Hillary Clinton’s Legacy to our Daughters

It’s been 4 weeks since Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump’s electoral count win - currently, in the counting, Clinton’s popular vote lead has grown over 2 million. I have to admit, I’ve been having a really hard time with this. Experts say there are five stages of grief. And I feel like I’ve been manically flip-flopping among them. I’m still going through the first two stages— denial and anger — though my denial has waned. I’ve even grown to accept what I can’t change — the fifth of the five steps. 

19 Woman Scientists You Should Know

women-on-the-wall-numbered

 

Numbered according to graphic above, not in order of importance.

lise-meitner-300x300 1. Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was an Austrian Jewish physicist who, along with Otto Hahn, discovered nuclear fission, the process in which an atom’s nucleus is split, leading to the future development of the atomic bomb.  Meitner refused to have anything to do with the development of the atomic bomb.  She was the first woman to ever become a full professor in physics.  Unfortunately, she was forced out of her academic position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin under Nazi pressure, and Otto Hahn subsequently claimed sole responsibility for their findings and claimed the Nobel prize on his own.

 

lisa-randall-3002. Lisa Randall (1962-) is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University.  She researches particle physics and cosmology and is best-known for her contribution to the Randall-Sundrum model, which claims that the universe is 5-dimensional described by warp geometry.

 
 

mcclintock3. Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992) was an American cytogeneticist and Cornellian who spent her life studying the genetics of maize.  In doing so, she discovered genetic recombination, the process during cellular meiosis when chromosomes crossover and exchange information.  This process of crossing-over is one of the chief contributors to genetic variation among offspring.  McClintock also discovered the role of the telomere and centromere in cell division, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983.

 

rita-levi-montalcini-3004. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909 – 2012) was an Italian-born neurobiologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in discovering the nerve growth factor.  As a Jewish woman in World War II fascist Italy, Levi-Montalcini was dismissed from her university position and continued her research on chicken embryos in a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom.  She devoted much of her life to humanitarian efforts and was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1999 at the age of 90.

 

mae-jemison-3005. Mae Carol Jemison (1956 -), trained as a physician, was the first Africa-American woman to go to space, aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

 

 
 

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).
6. Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was a computer scientist and Rear Admiral of the United States Navy.  Hopper created the first compiler which converts computer programming language to computer binary code.  Hopper joined the Navy WAVES during World War II and though she retired many times, she was always called back for active duty.

 

marie-curie-3007. Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize and the first person, woman or man, to be awarded the prize twice.  Curie helped discover radioactivity and discovered the two elements polonium and radium.

 

 

melissa-franklin-3008. Melissa Franklin (1956-) was the first female tenured physics professor at Harvard University, for which she now is department chair.  She researches particle physics and she and her team proved the existence of the top quark.

 

 

 

sally-ride-3009. Sally Ride (1951-2012) was the first American woman astronaut in space, flying on the Challenger twice.   After her NASA career, Ride entered the field of academia as a physics professor at the University of California in San Diego.

 

 

dian-fossey-30010. Dian Fossey (1932-1985) was a primatologist who devoted her life to studying gorillas in Rwanda.

 

 

 
Gertrude_Elion-30011. Gertrude Elion (1918-1919) was a biochemist who was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for her work which eventually laid the way for the development of the AIDS drug AZT.  What’s remarkable about Elion is her contribution to pharmaceutical research without ever having completed her Ph.D.

 

 

Jane_Goodall_30012. Jane Goodall (1934-) is a British primatologist and foremost expert on chimpanzees, having studied them for 55 years at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.  She is a conservationist and founder of the Roots & Shoots program which encourages environmental conservationism and focuses on humanitarian issues.

 

 

flossie-wong-30013. Flossie Wong-Staal (1947-) and her group identified HIV as the virus that causes AIDS.  She went on to clone the HIV virus and completed its genetic mapping, which enabled the development of HIV tests and HIV treatment therapies.

 

 

dorothy-hodkgin-30014. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) was the premier British crystallographer of the 20th century, known as a pioneer x-ray crystallographer.  She developed the technique of taking x-ray crystallographs of proteins, and determined the three-dimensional structures of penicillin, vitamin B12 (for which she became the third woman to ever be awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry) and insulin.

