Calculus”.

There is a chapter on the Kerala School in George Gheverghese Joseph’s “The Crest of the Peacock”. Joseph has also written a complete book on the subject his “Passage to Infinity”. For a corrective to some of Joseph’s more exaggerated claims I recommend reading the relevant parts of Kim Plofker’s “Mathematics of India”.

“The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence” has been edited and annotated by H.G. Alexander and anybody interested in the connections between 19th century train time tables and Einsteins Theory of Relativity should read Peter Galison’s excellent “Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps”

If you actually read and digest all of the above then you can start writing your own blog posts on the history of calculus.

1) With apologies to Sting!

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Smithsonian's Women in Science uploads, pt. 1

Mar 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

For the third March in a row, the Smithsonian Institution is marking Women's History Month with a trove of uploads to their Flickr Commons account, all images of "Women in Science," from their Science Service archives.  The images are all no-known-copyright, and they're great glimpses of women's work in laboratories and classrooms from the 1920s through the 1960s.  They're also a crowdsourcing opportunity--many of the women in the photographs have names, but beyond that, their life stories and accomplishments could use some more details.  Feel moved to start a Wikipedia entry for one of them?  Good, because many don't have one yet.

These two women in the recent batch of uploads do have Wikipedia entries, for very good reason:
Elizabeth Lee Hazen (1888-1975) and Rachel Brown (1898-1980)

[Visual description:  Two white-haired white women, in labcoats, at a gleaming lab table; one is standing and holding a glass flask; one is seated with a microscope in front of her]

Meet Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown, the inventors of nystatin, the first practical antifungal medication, used to treat oral thrush, vaginal yeast, jock itch, athlete's foot, ringworm, and other common fungal infections.  Nystatin has even been used to treat Dutch Elm disease, and to limit mold growth on works of art in a flood zone.  Elizabeth Hazen went from being a tiny orphan in Mississippi to a earning a PhD in microbiology in 1927 at Columbia University.   Rachel Fuller Brown was living with her mother in Massachusetts, and had little chance of college, until her grandmother's rich friend offered to cover her costs to attend Mount Holyoke.  Brown turned in a doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago in 1926, but didn't complete the other requirements for the PhD until 1933.

Hazen and Brown were both working for the New York Department of Health when they started the project to develop an antifungal, Hazen in New York City and Brown at a lab in Albany.  They sent their cultures and samples back and forth in mason jars, in the mail.  "Nystatin," which the women introduced in 1950, is named in honor of New York State Division of Laboratories and Research.   (Twisted Bacteria's post from International Women's Day 2008 covers the science and has lots of links.)

Neither woman chose to profit from the invention; instead, their royalties (over $13 million) went toward the Brown-Hazen Research Fund, to support biomedical research.  The photo above is from 1955, when the pair were awarded the first Squibb Award in Chemotherapy.

Their joint papers are at Harvard University, in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.  There's also a collection of Rachel Brown's papers at Mount Holyoke.  The New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, hosts a Brown-Hazen Award Lecture series.

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Empowerment, science, girls...okay, and cookies too

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Did you get your Thin Mints yet?

It's Girl Scout cookie season, at least in some parts of the US.  (Cookie sales periods, prices, and even varieties vary by region.)  But Girl Scouts all over the world just celebrated Thinking Day too.  World Thinking Day is in late February every year, and most troops mark the occasion somehow.  A holiday about thinking!  What could be more science-friendly than that?  This year's theme for World Thinking Day was "Empowering Girls Will Change Our World."

So I thought I'd look through my daughter's badge book for what science-related badges Junior Girl Scouts can earn.  Juniors are in grades 4-5-6 in the US; they're the ones with the green sashes.  Science badges for this age include "Aerospace," "Rocks Rock," "Weather Watch," "Science Discovery," "Science in Everyday Life," "Science Sleuth," "Sky Search," "Computer Fun," "Water Wonders," "Discovering Technology," "Plants and Animals," "Environmental Health," "Humans and Habitats," "Math Whiz," and others, depending on your definitions.  Even "Car Care" has girls learning to check the oil, brake fluid, tire pressure; learning about the composition of tires; researching the technologies of energy efficiency, emissions reduction, and passenger safety.  Most of the badge requirements today cannot be done sitting at a table during scout meetings--they require girls to go out and try things, keep journals of their observations, attend events, and talk to experts in the community.

You don't have to be a Girl Scout leader or parent to help empower girls with science experiences.  Offer yourself as a guest speaker at a local troop meeting; determine if your workplace can be made available for a troop to tour; or put together a packet of interesting materials that troop leaders might not be able to find in a craft store.  If there's a Girl Scout camp in your area, see if they need any science equipment you have to spare (even just magnifying glasses!).

Again and again, if you ask adults who were Girl Scouts, they'll tell you specific events, experiences, or people that stuck with them and even affected their career and life paths.  (For me?  Mrs. Cannon.  Taught a bunch of us left-handed girls to crochet, bless her.)  Wouldn't it be cool if, twenty years from now, a woman said "it was that person, that day, that moment," and she was talking about you?

Also?  If you offer your services in the springtime, I can almost guarantee you'll get some cookies as a thank you.   Thin Mints, if you're really good.

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