Margaret Hamilton receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

 

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Last week, President Obama presented his last Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to outstanding citizens of America. And this year, a historic figure from STEM got the recognition she deserved.

Margaret Hamilton, played a vital role in the NASA Apollo missions, writing crucial code by hand to make the mission to the moon possible. The computer scientist was the Director of the Software Engineering Division, responsible to error-detection software and in-flight controls.

And although all this work was completed in the 1960’s, it wasn’t until twenty years later that she started to receive recognition. In 1986, she was awarded the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, and in 2003, NASA gave her the Exceptional Space Act Award.

Now, this outstanding woman in STEM has received another impressive accolade, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her work in leading the development of the on-board flight software for the Apollo Moon missions.

It is fantastic to see women in STEM being recognised for their work, especially seeing as women in the industry very rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Less than 3% of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women in history, and this year, no women received the accolade – so it is great to see that a woman in STEM is being acknowledged.

The photo of Margaret Hamilton stood next to the pile of code for the Apollo Missions is incredibly well-known, and is a landmark in the history of women in STEM; Not only that, but that photo holds incredible power. When little girls see Margaret Hamilton in that famous photo, writing the code for an explorative space mission and making a huge contribution to science, it allows little girls to imagine themselves also doing so.

Watching an intelligent and amazing woman in STEM being presented such an award is an important message to young girls. And hopefully, the photo of President Obama presenting Margaret Hamilton with her award, will also become a landmark in history.

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GovCamp Cymru Bara Brith Event

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The Bara Brith event had what every event needed – discussion about how we can get more girls into STEM and cake.

This week I joined Stewart Powell from Technocamps as guest speaker at a GovCamp Cymru event in Swansea, talking about how we can encourage more girls into technology. The Bara Brith event was a discussion around the issue which, very suitable, was situated around a table full of the traditional welsh fruit cake.

The structure of the evening made it possible for everyone to engage with the issue. As guest speakers, rather than talking at the audience, Stewart and I would discuss topics focusing around girls in technology, and it would then opening the floor to everyone else to raise their own points. This format is not something I have done before, but it was a great way to get everyone talking about how we can all assist in solving the problems girls in technology face.

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GovCamp Cymru set up the Bara Brith events to provide a platform to share useful information and allow people in the industry to share their ideas. In the case of this event, we looked at the barriers that hold back women and girls in technology.

Throughout the discussion, several themes emerged.

– There is a horrendous lack of women in technology and girls are less likely to pursue a career in the industry.

 

–  We need to create female role models for young girls in technology, to engage with girls in schools to allow them to imagine themselves in that career.

– The perception of technology lends itself to being aimed towards boys, and work should be done to ‘re-brand’ the industry to be inclusive for everyone.

– Girl only events help to make girls feel comfortable with tech, allowing them to explore it in a ‘safe’ environment – helping them to feel more confident in mixed gender classes.

– Support for women in technology is vital to stop women leaving the industry later in their career.

In conclusion, we still have a lot of work to do to help get girls into tech and keep them in the industry. But through events like this, people in the industry can help get involved to help close the gender gap in technology sooner.

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TED-Talking your ear off

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Just over three and a half years ago, I was storming home disappointedly. I had been to a university lecture that hoped to shape studying scientists, to make them more conscious of issues such as animal testing and renewable energy. And as a liberal student who was getting involved in the women’s right movement, you can imagine how excited I was when I saw that ‘feminism in science’ was on the list of topics that the module would cover.

That excitement quickly turned to disappointment, when I realised that this part of the lecture series would consist of a 30 second presentation slide in a four-hour lecture. However, that lecture content (or lack of) made me embark on a project that I am incredibly passionate about; because after that lecture, I started my blog.

When I started Mind-ful almost four years ago, I never thought that it would take me on the adventures that it has, or that is would mould and develop into my all-consuming passion. I have been able to help shape public policy surrounding women and girls in STEM, start a YouTube channel, give a lecture at the European Space Agency in Paris, and give a TED Talk.

That’s right, I gave a TED Talk – those are words I never thought I would say.

I took part in the TEDxSwanseaWomen event at the stunning National Waterfront Museum, and was joined on stage by a group of amazing women, who’s talks were separated by “almost live” TED Talks from speakers in San Francisco. The topics of the evening ranged from forming connections, to issues that face women across the world, and I found myself laughing, almost in tears and deeply affected by their inspirational stories.

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TED Talks could be considered the theme tune to my life, as I am constantly listening to them, and it would not be out of character for me to have a TED Talk playing at my funeral.

I got hooked on them when I first watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s flawless speech about feminism, swiftly skipping to Debbie Sterling’s ‘Inspiring the next generation of engineers’ and Dr Cathy Foley’s ‘What can women do for science?’.

