Mining for answers in the ocean’s archives, by @AliyaMughal1

Cross-posted from: Aliya Mughal for NERC
Originally published: 23.05.18
https://nerc.ukri.org/planetearth/stories/1891/

With a death toll of more than 250,000 people, the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 was one of the most devastating disasters of recent history.

It was triggered by an earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. In 2016, Professor Lisa McNeill led a scientific expedition to investigate where it all began – in the seabed.

Lisa said:

Sampling an earthquake zone in situ is one of the holy grails of modern earthquake studies. Although we now have very sophisticated techniques to remotely record the earthquake process, we really needed to sample the rocks where the real action goes on.

The expedition was conducted by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), which for the past 50 years has been sending scientists, researchers, engineers and technicians across the world to delve into the Earth’s archives.= …

The full article is available here.

Aliya MughalI’m a dedicated follower of wordsmithery and wisdom in its many guises. Reader, writer, storyteller – if there’s a thread to follow and people involved, I’m interested. I’ve built my life around words, digging out the stories that matter and need to be told – about science, feminism, art, philosophy, covering everything from human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, to famine and the aid game in Rwanda, to how the intersection of art and science has the power to connect the disparate forces of humanity with the nanoscopic forces of our sacred Earth. Find me @AliyaMughal1

Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 27.05.13

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Before the age of 20 Austrian Hedy Lamarr had left school, become a famous actress, married a Nazi arms manufacturer and become the first actress to simulate an orgasm on screen. Ten years later she defected to the side of allies where she invented and sold a communication technology to the US Navy that is still used by the entire US military to this day as well as in Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth and almost every single modern communication device.
Read more Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

15 Year Old Girl Invents No Battery Flashlight Powered by Heat from our Hands

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 29.06.13


15 year old Ann Makosinsk from Victoria Canada has invented a flashlight that doesn’t need batteries and instead is powered by the warmth of our hands. She was researching alternative energy methods when she came across the Peltier tile, a tile which generates electricity when cool on one side and warm on the other. She did some calculations and discovered that the energy generated could be enough to power a flashlight. Ann did months of research on transformers and circuitry before coming up with a working prototype. She is a top 14 finalist at the Google Science Fair and is going onto the finals of the competition later this year. 
Read more 15 Year Old Girl Invents No Battery Flashlight Powered by Heat from our Hands

Barbara Cartland – author and aerogliding pioneer

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 08.04.14

 

Women Rock Science : A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

Elsie Macgill: first female aircraft designer in the world and activist

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science

tumblr_n475b965pZ1s9nn84o1_r1_1280Meet Elsie MacGill, a legend in aircraft design and production and the first female aircraft designer in the world. In 1938 she became Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry where she led the production and redesign of several planes including the Hawker Hurricane – the plane responsible for the most British victories in WWII. Most of the employees in the factory were women and by the wars end they had produced 1,400 aircraft, a massive feat. Elsie had forged new techniques for aeroplane production and mass production and won the Gzowski Medal for this work.
Read more Elsie Macgill: first female aircraft designer in the world and activist

Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 21.11.14

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Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor. Her work completely turned geology upside down and proved that the ocean floor was not just a boring flat plane of mud but actually filled with extreme mountains, volcanos, canyons and moving masses. Her most controversial discovery is that of the Mid-Ocean Ridges, chains of moving mountains that cover the entire earth. At that time anyone who believed in plate tectonics or continental drift was considered an idiot, Marie’s work proved that they were in fact real.  “I was so busy making maps I let them argue [….] there’s truth to the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words and that seeing is believing.“
Read more Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor

Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut in space

I have to admit, I had never heard of Helen Sharman until I saw this tweet from Samantha Gouldson, the official science reporter for our member Jump!Mag last night.

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And, I’m not in the least bit shocked that the British media is erasing Sharman’s record as the first British person in space more than 20 years ago. It’s pretty much par for the course. It’s exactly what the media did when Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013 claiming it was Britain’s first win in 77 years completely erasing Virginia Wade and Ann Jones.

Social media, at least, gets it right.

