Women in Science: Keep Pushing those Boundaries

From COVID relief to space exploration, these women excel

Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers and a warm welcome to our newest subscribers. As promised, this week we take a look at some important scientists whose work impacts our daily lives. They have all had their own challenges to overcome, but each of them contributed something invaluable to our society. But first, our usual updates from around the world and our weekly update on abortion legislation here in the United States.

Global News

  • The murder of Sarah Everard who was killed in London last week, presumably by a police officer, has set off much discussion about who should alter their behavior in response. Some women have suggested a curfew for men illustrating how ridiculous it is for police to suggest that women not go out at night. Leslie Kern writes a fabulous piece for Vox establishing goalposts for creating cities where all feel safe. Check it out for some creative ideas.

  • Last year, there were significant demonstrations in Nigeria protesting against police brutality. Sound familiar? The Feminist Coalition, a group of young women in their 20’s and 30’s, formed in response to the protests has continued their work. They are now turning their attention toward issues of sexual violence, women’s education, financial equality, and representation in politics working to get the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill passed. Another uphill battle, but these women are up for the challenge.

National News

  • President Biden issued an Executive Order requiring a review of Title IX provisions that were developed under former Secretary of Education’s tenure. Title IX has been a political football since the Obama administration issued its “Dear Colleague” letter. It will be interesting to see what the results of the review are. Regardless, it takes years to move these types of regulations, so Devos’s rules will be in effect for a while. To learn more about those rules, take a look at the article I wrote on it last year.

The Latest Abortion Law Updates

Women in science face an uphill battle in every way. From being passed over for grants, tenure, or program acceptance to dealing with sexual harassment from peers, women entering fields of science may feel like they face a Sisyphean challenge.  However, they are contributing to the progress even if it only feels like claiming an inch of ground at a time. For this reason, we would like to celebrate and elevate some of the women scientists over time who have made significant and far-reaching discoveries that improve and affect all of our lives daily.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

If it hadn’t been for the book and then movie Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson’s story would most likely never have been known beyond NASA’s community. But fortunately, Margot Lee Shetterly would not let that happen. Johnson was born in West Virginia where her mathematical prowess was recognized early. She skipped grades and made quick work of the math curriculum at the historically Black West Virginia State College. She was chosen by the college president to be one of three Black graduate students to integrate West Virginia University. She was the only woman chosen. 

She went on to work for the agency that would become NASA doing computing for the guidance and navigation department at Langley's Research Center. She faced both racism and sexism.  In an interview with WHRO in 2011, she explained,  "I just happened to be working with guys and when they had briefings, I asked permission to go. And they said, 'Well, the girls don't usually go.' and I said, 'Well, is there a law?' They said, 'No.' So then my boss said, 'Let her go.' " 

Johnson was known for her reliable calculations, so much so that astronaut John Glenn had her hand check computer orbital equations before he would agree to go into space. He trusted her calculations more than the computer because the computers were prone to blackouts and other issues.  According to an NPR article, Glenn said, “If she says they’re good then I’m ready to go.” 

As time moved on, Johnson completed calculations for the first moon landing and then later, the space shuttle missions. In 2015, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Sara Little Turnbull (1917-2015)

At four feet, eleven inches tall, Sara Little Turnbull was a designer who had an outsized influence on modern product development. While she began her career as an editorial assistant at House Beautiful, she was trained at Parsons School of Design. After writing an article where she opined that designers were designing for retailers rather than the women who would be using the products, her career took off. Executives at 3M, Corning, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble hired her to help them develop and design products. She traveled the world taking inspiration from both the natural world and other cultures for designs.

At 3M, they had developed a new non-woven material and wanted Turnbull to develop a bra using the material. While she did develop the bras, she recognized many other uses for the material including developing a prototype for a disposable molded medical mask with elastic straps and a nose clip. Sound familiar? While the original material could not trap enough pathogens for medical use, it did become the N95 mask that workers used in trades to keep dust out of their faces for decades. With new materials and technology, in 1995, the mask became the medical-grade N95 mask that we all know about today. We can thank Sara Little Turnbull for creating a product that has saved millions of lives worldwide during the pandemic. 

Something to chew on

A Baptist pastor exhorted his female parishioners to stay thin for their husbands and at least be “participation trophy wives”. Here he is…. feast your eyes!

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