Ep 5: Roma Agrawal & Dr Peter Etchells

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Welcome to the Ada Lovelace Day podcast, highlighting the work of women in STEM. Each month, we talk to women from around the STEM world about their careers, as well as talking to women and men, about historic and modern women’s achievements, discoveries, and inventions.

In this episode

01:23: Structural engineer Roma Agrawal tells us about her work on the iconic Shard skyscraper in London, and the challenges of retrofitting Victorian buildings.

26:15: Biological psychologist Dr Pete Etchells talks about the work of Dr Suzanne Gage, who investigates the relationships between recreational drug use and mental health.

Ada Lovelace Day Live!

ALD Live is an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music suitable for everyone over the age of 12. If you’d like to enjoy a taster, take a look at our videos from 20152014 and 2013!

Our amazing ALD Live! speakers this year are:

  • Yewande Akinola, design engineer focused on sustainable water supply systems and the engineering design coordination of large projects in the built environment.
  • Dr Sheila Kanani, planetary physicist, science presenter, secondary school physics teacher and space comedienne with a background in astrophysics and astronomy.
  • Dr Kat Arney, science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured in the New Scientist, Wired, the Guardian, the Times Educational Supplement, BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists and more.
  • Jenny Duckett, developer with the Government Digital Service.
  • Dr Sara Santos, mathematician, director and founder of Maths Busking.
  • Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, computational biologist working on drug discovery for Cancer Research UK.
  • Dr Anna Jones, deputy science leader for the British Antarctic Survey’s Atmosphere, Ice and Climate Team.
  • Helen Keen, comedian and our fabulous compère.

Tickets are available now for £20/£5, so get yours now before they run out! Find out more about our speakers, venue, tickets and schedule.

Our interviewees

Roma Agrawal

Roma Agrawal

Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer was part of the team that built The Shard. She was awarded ‘Young Structural Engineer of the Year’ in 2011 by the Institution of Structural Engineers and was a finalist in the IET’s Young Woman Engineer award 2012. Roma works to raise awareness of engineering, correct the preconceptions about the field and inspire young people about STEM and engineering.

Read an excerpt from Roma’s More Passion for Science chapter on Brooklyn Bridge engineer Emily Warren Roebling, and watch Roma’s 2014 ALD Live! talk on bridges on YouTube or at the bottom of this post. And you can follow Roma on Twitter: @romatheengineer.

Dr Pete Etchells

Pete EtchellsDr Pete Etchells is a senior lecturer in biological psychology at Bath Spa University, and the science blog network coordinator for the Guardian, where he also writes for the psychology blog Head Quarters. He researches the effects of playing video games on mental health and behaviour, and more generally the effects of technology use on the brain and behaviour. You can follow Pete on Twitter: @peteetchells.

Pete’s subject this month was Dr Suzanne Gage, an epidemiologist who use the Children of the 90s dataset to investigate relationships between recreational drug use and mental health. She has a blog called Sifting the Evidence, which won the 2012 Science Blog prize.

Read an except of Suzi’s Passion for Science chapter on Jean Golding OBE, or follow Suzi on Twitter: @soozaphone.

Thanks to our sponsor

This podcast is brought to you thanks to the generous support of ARM, our exclusive semiconductor industry sponsor. You can learn more about ARM on their website at ARM.com and you can follow them on Twitter at @ARMHoldings.

If you would like to join ARM as a sponsor of the Ada Lovelace Day Podcast, please email us.

Get in touch!

If you’d like to send us feedback about the show, or if you’d like to take part, please email us. We’re especially interested in hear from men who would like to talk to us about the women in STEM who have influenced them, especially those women who are less well known.

Credits

Episode edited by Andrew Marks.

Our links

Videos

Margaret Huggins: Spectral specialist

Guest post by the Royal Astronomical Society, Platinum Sponsor of Ada Lovelace Day Live 2016.

Barbara Becker explores the vital research undertaken by Margaret Huggins in the field of spectroscopy, the latest in a series of articles on early women members of the Royal Astronomical Society published in Astronomy and Geophysics.

