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.
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.
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This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
01:30: Senior spacecraft structures engineer Abbie Hutty talks about how Airbus’ ExoMars Rover Project will search for life on Mars, and the challenges of building a portable lab that can both do delicate science and withstand the rigours of the Red Planet.
Abbie Hutty is senior spacecraft structures engineer on Airbus’ ExoMars Rover Project. She gained her master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Surrey University where she received several awards and prizes for her achievements, including for her master’s thesis on the use of composites in spacecraft structures. She joined Astrium at Stevenage, now Airbus Defence and Space, as a mechanical engineer in 2010, and now leads a team of specialists in the design of the ExoMars Rover Vehicle Structure. In 2013, she was selected as the IMechE’s Young Member of the Year and later named as the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year. You can follow Abbie on Twitter, at @A_Hutty.
You can also find out more about how the ExoMars Rover will search for life on Mars in Abbie’s ALD 2015 talk, available on YouTube and Figshare, and at the bottom of this post.
Anne-Marie Imafidon is Head STEMette and cofounder of STEMettes – an award-winning social enterprise inspiring the next generation of females into science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles via a series of events and opportunities. In three years more than 7,000 girls across the UK, Ireland and Europe have attended STEMette experiences. As part of the initiative Anne-Marie has also co-founded Outbox Incubator: the worlds first tech incubator for teenage girls. She sits on the boards of Redfield Asset Management, Urban Development Music Foundation and Inspirational YOU. You can find out more about Anne-Marie on her website and follow the @STEMettes on Twitter.
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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.
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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.