Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Recognizing diverse women in STEM

By Kiyanna Noel

Dr. Rajesh Sunasee, associate professor of chemistry, and  Dr. Kelly Theisen, assistant professor of biochemistry, hosted a presentation on the notable women in science and technology in past and present history. 

The seminar took place March 22 in Hudson 106. 

Holly Heller-Ross, circulation services librarian, introduced Dr. Sunasee and explained his previous accomplishments such as his publications, rewards and honors as well as his educational background. 

Heller-Ross then introduced Dr. Theisen and elaborated on her education, research, areas of expertise and publications. 

Heller-Ross then ended the introduction by thanking Vice President of the Office of  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Allison Heard and her colleagues for their work in putting this seminar together. This was followed by thanking the janitors, Chartwells and everyone who showed their support by showing up for the seminar in its entirety. 

Sunasee then kicked off the seminar by acknowledging the struggles faced by women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields throughout history and how it is still relevant today. 

He recognizes throughout the first few slides how women receive fewer grants, are victims of harassment and discrimination as well as the bias women face in STEM careers. 

Following this he had an experiment in his class where college students wrote the names of scientists they recognized and if they hadn’t known of any they were instructed to write that they didn’t know. 

The results were that 75% of scientists mentioned were men, 16% were women and 9% had said they didn’t know. Also included in this experiment were the names of scientists that students recognized, on this list of ten names, two were women: Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin. 

Sunasee then handed the presentation off to Theisen, whose presentation addressed “Trailblazing Women in STEM” from the past. The six women of the past mentioned were Mary Anning, Alice Ball, Chien-Shuing Wu, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Hedy Lemarr and Dorothy Vaughn. 

Anning was a paleontologist who “collected fossils from the stone cliffs in England” with her brother in 1811. Anning was “not credited for her discoveries by male scientists who studied/published the specimens she found, likely her work influenced [Charles] Darwin.”

Ball, a medicinal chemist, was also “the first woman and first African-American to earn a graduate degree at the college of Hawaii. This was in 1915. She was recruited to help with a serious problem that they were having. At the time a lot of people with leprosy were sent to Hawaii to live out the rest of their lives which weren’t going to be very long,” Theisen said. “She worked out a way for the oil to be injected and absorbed by patients.” 

Wu was known as the first lady of physics. She got her PhD in physics from Berkeley and studied beta decay. While studying beta decay, Wu “proved Enrico Fermi’s theory and the K-meson Tsung-Dao Lee at Columbia using super-powerful magnets at near absolute zero.”

Crowfoot Hodgkin was a protein biochemist who “determined the structures of cholesterol, penicillin, B12, and the insulin using X-ray crystallogy.” She was also a Nobel Prize winner in 1964.

Aside from being an actress after World War II, Hedy Lemarr was heavily into technology. She invented a frequency to create secret communication in 1941. She received an award for this invention in 1997 as well as “paved the way for what we later use for bar code readers, Wifi and even more. So if you love your Wifi, thank Hedy Lemarr,” Theisen said. 

Vaughn was a computer scientist, who worked at NASA as well as being the first African-American supervisor at NASA. She led a group of women known as “computers,” these are the women who did the calculations for NASA.

“She was awarded the posthumus Congressional Gold Medal in 2019, and has a satellite and a crater on the moon named after her,” Theisen said. 

After acknowledging the accomplishments of these women, Theisen then spoke about 15 other influential women in STEM. 

The women mentioned were mathematicians Ada Lovelace and Katherine Johnson, physicist Angela Clayton, meteorologist Anna Mani, ecologist Rachel Carson, computer scientist Grace Hopper, paleontologist Dawn E. Peterson, astronomer Vera Rubin, aerospace engineer Mary Golda Ross, entomologist Maria Sibylla Merrian, engineer Mary Jackson, chemist Mildred Dresshaus, embryologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, mycologist Gloria Lim and geneticist Barbara McClintock. 

Theisen ended her presentation with nine book recommendations about powerful women in STEM. 

Sunasee then continued his presentation and explained an experience he had at Pittcon Conference and Exposition and how he rarely saw any women listed in their hall of fame. In the “never-ending hallway,” there were two women photographed, only using the equipment of the scientist.

Sunasee followed after her presentation to discuss four present women in STEM careers. 

The first woman mentioned was Tu Youyou who is a pharmaceutical chemist. Youyou discovered a traditional cure for malaria and saved millions of lives in South China, Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. She was the first female citizen of the People’s Republic of China to receive a Nobel Prize in any category. 

Mae Jemison is an author, doctor, educator, engineer and a NASA Astronaut. Jemison was the first African-American female astronaut and the first African-American woman in space. Among these accomplishments she also served as a medical officer in the Peace Corps and a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. 

Jemison inspired the following woman in STEM, Tiera Guinn Fletcher. 

Before graduating from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, Guinn Fletcher landed her first job at the Space Launch System performing calculations used to understand strength and durability. She is currently a rocket structural engineer and is responsible for building an engine section for an 188,000-pound rocket. 

Following Guinn Fletcher was Canadian Physicist Donna Strickland. Strickland won a Nobel Prize in Physics with Mourou and Ashkin in 2018 and is the third woman winner of the award in 55 years. Strickland developed a technique called Chirped Pulse Amplification that is used to target cancer and in corrective laser eye surgery. 

At the end of his speech on Strickland, Sunasee wanted to shed light on two women in  STEM on this campus that he works closely with, Professor of Biochemistry Dr. Karina Ckless and his wife Scientist and Research Councilor Dr. Usha Hemraz. 

After the presentation students and staff were encouraged to have refreshments and ask questions. 

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