Photograph of Lady Margaret Huggins

Lady Margaret Huggins (Royal Astronomical Society)

Margaret Huggins’s renown is inextricably linked to that of her husband, the amateur astronomer, William Huggins (1824-1910). They married in September 1875, and collaborated at the Tulse Hill Observatory for the next thirty five years, focusing on spectroscopy and spectral photography. Margaret is most often presented as William’s subordinate assistant in a romanticised narrative of scientist and helpmeet that they themselves created. And yet the records that survive suggest Margaret may have been the driving force behind much of their work, and entered the marriage with considerable existing expertise in photographic observation. Much of William Huggins’s published work was based on their collaborative research and Margaret often produced the diagrams that appeared in these articles.

However, it wasn’t until 1889 that Margaret’s name appeared alongside her husband’s on a paper. Despite being awarded honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1903, she has rarely been recognised as a scientist in her own right. This is, in part, due to Margaret’s own efforts to establish a historical legacy for her husband, and her desire for her contributions not to overshadow his work and also to retain the image of a respectable Victorian woman. Historians are just beginning to fully uncover the significant role that Margaret Huggins played both in shaping her husband’s research and in directing and carrying it out herself.

You can read more on the Astronomy and Geophysics website. And to learn more about Margaret Huggins’ pioneering work on spectroscopy, watch Dr Jen Gupta’s talk from Ada Lovelace Day 2015 below.

Huggins, M. (2016), “Margaret Huggins and Tulse Hill Observatory”, Astronomy & Geophysics, 57(2) 2.13-2.14.

Announcing our new Gold sponsor: Siemens Rail Automation

Siemens Rail AutomationI am delighted to announce our second Gold sponsor, Siemens Rail Automation, who join ARM, the Royal Astronomical SocietyUCL Engineering, figshareDigital ScienceAda Diamonds and Meromorf Press in supporting this year’s Ada Lovelace Day. In their own words:

Siemens Rail Automation is a global leader in the design, supply, installation and commissioning of track-side and train-borne signalling and train control solutions. Its portfolio includes train control, interlocking systems, operations control systems, components, track vacancy detection, level-crossing protection, rail communications, cab radios, station systems and cargo automation for both passenger and freight rail operators. Siemens employs over 14,000 people in the UK, with 1,650 people working in the Rail Automation division from offices in Chippenham, London, Croydon, Poole, Birmingham, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Manchester, York, Glasgow, Newport and Derby.

You can follow Siemens Rail Automation on Twitter: @siemensuknews.

We depend on our sponsors to fund not just Ada Lovelace Day Live!, but all of our work including our resources database, free education pack for teachers, podcast, and free monthly newsletter. If you would like to join them and help us to expand our work, please take a look at our current sponsorship packages!

 

 

University students hold the key to more effective STEM outreach

UCL hi-res_logo_200cThis guest post by Vicky Dineshchandra, third year Computer Science student and former vice-president of the Technology Society at UCL, was sponsored by UCL Engineering.

It’s wonderful to see the work being done to inspire younger children to take up STEM subjects. A wide range of people contribute to these programmes: academics, industry professionals, and parents, but I want to focus on a lesser known group that has the potential to connect with younger children on a more personal level, motivating them to pursue STEM at higher levels — university students.

Outreach

A recent survey from Emerson found that “many young people in the US are avoiding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education because they don’t understand the opportunities”. We also know that girls in particular are drawn to careers that have social worth. But the social worth of STEM is often poorly communicated, and that is a challenge that must be met to attract more girls to STEM careers.

University students are perfectly placed to inspire children stuck in the classroom who are perhaps unable to see past the equations, and have yet to be convinced of the potential impact of what they are learning. They are able to better relate to school-age children and understand their concerns, not least because they probably have experienced similar concerns themselves and found a way to overcome them.

As a second year computer science student at University College London (UCL) and a vice-president of the UCLU Technology Society (TechSoc), I have tried to tap into the enthusiasm of my fellow students and use that to inspire the next generation. I believe the Society has made huge amounts of progress in reaching out to children by mobilising the undergraduate student body, and I’d like to share my experience, in hope that other student bodies around the country can do the same.

