On Getting More Women in to Science

No, alas, I don’t have the magical solution to the question here – Why are there still so few women in science? physics conference photoJust sharing this New York Times article that goes into some depth on a look at this question. When you start with this:

“Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job.”

you know you’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover. Or at least, that’s how I viewed the article, and why I read the complete story. Written by a woman who started out studying physics, the article paints a picture of an institution that might not be putting enough effort into encouraging women, no matter how capable, to pursue their interests.

Mostly, though, I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school. Certain this meant I wasn’t talented enough to succeed in physics, I left the rough draft of my senior thesis outside my adviser’s door and slunk away in shame.

Notice in the above image, there is only one woman in the picture – Marie Curie. Things have certainly improved since 1927, but we as a nation still have far fewer women contributing to the sciences than one might expect. So what is behind this? Is it just a lack of encouragement? Well, no, but that certainly plays into the problem. There’s also the issue of women leaving the workforce when they have children, but even that doesn’t make up the full problem. One additional factor is that women typically get lower salaries, fewer research dollars, less lab space, and poorer equipment.

But broader studies show that the perception of discrimination is often accompanied by a very real difference in the allotment of resources. In February 2012, the American Institute of Physics published a survey of 15,000 male and female physicists across 130 countries. In almost all cultures, the female scientists received less financing, lab space, office support and grants for equipment and travel, even after the researchers controlled for differences other than sex.

And then, let us look at the protrayal of women in science:

Although two of the scientists on the show are women, one, Bernadette, speaks in a voice so shrill it could shatter a test tube. When she was working her way toward a Ph.D. in microbiology, rather than working in a lab, as any real doctoral student would do, she waitressed with Penny. Mayim Bialik, the actress who plays Amy, a neurobiologist who becomes semiromantically involved with the childlike but brilliant physicist Sheldon, really does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is in no way the hideously dumpy woman she is presented as on the show.

No, there is not a solution in the article, although the story is well worth reading. And as I already noted, I don’t know the answer. But it is a fascinating question, and one that has led me to look into the issue of women in science more. Watch Little Bits of Science in the near future for articles about famous and not-so-famous female scientists and more discussion on this topic.

Photo by iharsten

Weekends on the Couch Add to Weight

In news that shouldn’t surprise anyone, scientists find that sitting around doing nothing on the weekends contributes to fat buildup in the body. What might be surprising to some is that this sedentary time is apparently worse for the body than a normal 9-5 weekday desk job.

Exercise scientists reported that even a 20-minute reduction in sedentary time on Saturdays and Sundays added up to a loss of more than 2 pounds and 1.6 percent of body fat after a year. But the same association was not seen with sedentary time during the weekdays.

So do your body a favor and spend at least some of your weekend time getting out of the house and doing something active, whether it’s a full workout at the gym, a long walk with your dog, or pretty much anything that raises your heart rate.

Electron Lifetime 66,000+ Yottayears

This is a bit of news that actually came out late last year, but still interesting and worth reading about. electron photoScientists have done research and determined that the lifetime of an electron is at least 66,000 yottayears (6.6 × 1028 yr).

This latest search for electron decay was made using the Borexino detector, which is designed primarily to study neutrinos. It is located deep under a mountain at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory to shield it from cosmic rays and comprises 300 tonnes of an organic liquid that is viewed by 2212 photomultipliers.

Photo by Peter Zuco

On Gravitational Waves

I’ve been reading a450px-Spacetime_curvature bit today about this recent discovery of gravitational waves from LIGO. My hope was to get enough of an understanding of what gravitational waves are to explain them to readers here. Turns out, I can’t do a better job of explaining them nor covering the discovery than what this Science News video does, so I’ll just share it rather than try to do better:

I can tell you that Black-hole-collision1gravitational waves are effectively ripples in the fabric of spacetime, spreading much like ripples on the surface of a pond do when a rock is tossed into the pond. They were predicted about a century ago by Einstein as part of his Theory of Relativity, although apparently he didn’t think we’d ever have the technology to detect them. For measurable gravitational waves to even make it to earth, a massive ripple has to be started by an enormous release of energy, such as what happens during the collision of two black holes.

To find out more, read the links offered up above. And if you are interested in helping find more gravitational waves, download and install the Einstein@Home screensaver and make your own contribution to science!