I’m thrilled to post my interview with Astronomer at the Lick Observatory and UC Santa Cruz Professor Emerita Sandra Faber, Ph.D. to the Rocket Girls Podcast. Dr. Faber, according to her faculty webpage at UCSC, “focuses on using the lookback power of large telescopes to study the formation and evolution of galaxies.” She has made important discoveries about how the the brightness of galaxies is related to the the speed of stars within them, co-discovered the Faber–Jackson relation, and played a significant role in designing the Keck telescopes in Hawaii. She was recognized by Discover Magazine as one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science, received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama in 2013 and the Gruber Prize in Cosmology in 2017. Dr. Faber earned her B.A. in n Physics with minors in Mathematics and Astronomy from Swarthmore College, and earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Favorite Segments from the Interview:
Dr. Faber compared the creation of our universe to the rising of a bubble seemingly out of nowhere in a glass of Coca-Cola.
“We’ve all seen a glass of coke Coca-Cola. So, isn’t it amazing that, lets hone in with our little microscope on a little piece of the fluid there while it’s still a fluid, and then just, just like that probably due to a quantum fluctuation, a little bubble appear out of nothing right? So, the surface of that bubble is really like the space in our universe except as we know a surface has two dimensions whereas space and our universe has three. If you’re willing to forget the difference between two and three for a moment and think that we were living in a two-dimensional universe; like flat creatures slithering around on the surface.
Then the appearance of that bubble and its expansion, that’s the point. The new bubble just appears; somehow the motion of the space there just appears out of nothing. We have fluid and a microsecond later we’ve got this surface and then the surface gets bigger. This is really what the big bang was like in our universe. There’s something like the coke and we don’t really know what that something is. Which pre-existed our universe and then suddenly a little seed appeared that had within in all the potential of the space of our universe. That’s the little microscopic bubble and it’s been expanding ever since, but no I would say we’re not creating new space it’s just the space that appeared as the bubble appeared out of nowhere. It’s simply since then getting bigger.”
The Existence of Our Galaxy is Due to Tiny Quantum Density fluctuations at 10-35 seconds (that’s a really, really short amount of time) after the Big Bang.
Advice to Girls Passionate about Science
Read magazines like Discover Magazine and Scientific American. Google things you want to learn about. Read.
Study math and physics in high school.
Attend a summer institute to do authentic, publishable, scientific research
Her large collection of dried plants went to the New England Botanical Club, which placed it in the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University, and her collection of ferns went to the Portland Society of Natural History. Two of her own botanical discoveries bear her name: Aster cordifolius L., var. furbishiae, and Pedicularis furbishiae, the Furbish lousewort.
Can you name this important woman whose birthday is May 15?
Maria Reiche (born May 15, 1903) was a German mathematician, archaeologist and translator who spent the bulk of her life in Peru investigating and interpreting the Nazca Lines, a series of large geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. The figures extend approximately 50 miles and consist of hundreds of lines and geometric shapes and more than 70 animal and human shapes. You can see the image of a whale above.
Reiche began her work as an assistant to Paul Kosok from the Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, but continued on after he had left.
Most of the lines are made by removing the reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles that cover the surface of the Nazca Desert. leaving a shallow trench 4 to 6 inches deep. When this gravel is removed, the light-colored clay earth below is exposed which sharply contrasts the surrounding land surface.
It is most commonly accepted that these Nazca Lines had religious significance, though both Kosok and Reiche believed that they had astronomical purposes.
Can you name all of these famous women who share the birthday May 12?
Dorothy Hodgkin (born May 12, 1910) was an English chemist and x-ray crystallographer who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964 "for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances." She is mostly recognized as determining the structures of penicillin and vitamin B12. She is the only English woman to have ever received a Nobel Prize in any of the three sciences. The Royal Society established the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship to enable researchers in the early stages of their career to take time out to raise a family or care for a family member. She is also the second woman in 60 years to have earned the Order of Merit by a king or queen.
Florence Nightingale (born May 12, 1820) was the first woman to have earned the Order of Merit by a king or queen. She is recognized as the founder of modern nursing. She professionalized and gave honor to the field of nursing, getting her start as a manager of nurses during the Crimean War. She is known as the "lady with the lamp," making the rounds of the wounded soldiers at night.
Matilde Coxe Stevenson (born May 12, 1849) was an American ethnologist who, along with her anthropologist husband, spent 13 years studying the Rocky Mountain region. She and her husband James Stevenson "formed the first husband-wife team in anthropology." She became the first President of the Women's Anthropological Society of America. Later on, she studied the cave, cliff and mesa ruins in New Mexico, as well as all of its Pueblo tribes. She made a special study of the Taos and Tewa Native Americans. The artifacts she collected are housed at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian. Stevenson also published numerous books on the Zuni Native Americans.
Lise Meitner had stayed too long. At the time, however, it didn’t seem that way. Thirty years had earned her the position as the head of the physics department at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, a level of scholarship and respect to which no woman before her had risen.
After all, growing up in Austria in the late 1800s, education was not deemed necessary or important to women past the age of 14. Women did not attend university — the local University of Vienna was in fact closed to women until 1897, when Lisa was already nineteen years old. Whereas the high school curriculum prepared boys to pass the Matura, or college entrance exams, women had no such preparation or entry point.
Lise, determined to enroll in the university, engaged a private tutor to pass the Matura.
Rozsa Peter was born on February 17, 1905 in Budapest, Hungary. Rozsa initially studied chemistry, but switched to mathematics. For 18 years after graduation, she had difficult securing a position, so she tutored and substitute taught at the high school level. Peter earned her doctorate in 1935, and was known as one of the founders of recursive function theory.
Hidden Figures had a powerful impact on me on me and I imagine so many others who have seen it. A story weaving together the historical narratives of the beginning of the United States space program, the civil rights movement and the emerging role of working women during and after World War II has so much deliciousness to work with, and Hidden Figures did it with aplomb.
It laid bare the injustices people “of color” fought against in the sixties without being heavy-handed. And it even showed how a handful of well-positioned white colleagues were able to see past color, and embolden these women to aim higher.
At a time when fewer women pursued college degrees, let alone higher degrees in math and science, when a woman’s place was either at home raising her children, or in the workplace as a secretary, sales associate or teacher, these black women defied norms to become NASA mathematicians, computer programmers and engineers.