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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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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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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"Try Art"

Feb 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

My shift as a Scientopia guest blog starts today.  I'll mostly be blogging about the history of women in science, but maybe some other topics too.

A bit of introduction:  I liked science as a kid; I gobbled up science magazines and science television on PBS, I postered my room with space images, I even won the physics award in high school.  In college, I found other things I liked more.  And when a TA for my freshman physics class wrote "try art" on one of my quizzes, I saw his point -- I had drawn a beautiful diagram of an arm lifting a weight, but completely failed to solve the torque problem correctly.  I eventually earned degrees in geography and education, and have mostly done historical and art-related projects over the last twenty-some years.   Right now I'm president of the Disability History Association, and a research scholar with the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.  (Need more specifics?  My online CV is here.)

So how did I land at Scientopia as a guest blogger?  Short answer:  I was invited, by Zuska.  I can enjoy and respect the way science works and the truths it can tell, without actually being a scientist.  (It might help that I married a physicist, but I think I'd still follow science blogs without his influence.)  When I was teaching eighth grade in the early 1990s, I wanted to make a bulletin-board display about women scientists in history.  So I pored over every page of a biographical dictionary looking for their stories, trying to get beyond Marie Curie and the other usual suspects.  No Googling in 1992.

Now, I have more efficient ways to search for those names and stories.  Even better, I have ways to contribute to the general pool of knowledge about them.  Two examples:  I'm volunteering right now with the brand-new WikiProject Women's History, which already has a taskforce on Women in Technology; and the Smithsonian's uploads to Flickr Commons include a set of 110 portraits of Women in Science, some of which still await proper IDs.  If you've ever wondered who exactly does crowdsourcing projects, I'm one of those "bored people" (as I heard us described at THATCamp SoCal in January).  I like adding machine tags to images, or tracking down a birthdate for a paleobotanist, or transcribing old ships' logs.    And I still "try art" to bring women's history in science into more conversations.

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