For university students to volunteer their time and energy, it’s important to make them feel part of a community. We were able to do this through TechSoc, and we ran many events, hackathons and student-led projects to help develop a cohesive tech community. Students were made to feel comfortable (especially first years) and everyone was encouraged to share and contribute.

The engineering faculty at UCL ran many outreach events at schools and at the university, such as CoderDojo, with overwhelmingly positive support from the TechSoc community. This was largely due to the fact we had already established a base community; because students appreciated the events we ran for them, they reciprocated and wanted to give back, volunteering their time for children. As a result, we decided to start a TechSoc Volunteering Crew, which now has 110+ members. We found that people were always willing to help, and that entrusting them to run a small event or give a talk also helped to develop their confidence.

Around the same time, at the start of the second term, the first year students were about to start their Coding Curriculum projects, a course which encourages students to create computer science teaching material for younger students. TechSoc gave a short talk on why it’s important that they incorporate their prior experiences so that the material they produce is effective and engaging.

outreach team You can see the passion students invested in their work, and the richness in the quality of the projects that emerged as a result of them understanding the importance of outreach. It didn’t stop there; about 30 first year students went on to organise HackStart, a day of inspirational talks, tech demos and workshops to get young children interested in computer science. Every workshop, talk or demo presenter emphasised an aspect of computer science that was really special to them and why they studied it. Younger children were able to see past those equations and see something real in the world of STEM, not anecdotes from their teachers or parents, but experiences of someone closer in age whom they could aspire to be like in a couple of years’ time. This is the biggest value university students can bring to outreach events.

This is just the first year of the TechSoc Volunteering Crew, and the society has larger plans to make use of our technical skills, small age gap and passion for STEM to help a wider range of younger children, particularly those who are from underrepresented groups. Encouraging university students to engage with schools outreach projects has proven beneficial for both them and for the school children they have worked with, and it is a scheme that I hope can be replicated at other universities.

Caroline Herschel: First female astronomer

Guest post by the Royal Astronomical Society, Platinum Sponsor of Ada Lovelace Day Live 2016.

In 2016 the Royal Astronomical Society is marking 100 years since women were first elected as fellows of the Society by publishing a series of articles in Astronomy & Geophysics. In addition to focusing on the work of the handful of women who were admitted to Fellowship in 1916, the articles examine the contributions made by women before and after that date and the social and cultural framework to their lives. The RAS is delighted that the Ada Lovelace Day blog will be featuring summaries of these stories about women in STEM, starting with Michael Hoskin’s piece on Caroline Herschel.

Drawing and observations of a comet by Caroline Herschel, 1790

Caroline Herschel’s observation of a comet in 1790 (Royal Astronomical Society, RAS MSS Herschel C 1/1.2)

Caroline Herschel is remembered as the first professional female astronomer. While she is most often credited with assisting both her brother William and later her nephew John in their astronomical work, the contributions to astronomy that she made in her own right are both numerous and significant. She discovered comets and nebulae, compiled catalogues and produced an indexed and corrected edition of Flamsteed’s catalogue that was published by the Royal Society.

In 1785 she became the first woman in Britain to be paid for scientific work, when she received a salary from King George III to assist her brother William, Astronomer to His Majesty, in his work. She was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal in 1828 for her cataloguing work which they believed was ‘unparalleled in either magnitude or importance’ and became one of the first two female honorary members of the Society in 1835, alongside Mary Somerville. All of these achievements are staggering at a time when women were discouraged from any scientific pursuits, but are made even more so by Caroline’s inauspicious start in life.

Born in Hanover in 1750, Caroline’s mother contrived to keep her as an unpaid servant by denying her any training in the skills that might allow her to leave home and find employment. Rescued by William, she moved to live with him in Bath in 1772, initially performing alongside him as a musician catering for the aristocracy who visited the spa town. She left her homeland unmarried and uneducated, a tiny, working class woman scarred by smallpox and with no understanding of astronomy or even mathematics.

Find out more about Caroline Herschel on the Astronomy andGeophysics website.

Hoskin, M. (2016), “Gazing at the starry heavens”, Astronomy & Geophysics, 57(1) 1.22-1.25.