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Meet Dr Jane Cooke Wright, the pioneering Harlem surgeon who revolutionised cancer treatment

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 04.11.14

This article is a collaboration between Women Rock Science and HER, An empowerment organization dedicated to community awareness about women’s health, education, and rights

Meet Dr. Jane Cooke Wright , the pioneering Harlem surgeon who revolutionised medical research and cancer treatment. She developed the first ever chemotherapy drugs to treat solid tumours and spearheaded the use of tissue cultures for medical testing as opposed to live human bodies or mice. Jane’s methodical testing and cataloguing of samples generated the first clear dosing protocol for chemotherapy drugs and she, along with other researchers, took chemotherapy from being a joke in the medical community to a well-respected treatment option for cancer patients.

Jane was born in 1919 and comes from a long line of activists and medical trailblazers with an extensive list of firsts to their names. Her father, grandfather, step-grandfather, uncle and sister were also all doctors, a huge feat considering many universities and hospitals refused to take black students or doctors and that her grandfather was a former slave. Jane attended New York Medical College and worked for several years at Bellevue and then Harlem hospital. In 1949 at the age of 30 she joined the Cancer Research Foundation, a Harlem based organisation founded by her father determined to find effective treatments for cancer. Three years later she became head of the foundation.
Read more Meet Dr Jane Cooke Wright, the pioneering Harlem surgeon who revolutionised cancer treatment

Why should we focus on women in STEM? by @psycho_claire

Cross-posted from: The Psychology Supercomputer
Originally published: 23.09.13

So, the question posed as the title for this post prompted a twitter discussion between myself and a friend the other day. The discuss got a bit heated, which some could see as a bad thing, personally I see it as a consequence of debate between passionate people. What came out of that debate though, is that I’ve thought about this question a lot, I assumed that everyone understood why this is an important issue and why we should be focussing on it now, but it seems that assumption May be wrong. I’ve been thinking about how best to explain it, and so I approached my friend to see if he’d be ok with me writing a post on this subject. I want to make clear, this is in no way a continuation of some imagined disagreement. He’s happy for me to write this, and I’m looking forward to coffee with him soon. There’s no personal vendetta here.

 Right, so that’s the disclaimer out of the way. :)
Before I explain the why. I suppose I’d better explain the what. What is the women in STEM issue. For those that don’t know STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And currently we have a problem in STEM subjects and careers. That problem is the low uptake of women. This is not just a recruitment problem, in fact you could argue it’s not a recruitment problem at all. Since girls tend to like and do well in STEM subjects through high school. The women in STEM problem is being referred to as the “leaky pipeline” – at each further stage of education and career progression the proportion of women to men drops. It starts at A-levels, with fewer girls doing a-level in STEM subjects despite out performing boys at GCSE level. Fewer still continue to study STEM subjects at undergraduate level, and fewer at post-graduate. This trend continues through career progression, for example in academia, after PhD, fewer women become lecturers, then fewer become senior lecturers; on and on. Women disappear. Despite clear interest and aptitude in STEM subjects they vanish. But we don’t know why. This is the women in STEM problem.


Read more Why should we focus on women in STEM? by @psycho_claire

Rocket Girls at Women Rock Science

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science

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Meet Mary Sherman Morgan, rocket scientist, munitions and chemical engineer and one of the most instrumental players in the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer I (shown above). According to her colleagues she “single-handedly saved America’s space programme”.

Mary started out life as a poor farm girl in North Dakota, her parents chose not to educate her by choice so that she could work on the farm. Eventually, she managed to graduate high school and then ran away from home to go to college and study chemical engineering.

During her studies, WWII broke out and there was a shortage of chemists in the country. Mary was offered a “Top Secret” job at a factory and had to accept without being told what the factory made or what her job would be. It turned out it was a munitions factory – Mary was put in charge of the manufacture of 3 different types of explosive. In her tenure the factory produced over 1 billion pounds of ordnance for WWII.
Read more Rocket Girls at Women Rock Science

Meet Margaret E Knight – The Paper Bag Pioneer Who Had Her Inventions Stolen by a Man by Women Rock Science

(Cross-posted from Women Rock Science)

 

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Meet Margaret E Knight, the factory girl and child inventor who grew up to become America’s Paper bag queen. Margaret or Mattie as she was known had been inventing various factory machinery since she was 12 years old. She is credited with inventing the machinery for the flat bottomed paper bag; one of America’s most iconic products and the mainstay of supermarkets and school lunches everywhere. Her invention was so spectacular that another inventor, Charles Annan, spied on her work and stole it from her.