TED Talks can teach you something new about the world or about yourself. They bring in experts, amazing personal stories and a wealth of experience to open up topics to everyone – what is not to love?

And now, I have done one too! (Surprise, surprise, it is about women in STEM)

I will share the footage of the event when it is available, but until then, I will leave you with the first TED Talk I ever watched:

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Unconscious bias and barriers: No Nobel Prizes for women

Francis Peyton Rous Nobel Prize Medal at Auction

Another year, another disappointing lack of women on the list of Nobel Prize winners.

Women are massively underrepresented in science industries, and the women who work in science are significantly less likely to be recognised for their work. And the list of Nobel Prize winners demonstrates this, with only 2.9% of these awards being awarded to women in history.

So lets break it down a bit:

  • 203 people have won the Nobel Prize for Physics in history, only two of these prizes have been given to women (Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963)
  • 171 people have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in history, only four of these prizes have been given to women.
  • 211 people have won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in history, 12 of these have been women.
  • It has been 53 years since a women won the Nobel prize in Physics

And this is not because women aren’t doing great science, or that women aren’t being nominated for the accolade. In fact, Lise Meitner was nominated 48 times by different people, between the years of 1937 and 1965, but never received recognition. And the recent occurrence of the hashtag

#NobelForVeraRubin on the Twittersphere shows how much this issue is starting to enrage people.

Vera Rubin discovered the anomalies in the way the galaxies rotate, which provided considerable evidence for one of the most influential theories in astrophysics – the existence of dark matter. Despite her huge contributions to this monumental discovery, she has never received a Nobel Prize for her work, despite the many scientists and non-scientists who want her work recognised.

Science Writer, Matthew Francis, summed up the issues on his blog, discussing how the prizes favour men of European descent – excluding anyone who not a man or is not white from consideration. And I think there is more to add to this.

Due to stereotyping, we interpret the work of oppressed groups differently. For example, if you handed someone two identical CVs, with the same experience and qualifications, but one CV has a women’s name on it and the other has a man’s name on it, then you are more likely to hire the man.

OR, if you are handed two identical CVs, with the same experience and qualifications, but one CV has a name on it that is typically associated with a white person and the other has a name that is associated with a non-white person – then you are more likely to hire the person you perceive to be white.

In one study, just changing a letter in someone’s name would significantly increase their chance of being hired. With a man with the name ‘Jose’ being more likely to be hire if he used a CV in which he changed his name to ‘Joe’.

This is not necessarily a conscious act of discrimination (although in some cases it would be), but often it is result of unconscious absorption of societal stereotypes. This causes us to withhold unconscious biases, and this bias cause us to value the achievements of men and white people more than those from oppressed groups, despite identical achievements and experience.

I think unconscious bias has a lot to do with the appalling lack of women who have received recognition for their contribution to the scientific industry. And efforts should be made to make the panel aware of the biases they hold, to help prevent women from being overlooked, and break this cycle.

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Forgotten women in science

With the approach of the release of ‘Hidden Figures’, a film illustrating the real-life story of the forgotten women involved in the moon landing, I wanted to help remember other forgotten women in STEM.

To help raise awareness for women who’s contributions to science have not been remembered, I wanted to recreate portraits of them; Because even though science is a big passion in my life, I also adore art. I picked three overlooked women in science, to help cement their work in our memories.

Katherine Johnson

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The 2017 film release of ‘Hidden Figures’ captures the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all made vital contributions to Project Mercury. Because of this, the first woman I chose to commemorate was Katherine Johnson.

She was an American physicist, space scientist, and mathematician – working at NASA, she calculated the trajectories, launch windows and emergency back-up return paths. Her work was crucial in Project Mercury, the first human space flight from the US, but has never been celebrated.
Rosalind Franklin

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Rosalind Franklin made significant contributes to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Her contributions were famously overlooked as the nobel prize for this work was given to Watson and Crick, who are known as the discovers of DNA’s helical structure.

She was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer, and presented her findings regarding DNA’s structure in a seminar in 1951. Watson was in the seminar audience and he findings reported influenced his work massively – however her work was never mentioned or recognised.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

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Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a Northern Irish astrophysicist, discovered the pulsar during her PhD. When she bought her findings to her supervisor he disregarded her discovery.

However, when the paper was published and it was acknowledged that the pulsar had actually been recorded and discovered, despite Jocelyn being the primary researcher, her PhD supervisor’s name was mentioned first on the research paper (indicating him as the primary researcher).

 

This is going to become a regular feature on my blog, so if you know any women in STEM you would like me to draw – please tweet me @AliceJaneGray.

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