 

 

PHOTO DATE: 04-15-14 LOCATION: Bldg. 8, Room 183 - Photo Studio SUBJECT: Official portrait of JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa. PHOTOGRAPHER: BILL STAFFORD15. Ellen Ochoa (1958-) is an engineer, astronaut and director of the Johnson Space Center.  She was the first Hispanic woman to go into space, aboard the space shuttle Discovery.  She earned her Masters in Science and Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, where she also played flute for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

Rosalind_Franklin16. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a chemist and x-ray crystallographer who took the famous x-ray crystallography number 51 that proved unequivocally the double helix structure of the B-form of DNA.  This picture was shown to Watson of Watson and Crick fame without Franklin’s knowledge or permission, and used as the experimental basis of their Double Helix findings.  Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Watson and Crick because the rules of the prize preclude it from being awarded posthumously.  It is doubtful whether she would have ever received the ultimate Nobel acknowledgement had she lived.  Check out my blog post on whether I believe Rosalind Franklin would have won the Nobel Prize.

 

 

Linda-buck-30017. Linda Buck (1947-) is a biologist who received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work in identifying the more than 100 odor receptors in the nose and how these odors are interpreted in the brain.  She has identified thousands of genes in the mammalian genome responsible for these odor receptors.

 

 

elizabeth-blackburn-30018. Elizabeth Blackburn (1948-) was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her research on the telomere, a structure at the ends of DNA strands which protect them from fusing with other DNA strands and deterioration.  Blackburn also co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that restores the telomeres.  Blackburn and her colleagues have found a connection between telomere durability and stress and aging.  Further, she is a bioethicist who served on George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics, from which she was controversially dismissed for advice contrary to Bush’s political agenda.

 

 

rachel-carson-30019. Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a marine biologist, conservationist and author who catalyzed the conservationist movement with her book Silent Spring.  In it, she presented scientific evidence lobbying against the extent and certain harm caused by the unregulated use of chemicals in agriculture and nature.

 

 

Whom did I leave out?  Let me know in a comment below!

Would Rosalind Franklin Have Won the Nobel Prize?

The 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to James Watson, Frances Crick and Maurice Wilkins “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material” — the discovery of DNA’s molecular structure. Fifty years later, the same question is still being asked, should Rosalind Franklin have received the Nobel Prize for her work?

What Was Rosalind Franklin’s Contribution Exactly?

Rosalind Franklin was a top crystallographer who took the x-ray pictures of DNA that elucidated its structure. Th famous Photograph 51 pictured below was of the B form of DNA, one of many crystallographs Franklin and her PhD student Raymond Gosling took of the crystallized DNA molecule. Franklin developed the technique for crystallizing (solidifying) the molecule so that these X-ray crystallographs could be taken. X-ray crystallography works by shining X-rays through a crystal. The atoms in the crystal cause the x-rays to diffract. By measuring the intensities and angles of these diffractions, the crystallographer can produce a three-dimensional model of the crystal.

Photo_51_x-ray_diffraction_image

Franklin was able to separately crystallize the A and B forms so that clear pictures of each form of DNA could be taken.

Franklin hand-calculated the Patterson diagrams to determine the helical pattern of DNA repeated every 34 angstroms with 10 subunits per 10, making each nucleotide unit occupy 3.4 angstroms.

Further, Franklin as the one who told Watson and Crick, and later corrected Linus Pauling’s model, that the phosphates must be on the outside backbone of the molecule as they were hydrophilic (water-loving).

How Essential Were Rosalind Franklin’s X-Ray Photographs to the Discovery of DNA’s Structure?

James Watson admitted in his September 1999 address at the inauguration of the Center for Genomic Research at Harvard:

“Let’s just start with the Pauling thing. There’s a myth which is, you know, that Francis and I basically stole the structure from the people at King’s. I was shown Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray photograph and, Whooo! that was a helix, and a month later we had the structure, and Wilkins should never have shown me the thing. I didn’t go into the drawer and steal it, it was shown to me, and I was told the dimensions, a repeat of 34 Ängstroms, so, you know, I knew roughly what it meant and, uh, but it was that the Franklin photograph was the key event. It was, psychologically, it mobilised us . . .” (quoted from Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA)

How Did Watson and Crick Obtain Rosalind Franklin’s Crystallographs?

