Vera Peters: “Cutting the Gordian Knot”

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Joan Reinhardt-Reiss

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada was a secure male bastion whose ramparts were rarely breached by women. At the 1975 annual meeting, M Vera Peters, MD was the only female speaker. Her superb resume contained more than a hundred publications and globetrotting lectures. Yet, she possessed three major impediments: she was female, unassertive, and endowed with a soft, sometime quavering voice. Her presence was perfection with neatly coiffed brown hair, twinkling eyes behind large, plastic rimmed glasses, a quick smile and a paragon of haute couture. In high school she replaced her archaic name Mildred with the simple letter M. From her bank accounts to a myriad of scientific papers, the signature would forever be M Vera Peters with initials MVP – truly a Most Valuable Player in medicine.

Vera Peters, an expert breast cancer specialist, always f...

 

 

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Twitter Spaces with Shraddha Surana, Sue Nelson and Dr Helen Scales

FindingAda founder Suw Charman-Anderson is going to host a series of audio conversations with women in STEM on Twitter Spaces over the next few weeks. She’ll be having an information chat for half an hour or so, and you’ll be able to ask questions via Twitter. 

Spaces is Twitter’s new audio broadcast service. You can listen via Twitter.com or on the official Twitter app on any device. Just click the link below and you’ll be taken to the conversation, or keep an eye out in the Twitter app for a notification. You can also set a reminder if you click this link before the broadcast starts.

Thurs 10 June, 15:00 BST: Shraddha Surana on mentoring

Shraddha SuranaShraddha and Suw will be talking about Shraddha’s experience mentoring, why she decided to become a mentor, why mentoring is important, and lots more. To listen to Shraddha and Suw talk about mentoring, open this link in your browser or the official Twitter app at 3pm on 10th June.

Shraddha Surana is the global data community lead at Thoughtworks, with an interest in anything data, algorithms & sciences. She has published papers & given conference talks on machine learning and has worked in BFSI, retail, astrophysics & life science domains. Along with her job, she mentors several students from India & Africa. She is the co-organiser of the ‘Bridge&Beyond’ series that helps to bridge the academic-industry gap. She strives to create & be part of a system where people look out for each other.

Twitter: @SuranaShraddha
LinkedIn: /shraddasurana
Blog: @Shradda.Surana

Thurs 24 June, 19:00 BST: Sue Nelson on women in space

Sue NelsonSue will be talking to Suw about NASA’s bid to put the first woman on the Moon, European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti going back into space, and the ESA’s call for astronauts. Spaces link to come. 

An award-winning radio producer, science journalist and former BBC TV science and environment correspondent, Sue has reported on science for all the BBC’s national television and radio news programmes.

Sue has presented numerous Radio 4 programmes, was editor of The Biologist (2010-15) and produces documentaries for BBC radio. She is a published playwright, has written for a TV game show, most of the UK’s newspapers and has had several screenplays made into short films. Her latest book, Wally Funk’s Race for Space, was published in 2019 (USA and UK paperback).

Twitter: @ScienceNelson
Web: boffinmedia.co.uk

Thurs 8 July, 19:00 BST: Dr Helen Scales on her new book, The Brilliant Abyss

Helen ScalesHelen and Suw will be talking about Helen’s new book, The Brilliant Abyss, which “brings to life the majesty and mystery of an alien realm that nonetheless sustains us, while urgently making clear the price we could pay if it is further disrupted”. In the UK, you can buy direct from Bloomsbury and get a 20% discount with the code OCEAN20. The Brilliant Abyss will be published in the US and Canada in early July. Spaces link to come. 

Dr Helen Scales is a marine biologist, writer and broadcaster. She is author of the Guardian bestseller Spirals in Time, New Scientist book of the year Eye of the Shoal, and the children’s book The Great Barrier Reef. She writes for National Geographic Magazine, the Guardian, and New Scientist, among others. She teaches at Cambridge University and is science advisor for the marine conservation charity Sea Changers. Helen divides her time between Cambridge, England, and the wild Atlantic coast of France.

Twitter: @helenscales
Instagram: @drhelenscales
Web: helenscales.com

Stephanie Kwolek: Inventor of Kevlar

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Suze Kundu

In 2001, a police lieutenant, David Spicer, was recovering in hospital after being shot in the chest and arms at point blank range. Spicer was alive to tell the tale, thanks to the Kevlar body armour that he was wearing at the time.

Kevlar thread is strong because it is made of plastic fibres in which matchstick-like molecules line up and stick to one another, giving it a specific tensile strength of over eight times that of steel wire. Kevlar fabric is even stronger because these fibres are then woven tightly together and are very difficult to prise apart. This is why Kevlar is used for body armour: the amount of energy required to break apart multiple layers of Kevlar fabric is greater compared to the energy that a bullet or a knife can impart. The bullet, knife or other weapon is slowed down and deformed by each layer until it is stopped in its tracks within the body a...

 

 

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A splendid regiment of women: 20th century archaeologists and palaeontologists

By Newnham College, Cambridge

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Victoria Herridge, Brenna Hassett and Suzanne Pilaar Birch

The familiar narrative of female scholars being sidelined by the establishment is well-entrenched, and deservedly so, given the ample examples available. But to tell heroic tales of the triumph of the lone female scholar misses a key point — networks and collaborations are vital to scientific success. It could also undermine the aggregate contribution of women, potentially allowing them to be dismissed as anomalies.

In this chapter we introduce four British women from the first half of the 20th century who worked in archaeology and palaeontology: Dorothy Garrod, Dorothea Bate, Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Kathleen Kenyon. Frequently presented as islands in an ocean of patriarchal academia, these and many other women were in fact more like a chain of sea mounts and, like th...

 

 

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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: What is the Universe made of?

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Alice Sheppard

Cecilia Helena Payne was a hugely successful astronomer who discovered the composition of stars when she was 25. She is well known in astronomical circles, but few others know her name despite the significance of her discovery. She was, as fellow astronomer Dorrit Hoffleit remembered many years after her death, “the most brilliant and at the same time the person most discriminated-against at Harvard College Observatory”.

A note on names: Payne is remembered by many names. She is often referred to by her first name or, after she married, as Mrs G. These days, she would be Dr or Professor Payne-Gaposchkin, which seems more appropriate given her achievements. In this account, as we watch her age and status change, Cecilia, Payne, Payne-Gaposchkin or Mrs G will all refer to her.
A bright streak of inspiration
Cecilia Payne was born in 1900 to upper-class but close and l...

 

 

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