I have had a poster on Katherine Blodgett for the longest time in my drafts folder now. This A-Z blog challenge spurred me to finally bring it to some sort of a finish, which I hope does some justice to the person Blodgett was. Having done only two posters now in this Women in Science series, and having written about Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett in the past, I realise with a scare how very difficult it is to attempt and encapsulate a person’s life either in an essay or some other form. Yes, we admire those people and want to share this special thing we feel for them with others, but I am left wondering if we are being reductionists here. I am tempted to think this is an occupational hazard with biographers.
Despite that feeling of inadequacy in my mind, I present to you Katherine Blodgett of the LB film fame.
Vera Rubin, pioneering dark matter theory researcher and staunch supporter of women in science, died on Christmas Day at the age of 88.
A trailblazing and inspiring woman, she let her light shine through and guide others. Here’s something she posted on her Twitter account early this year:
Look at her, indeed!
Trust yourself, that’s her admonition.
Here’s something I made to honour Rubin.
Rubin delivered the commencement address at UC Berkeley in 1996. Here’s an excerpt from the address.
Science is hard and demanding, but each of you must believe that you can succeed. It may seem unlikely tonight, but there is not one among you who cannot make important, major contributions to the world of science.
She also cautions:
We need senators who have studied physics and representatives who understand ecology.
Two decades on, that word of caution resounds all the more true not just for the US. India too could definitely do better with leaders who understand science.
Hop on over here and be inspired by the poetics in her speech.
I’ll close with the following note from her, urging graduates science-ward.
Science is competitive, aggressive, demanding. It is also imaginative, inspiring, uplifting. You can do it, too.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You can do it, too.
Sometime last year I asked my students to name some female scientists they knew of. Immediately cries of Marie Curie filled the air. Irene Curie’s name followed suit. Soon enough an uneasy silence followed, which was broken by a question.
“Are astronauts allowed?”
“Go right ahead!”
Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams immediately filled my classroom with their spirits.
And then, silence again.
I tried to prod them, gave them clues. “Think surface chemistry. Think structure of DNA,” I cajoled.
Whispering and murmuring and generally well-meaning commotion ensued. And then all of a sudden, a voice emphatically piped up.
I grinned. The class guffawed.
But we did include Mrs. Einstein in our little pantheon of women scientists we could discuss. Mrs. Einstein, historians of Physics contend, had a great influence on Einstein’s research, and was a physicist in her own right.
The student apparently didn’t know that Mrs. Einstein was born Mileva Maric. But I loved that this little thing didn’t stop her from giving an answer.
Sometime around that time an idea took root in my head. I wanted to introduce other women scientists to my students. On and off we did discuss some in the class. We did pay particular attention to Katherine Blodgett since I teach Nanoscience. While my students are aware of Irving Langmuir, it comes as a surprise to them that ‘Blodgett’ in the Langmuir Blodgett Films would connote a woman.
And likewise, Rosalind Franklin. While everyone knows the answer to the question: who discovered the structure of DNA?, only a few know of Franklin’s role in the discovery.
So yes, I started writing a blog post on Katherine Blodgett some time back, with all the good intentions of posting it here. Gradually the post turned into a poster (for lack of a better word), but that too lay in the drafts folder to be completed.
And then today I saw Twitter explode with obituaries to Vera Rubin. Seeing her distinguished career and her support for women in science, I decided I had to jump in and begin this series on Women in Science. Again, primarily for my students, but if you aren’t my student [like I say: lucky you! :)] and find it interesting, I’d be doubly pleased.
Coming up: a little something I made on Vera Rubin.