One of the amazing opportunities in our modern moment is having the time and space to reflect on the people around us who lift us up, who move us forward, and who keep us – as a society – solving problems even in the face of overwhelming adversity. Chief among those heroes are scientists, and so we’d like to take a moment to share the stories of a few of our favorites, both current and historical.
Margaret Burbidge was a trailblazing astrophysicist. She studied at University College in London, beginning in 1936, and continued at the same institution until she completed her Ph.D. in 1943 – the height of WWII. She was exceptionally accomplished, and a well regarded scientist. Even so, she was denied the use of telescopes at a prestigious observatory on the basis that the wives of the male astronomers wouldn’t want a woman working with their husbands overnight. In spite of setbacks like this, she was the first director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at UCSD. Dr. Burbidge’s work in astrophysics and the origins of elements proved that we are all, in fact, made of stars.
Lloyd Noel Furguson began studying chemistry in his home in Oakland, where he developed a moth repellant and became a scientific autodidact. Dr. Furguson went on to formal training in chemistry. In 1943 he was the first black person to earn a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. He was a founding faculty member of the graduate program in chemistry at Howard University.
David Blackwell was an eminent mathematician. He earned his Ph.D. at 22, and studied probability, and statistics – and made major contributions in statistics, probability, information theory, game theory, applied mathematics, set theory, logic, quantitative economics, among others. He derived a novel, elegant proof of Luzin’s theorem. Beyond all of this, he also recognized the structural racism that prevailed in mathematics. While the prestigious Fields medal has never been awarded to a black person, the Blackwell-Tapia Prize celebrates and supports the accomplishments of minorities in mathematics. He was well loved and well respected by his academic peers, and was awarded 13 honorary doctorates over the course of his career.
Ellen Ochoa is currently the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She was the first latina to be sent into space, and since her inaugural mission aboard the shuttle Discovery she has spent about 1000 hours on multiple missions adventuring toward the stars. Before any of this, her feet were planted firmly on the ground in California; she completed her undergraduate degree at San Diego State University.
… This list is by no means exhaustive, and we will continue to add to it. In the meantime, if you want to learn more on your own here are some great places to get started:
A series of online public lectures in sciences – brought to you by the institution that supports the Blackwell-Tapia Prize: http://www.nasonline.org/programs/nas-colloquia/
Femmes of Stem has at home science experiments, awesome articles, and a really great blog: https://femmesofstem.com
Vanguard Stem: is a great resource for *everyone*. This organization presents in depth, accessible videos that examine everything from identifying and overcoming implicit bias as a scientist, to the perils of working in labs: https://www.vanguardstem.com