 

Before Mattie, paper bags only came in envelope style, very flimsy and impractical. For several years, engineers had tried but couldn’t come up with a machine that could mass produce and manufacture flat bottomed paper bags and if it couldn’t be manufactured then it couldn’t be produced for the public. Mattie, who worked at a paper bag factory, decided to focus on this problem and designed a new type of machinery able to produce 1000’s of flat bottomed bags at once, it revolutionised the paper bag industry.

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Mattie’s Patent

Due to her poverty and lowly status it took Mattie 3 years to take her idea from prototype to the patent office. In this time another inventor, Charles Annan, deceptively spied on her work, stole her designs and filed a patent in his own name for her inventions. Mattie found out and took him to court, fortunately her drawings, diary entries, paper cuttings and knowledge proved him wrong and Knight was eventually awarded the patent for her designs in 1871.
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Mattie’s initial prototype

In total Mattie is credited with about 90 inventions and 22 patents in everything from shoe making and skirt protectors to boring machinery and sleeve valve engines for cars. Her passion for design started as a very young child. Armed with only a notepad and her deceased father’s toolbox she made sledges, kites and jumping jacks for her older brothers and a foot warmer to keep her mother warm whilst she worked cold nights. At the age of just 12 she made her first invention. After noticing a serious accident at the cotton mill where her brothers worked, Mattie invented a stop motion safety device for looms to prevent workers getting injured. As an adult, Mattie became a celebrity, she was awarded the Royal Legion of Honour by Queen Victoria in England and in 1913 the NY Times reported that Knights paper bag was in “universal use”

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

Meet Leizu the Legendary Chinese Empress who is Credited with Inventing Silk by Women Rock Science

Meet Leizu the Legendary Chinese Empress who is Credited with Inventing Silk by Women Rock Science

 

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This is Leizu (aka  Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in 2640 BC. A teenager and wife of the Yellow Emperor Leizu was outside having tea one day when a silk worm cocoon fell into her cup. She fiddled and toyed with the cocoon and noticed fine shiny strands emanating from it. Leizu, totally fascinated by the strands, gathered together her ladies in waiting to formulate a technique of weaving the strands together to make a cloth. Eventually they succeeded and she presented this cloth to her husband, the Emperor. Leizu went on the develop sericulture, the science behind producing silk.

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Chinese Women Producing Silk 12th Century AD

The legendary tale of how she invented this wonderous material was recorded by Chinese academic, Confucius. No one truly knows how much of the story is true and how much of it is myth but Leizu went on to be revered and respected by the Chinese people. Sericulture remained a woman only science in China for thousands of years. Silk went on to become one of China’s biggest exports with cloths found all over the world. The method of production was kept secret for 3000 years and people found trying to teach others or smuggle worms out of China were executed.

Sources British Silk Association Women in ScienceInsects Through the Seasons

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

The Inimitable Life of Sophie Germain by Women Rock Science

(Cross-posted from Women Rock Science)

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This is Sophie Germain, 18th Century physicist, mathematician and philosopher. She is the first person for 200 years to make progress on Fermat’s last theorem and her pioneering theories on elasticity helped build the Eiffel tower. Her journey into science was an unusual one, as a teenager, she had to fight her parents for the right to read books and as an adult she had to pretend to be a man to take university courses. Despite her amazing work she was not included in the list of 72 French architects and scientists whose names are inscribed in the Eiffel tower.

 

Sophie was born in 1776 to a wealthy Parisian family. Her parents did not approve of girls receiving an education and banned Sophie from studying. This was a huge point of conflict as Sophie was obsessed with mathematics, particularly the theories of the ancient Greeks. Her parents even went so far as take away her heat, clothing and lights so that she couldn’t sneakily study at night as she had been caught doing many times. Her parents eventually surrendered when they found her in the middle of the night, reading, freezing naked with a burnt out candle stub. From this moment on they let her continue to study and her father even went on to support her financially.