Maurce Wilkins showed Franklin’s X-ray crystallographs to James Watson without Franklin’s knowledge or permission.

Why Didn’t Rosalind Franklin Win the Nobel Prize?

Rosalind Franklin died in 1958 at the age of 37 due to ovarian cancer that was most likely caused by her frequent exposure to X-ray radiation. The Nobel Prize was awarded four years later, and cannot be awarded posthumously.

If Rosalind Franklin Had Been Alive, Would She Have Won the Nobel Prize?

Brenda Maddox compares this question to “What would have happened if Kennedy hadn’t gone to Dallas?” The fact is, Rosalind Franklin died, and Kennedy went to Dallas.

Eventually, one would hope, yes. But probably not in 1962 with Watson, Crick and Wilkins. The Nobel rules allow for no more than three recipients per category per year.

Maurice Wilkins, as a senior member of the Kings College lab in which Rosalind Franklin worked, would probably still have been awarded the prize in her stead. The Nobel Prize is awarded based on the recommendations of one’s colleagues, especially the recommendations of previous winners. Up until that point in 1962, only three women had won a Nobel prize in the sciences. Science was a men’s club, and its colleagues were men. In fact, two women at the same caliber of Rosalind Franklin had consistently been passed over — Lise Meitner for her discovery of nuclear fission and X-ray crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin. Dorothy Hodgkin eventually received the Nobel Prize in 1964. Lise Meitner never did.

Had her life not been cut tragically short, she might well have stood in this place on an earlier occasion (Aaron Klug)”

Franklin’s collaborator at Birkbeck Aaron Klug spoke eloquently of her in his own Nobel Prize address:

“It was the late Rosalind Franklin who introduced me to the study of viruses and whom I was lucky to meet when I joined J.D. Bernal’s department in London in 1954. She had just switched from studying DNA to tobacco mosaic virus, X-ray studies of which had been begun by Bernal in 1936. It was Rosalind Franklin who set me the example of tackling large and difficult problems. Had her life not been cut tragically short, she might well have stood in this place on an earlier occasion.” - 1982 Nobel Prize Address

Developing Number Sense

How to Develop Number Sense

Number sense refers to "a well organised conceptual framework of number information that enables a person to understand numbers and number relationships and to solve mathematical problems that are not bound by traditional algorithms" (Bobis, 1996). In other words, people with number sense can do the following:

Perform calculations in their head
Estimate computations
Judge the relative magnitude of numbers
Recognize part-whole relationships among numbers
Understand place value concepts
Solve problems

So much of science (and life) depends on one’s ability to manipulate numbers that addressing any weaknesses in any one of the above areas is as important as reading and writing.

How to address weaknesses in number sense:

1. Study Khan Academy’s Number Sense lessons: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/on-sixth-grade-math/on-number-sense-numeration. Khan Academy breaks number sense down into six categories:

    1. Ratios, rates and percentages
    2. Fractions
    3. Multiplication and Division
    4. Place value and decimal operations
    5. Factors and multiples
    6. Properties of numbers

Each category contains lessons and practice problems that tailor themselves to your individual progress. And, of course, it’s free.

2. I would add to the list of skills above, learn to:

    1. Solve algebraic problems for one variable (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/on-sixth-grade-math/on-patterning-algebra#concept-intro)
    2. Read and interpret graphs (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/applying-math-reasoning-topic)
    3. Construct graphs (Plotting and interpreting line equations: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/algebra/two-var-linear-equations)
    4. Convert among units
      1. Unit Conversion (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/rates-and-ratios#unit-conversion)
      2. Metric System Unit Conversion (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/rates-and-ratios#metric-system-tutorial)

3. Use your calculator as a last resort. Estimate all answers before plugging numbers in your calculator.

Obviously there are higher-level math courses that you will need to master to become a scientist, such as Trigonometry, Calculus and Statistics, but these are useless without a firm basis in the skills I listed above. Use these fixes to address your number sense issues, and you’ll be calculating with the big girls yet.

