ALD21 Podcasts: Her STEM Story, Prasha Sarwate

Her STEM Story, Prasha Sarwate

Her STEM Story is an ongoing masterclass for women in STEM professions, presented by first-generation immigrant Prasha Dutra, a product development manager with a background in chemical and mechanical engineering. It combines guest interviews and solo episodes, focusing on the personal challenges faced along a career path, to teach aspiring women in STEM what success means and what it takes to achieve it, at work and beyond. Exploring guilt and overwhelm, breaking stereotypes and why women leave STEM careers, it gives us an insight into stories often untold.

Recent episodes include: 

  • Richa Bansal, founder and CEO, Pinkcareers and senior advisor corporate strategy, Cistel, on how to pursue career success without feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, or guilty;
  • Caitlin Hirschler, a materials engineer from Georgia Tech who currently working for the world’s largest wire and cable manufacturer Prysmian Group; and,
  • Romila Rout, an electrical engineer from UT Dallas, who works in the semiconductor industry.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @prashadutra

ALD21: Professor Gerty Cori, Biochemist

Professor Gerty Cori

Gerty Theresa Cori was a biochemist who in 1941 became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for her co-discovery of the glucose-lactate metabolic pathway, work she carried out with her husband, Carl.

Cori was born in Prague in 1896, now in the Czech Republic but then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1922, due to the increasing antisemitism in Europe, she and her husband fled to the USA.

In 1929, the pair described how lactate travels from the muscles, is processed by the liver into glucose, and transported back to the muscles to become lactate again, a metabolic pathway now known as the Cori Cycle. It is an important biological process that enables the human body to store energy (although it can also lead to muscle cramps!).

Cori made several other groundbreaking contributions to medical science, such as identifying glucose 1-phosphate (also known as the Cori ester) which enables the breakdown of glycogen, after studying compounds in frog muscles. Her work led to improved treatments for diabetes, and greater understanding of glycogen storage disease, for which she identified four enzymatic defects. During this work she became the first person to show that a defect in an enzyme can cause genetic disease in humans.  

Despite her enormous contributions to the field, Cori was unable to get the same recognition as her husband, or to develop a similar career, despite the fact that they collaborated on most of their research. She was frequently paid a fraction of what her husband earnt, and was warned that she was damaging his career. While it took her 13 years longer than her husband, she eventually received the title of professor a matter of months before she was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Aside from her Nobel Prize win, she continued to receive other awards and recognition, such as becoming a Fellow of the American Arts and Sciences in 1953, and being appointed to the board of the National Science Foundation by President Harry S Truman in 1950.

Further reading

ALD21 Podcasts: Talk Nerdy With Me, Cara Santa Maria

Talk Nerdy With Me, Cara Santa Maria

Join Cara Santa Maria as she talks nerdy “with interesting people about interesting topics”. The subject range is vast, and recent episodes include: 

  • author Michelle Nijhuis discussing her book Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction;
  • Dr Natalia Pasternak, Brazilian microbiologist, skeptic, and popularizer of science, who talks about her work fighting pseudoscience in Brazil;
  • computational neuroscientist Dr Grace Lindsay, who talks about her book, Models of the Mind: How Physics, Engineering, and Mathematics Have Shaped Our Understanding of the Brain, and efforts to quantify mental processes like sensation, perception, and memory; and,
  • Dr Narissa Bax, the marine and coastal program coordinator for the South Atlantic Environmental Research Group in the Falkland Islands, who talks about conservation and ecology, especially the work she is doing to better understand and preserve deep-sea corals in the Antarctic region.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @CaraSantaMaria and @TalkNerdy_Pod

ALD21: Klára Dán von Neumann, Computer Scientist

Klára Dán von Neumann

Klára Dán von Neumann

An early computer programmer, Klára Dán von Neumann led the team that produced the first computer-generated 12-hour and 24-hour retrospective weather forecasts. Despite having had little mathematical education, she became one of the primary programmers for the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) for this project.

In the late 1940s, Dán von Neumann worked with her husband, John von Neumann, on turning the ENIAC into one of the first stored-program computers, able to run programs that had been stored in binary code on a memory device. Until then programs had to be entered and re-entered by hand.

The ENIAC then became the focus of The Meteorology Project, which aimed to use the computer to generate weather forecasts. Using data from past storms, they produced two 12-hour and 24-hour retrospective forecasts. Not only was that the first time a weather forecast had been produced by computer, it was also the first time a computer had been used to conduct a physics experiment.

Dán von Neumann was instrumental to the project, checking the final code for the experiment, training programmers, hand-punching and managing the 100,000 punch-cards that were used for storing the program, and ensuring that no data was lost. This was difficult and highly technical work.

Born in Hungary in 1911, Klára won the national figure skating championship aged just 14. She married John von Neumann in 1938, and the couple moved to the US because of the rising antisemitism in Europe.

Further reading

ALD21 Books: The Alchemy of Us, Ainissa Ramirez

Ainissa Ramirez

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, Ainissa Ramirez

In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions-clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips-and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. 

She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway’s writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid’s cameras to create passbooks to track black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

Ramirez shows not only how materials were shaped by inventors but also how those materials shaped culture, chronicling each invention and its consequences-intended and unintended. Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors-particularly people of color and women-who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal-whether it’s splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @ainissaramirez