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Names Inscribed in the Eiffel Tower

At 18 a new technical University opened in the city. Sophie wished to go but was barred entry as she was a woman. Just like before, Sophie wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She used the identity of a former male student Monsieur Le-Blanc to write into the university and request lecture notes for remote learning. As the course progressed, she even began submitting coursework under her new male name. She was excellent although it was this excellence that would get her busted. Le-Blanc’s work was so intelligent, so brilliant that the course supervisor demanded to meet with him. It was then he discovered that Le-Blanc was actually Sophie Germain.

The professors at the university took the identity swap revelations surprisingly well. Though she was not granted a degree she forged strong mentorships with some of the finest mathematicians in France. She pioneered work on the law of vibrating elastic surfaces which made the construction of the Eiffel Tower possible. Several years later, she went on to be the first person to progress in providing the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem – a problem that had been troubling mathematicians for 200 years.

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Fermat’s last theorem img Source: Simon Singh

Despite her achievements, upon her death, her death certificate listed her simply as a single woman with no profession – not a mathematician. Further when the Eiffel tower was built, her name was not included in the list of scientists despite her theories being key in its construction. Sophie didn’t receive a formal school education and her work was often haphazard and lacked formal structure. However it is this very nature that allowed her creativity to flourish and gave her a unique perspective on mathematical problems.

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

 

The science behind sex differences is still in dispute

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

In November 2013 a study was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA’ (link here for those interested http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/27/1316909110, the full paper will be available on open access in May 2014) titled, ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain’. Now if you don’t know what a connectome is, don’t worry, the term was only coined in around 2005. It refers to a map of neural connections in the brain, and it exists as a way of trying to connect the physical structure of the brain with its function (if you are interested there is more on this here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectome). Fancy new terminology aside, the purpose of the study was to measure structural connections within the brains of just below 1000 young people (aged 8 to 22) and their results showed some interesting differences. Using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (an MRI technique that measures the restricted diffusion of water) they found that after the age of 13 there were significant differences in how the brains of men and women were connected. In the study men’s brains were found to connect more within a given hemisphere. and women’s had great cross connectivity (seen below the connectome maps published, showing the male brain in blue and the female brain in orange:
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As you can see, the male brain shows more longitudal connections whilst the female brains shows more transverse connections.
The abstract for the study states, ‘the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’, having earlier noted that ‘Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills’.

The publication of this paper resulted in a number of excitable and fairly familiar newspaper headlines.
The Telegraph announced boldly ‘Brains of men and women are poles apart’, (demonstrating once and for all that broadsheets aren’t immune to headline puns) telling us that women’s brains are set up to have better memories (for anniversaries!) and gauge social situations better while men’s brains coordinate their actions with their senses, so can navigate better (not to mention be better at parking cars).

The Independent declared these differences, ‘could explain why men are ‘better at map reading”.
The Belfast Telegraph gets the prize for the best reporting on this, by first reminding us that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ before going on to declare that the study has shown ‘men and women’s brains are wired in completely different ways, as if they were species from different planets.’

With the possible exception of the Belfast Telegraph (who seem to have got themselves hopelessly overexcited), you can’t place too much fault on the reporting here. It is a clear cut case of ‘science says’, and in this case has the benefits of a peer reviewed journal to back it up. The study itself made reference to differences in male and female behaviours, stating that men have better ‘motor and spacial abilities’ whereas women show, ‘superior memory and social cognition’. Unfortunately, whilst this paper may make that claim, the preceding study (of which the participants of this study were a subset) does not back that up (abstract here http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/neu/26/2/251/). Of the 26 behavioural measures made for comparison (for example executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition), 11 showed sex differences that were non existent, or as small as 53:47 (the expected sex outperforming the opposite only 53% of the time), Even in those areas where the differences are meant to be the greatest (spatial or social awareness) the performance difference was only 60:40-a measurable and noticeable difference for sure, but hardly enough to declare difference species.