10 Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset

10 Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, noted Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset, tells us that the only thing standing in our way of learning is our beliefs about our ability to learn.

“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” – Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Want to get smarter? Want to get better at something? The only thing standing in your way are your thoughts about yourself and your abilities. Want to become a math person? Want to get an “A” in science? Want to study at MIT? Then change your brain. It’s easier than it seems. And it starts with your own self-talk.

1. Recognize that your brain and its neural connections are elastic.

As you continue to learn, new connections are made. Those who think they know all there is to know, or even enough, risk atrophy. Brain cells are always dying. In fact, the only part of the brain that continues growing new cells after the age of 2 is the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. You will grow new cells as you learn new things, and make excellent use of the ones you still have.

2. Acknowledge your weaknesses.

Admit to yourself what you don’t know. Now go and learn it. Learning a difficult subject is a lot easier than spending your life in fear of what you don’t know.

3. Improve your vocabulary: “Failing” is “learning.”

When you make a mistake or get a bad grade on a test, learn from it. Nothing can teach you better than your own missteps.

4. Stop seeking approval.

What others think of you and what you know or don’t know is none of your business. Your business is to be better today than you were yesterday. Treat everything as a learning opportunity. There will always be those who support you and those who deride you. Those who put you down are projecting their own of not being good enough. It has nothing to do with you.

5. Stop apologizing and/or berating yourself.

Don’t preface your questions or your fear of not knowing with an apology or worse yet, a self-deprecating comment. “I’m sorry. I know I should know this, but… “ We tend to do this so as to get the approval of those whose help we are seeking. Refer back to #4 “Stop seeking approval.”

6. Celebrate your process.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Learning something new and all the more so difficult takes time and effort. Praise your effort, not your results. Effort consistently applied will move you in the direction you wish to go.

7. Seek out criticism.

Ask for feedback. We believe when people criticize something we do or say, they’re criticizing us. This is a direct result of having a “fixed mindset." In other words, if I believe that something is my absolute best work, then a criticism of my best work is a criticism of me. The truth is, my best work hasn’t been done yet, because I get better every day. Ask for feedback. Welcome constructive criticism. And if you agree with it, take steps — even baby steps — to improve. A "growth mindset" person might respond to constructive criticism, “Cool, now I know how to get even better.”

8. Cultivate grit.

The natural result of a “growth mindset” is the realization that learning and growth take effort. Cultivate your ability to make real and consistent effort. And, while you’re at it, be sure to celebrate your effort. After all, your effort is all you really have control over.

9. Set realistic expectations of the time and effort required.

We are notoriously bad at estimating how much time something will take, especially learning a new skill or subject. Remember Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion (Wikipedia).” I would add an addendum saying that, work expands to take more time than allotted. Be patient with yourself. Try to overestimate the time something will take and be pleasantly surprised.

10. Don’t compare your “bloopers” reel to others’ “highlights” reel.

Know that people’s social media status updates and those of the stars you follow are not even half of the story. When you watch only their “highlight” reel, you tend to believe that success comes easily to others. No one reaches the top of her field because it was easy. J.K. Rowling cites many rejection letters before procuring a literary agent for Harry Potter.

To one of her Twitter followers, Rowling confirmed her “Growth mindset”: “Believe me, neither @RGalbraith nor I walk around thinking we’re fab. We just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday'."

The Creative Side of Science

Mozart was quoted posthumously saying that his ideas flowed best and most abundantly when he was taking a walk or alone in bed at night, “and provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.” Putting it down on paper for Mozart was almost an afterthought, he said, “and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, or “General Music Journal,” in 1815, vol. 17, pp. 561–¬66.

Most of us have heard this or another similar version of Mozart’s creative method; how a symphony or concerto would just appear to him, in its final form. In Peter Schaffer’s 1979 play “Amadeus,” Mozart is portrayed as a foolish prankster with an effortless God-given gift that he plops onto staff paper, whilst his nemesis Antonio Salieri works laboriously day and night on his talentless compositions.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for us mere mortals, this letter is a fake. Mozart’s biographer Otto Jahn proved way back in 1896 that this letter was not only a false representation of Mozart’s process, but that Mozart never wrote it.