My problem is not with this study or with their results, but rather with the way the conclusions have been drawn, and with the extrapolations. They have shown interesting differences in how men’s and women’s brains connect with themselves, but then rather than taking any further interesting steps, drilling down further into the data, they have attached some male/female stereotypes and called it job done. One of the authors has even suggested that the ‘hard wired’ differences found could explain the ‘gut feelings’ that women demonstrate more than men, and which makes them good mothers (‘intuition’ and ‘mothering’, or indeed ‘nurturing’ was not in fact measured in this study).

There could be other reasons than ‘men are better at map reading’ for the differences observed. Men’s brains are frequently bigger than women’s brains, the difference in the wiring could be due to physical necessity (there are also studies on this).

Then there’s the most interesting part of the study that has been the least discussed: the structural differences are not observed in a significant manner until after age 13. And we have to ask ourselves why. One of the proposed explanations is that this is the approximate average age for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. There are massive changes in the body, hormones flooding everything, the logic seems to be that the brain changes at this time too. However there is a better explanation, and one less routed in speculation. See, there’s this thing called neuroplasticity. It refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour or environment. Literally as you learn, your brain changes shape. Then we have to bear in mind that gender as a social construct is learned. It is taught. Little girls aren’t born liking pink. They are taught that girls like pink, and that they are a girl, therefore they then like pink. You put those two things together and what you end up with is the possibility that, rather than being innate, related to the release of hormones at puberty, the structural differences in the brains are programmed in by telling girls that boys are boisterous and girls play nice, that boys are good at maths and girls are caring, that boys build things and girls decorate them. But no mention is made in the study of any consideration of gendered activities in their subjects, or indeed any activities that may (and in fact do) influence how our brains are wired.

If you take this into account, the claim that ‘sex differences are hard wired’ seems a little less proven than it was before.

I am very fond of saying ‘peer reviewed journal or it didn’t happen’. But we have to be able to treat even these studies critically. Their data may be fixed and immutable (tho that is not always the case) but the conclusions have more room for movement. And the people making those conclusions are not immune from sexism.

The study may have shown that men and women’s brains connect differently. But it hasn’t shown why. And it hasn’t shown that the differences are innate. It has shown they are learned. ‘Men and women are taught to be different’ is a less interesting conclusions perhaps, but it is a more truthful one.

 

Post script: If you are interested in this subject, may I recommend the very excellent Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. Her article on this study was also very useful to me https://theconversation.com/new-insights-into-gendered-brain-wiring-or-a-perfect-case-study-in-neurosexism-21083

 

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

 

See also: Extra, Extra! Scientists Misunderstand their own Research by @Marstrina

Why should we focus on women in STEM?, by @psycho_claire

Cross-posted from: The Psychology Super Computer
Originally published: 23.09.13

So, the question posed as the title for this post prompted a twitter discussion between myself and a friend the other day. The discuss got a bit heated, which some could see as a bad thing, personally I see it as a consequence of debate between passionate people. What came out of that debate though, is that I’ve thought about this question a lot, I assumed that everyone understood why this is an important issue and why we should be focussing on it now, but it seems that assumption May be wrong. I’ve been thinking about how best to explain it, and so I approached my friend to see if he’d be ok with me writing a post on this subject. I want to make clear, this is in no way a continuation of some imagined disagreement. He’s happy for me to write this, and I’m looking forward to coffee with him soon. There’s no personal vendetta here.

Right, so that’s the disclaimer out of the way. :)

Before I explain the why. I suppose I’d better explain the what. What is the women in STEM issue. For those that don’t know STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And currently we have a problem in STEM subjects and careers. That problem is the low uptake of women. This is not just a recruitment problem, in fact you could argue it’s not a recruitment problem at all. Since girls tend to like and do well in STEM subjects through high school. The women in STEM problem is being referred to as the “leaky pipeline” – at each further stage of education and career progression the proportion of women to men drops. It starts at A-levels, with fewer girls doing a-level in STEM subjects despite out performing boys at GCSE level. Fewer still continue to study STEM subjects at undergraduate level, and fewer at post-graduate. This trend continues through career progression, for example in academia, after PhD, fewer women become lecturers, then fewer become senior lecturers; on and on. Women disappear. Despite clear interest and aptitude in STEM subjects they vanish. But we don’t know why. This is the women in STEM problem.


Read more Why should we focus on women in STEM?, by @psycho_claire