Mozart’s real letters — to his father, to his sister, and to others — reveal his true creative process,” writes Kevin Ashton in his book How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery. “He was exceptionally talented, but he did not write by magic. He sketched his compositions, revised them, and sometimes got stuck. He could not work without a piano or harpsichord. He would set work aside and return to it later.... His work was exactly that: work.”

A similarly fanciful tale colors our perception of the scientific process. The first “Eureka!” moment is attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes, who was charged with the task of determining whether Hiero of Syracuse’’s gold crown was pure gold or an amalgam of gold and silver that his goldsmith was attempting to pass for pure gold. One day while working on this problem, Archimedes noticed how the water level of his bath rose as he submerged himself in it, promptly causing him to exclaim “Eureka!,”” jump out of his bath, and run naked through the streets of Syracuse.

This well-known story does not appear in any of Archimedes' known writings, and is first recorded two hundred years after the fact, in Vitruvius’s Book of Architecture. As such, its accuracy cannot be verified, and chances are, it never happened. We hold onto it, however, because it fits well with our myth of how science works, replete with lone geniuses, toiling away until that fateful “Eureka” moment.

Scientific discovery, just like works of great art, rarely happens in a bold stroke of inspiration, but as the outcome of fits and starts, failures and dead-ends, small successes and gradual conclusions. “Eureka!” is a moment born of a lifetime of effort.

Roald Hoffmann, the 1981 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, explained his process to me:

“It is not as romantic, it is always piecewise knowledge, hard-won, and you don't see the totality until a couple of years later, but the process is interesting. There are often not single ‘Aha’ or ‘Eureka’ moments, there are little pieces of understanding that slowly fall into place.”

As with other creative endeavors, doing science is work – hard work. Those of us who’ve ever struggled in an advanced level science course can attest to that. But creative? Hard to imagine. After all, scientists are the epitome of left-brainedness.

So I asked the “Father of String Theory” Leonard Susskind whether he believed his scientific outpourings were creative, he almost instantly ascribed creativity to artists; not to scientists like himself.

"An artist thinks to himself, ‘How do I create something new and different that will excite an aesthetic sense?’. I think for me it's quite different, although I have a very strong aesthetic sense what constitutes a good explanation or a good mathematical explanation of something. Nevertheless, I don't go into a thing saying, ‘Let me create something new.’ I go into a thing saying, ‘How does it work?’”

And yet that kind of thinking is arguably creative by definition.

“When I was a young person, I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to do something new and something nobody else had done or something that I could create. When I was younger I thought of trying to be a composer, a musician, and compose music and compose poetry. Unfortunately, didn't have the talent. I could play the violin, but I couldn't compose original music. I tried poetry and I like poetry, and I like reading it, but I didn't really have a big talent for it. When I got into science I had more of a talent for that. What I tried to do is use my interest in creating something new in science and medicine.” - Kilmer McCully, Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Services for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and father of the homocysteine theory of cardiovascular disease.

Science mines for and interprets data. This is where creativity comes in. What do I want to know? Is it worth knowing? How could I design a method to find answers to my question? How can I interpret what this data tells me? Creativity is the underpinning behind all stages of the scientific process.

Astronomer Clifford Stoll: “Ask simple questions to start the creative ball rolling, such as ‘‘How does this work?’ And ‘Why?’ Find questions that interest you. Then start digging for answers. In the search for answers, you just might find better questions. And, isn’t that what science is, in the first place?”

Raising Children Who Think for Themselves

With the challenges that even the scientific community faces in following its own credo of “Just the facts ma’am,” how much harder is it for children to think for themselves, especially when they are bombarded hourly with unrelenting social cues to be like everyone else?

Recall that I wrote in an earlier article “Thinking Independently is Risky,” how birth order can influence whether one follows the status quo (mostly first-borns) or is a revolutionary (mostly later-borns). Keep in mind that these are trends and not absolutes. However, by garnering clues from the parenting practices toward first and only-borns and those toward later-borns, we can learn a lot about how to raise independent thinkers.

First-borns tend to receive a lot more parental attention than later-borns, especially since they were only children for part, if not all, of their childhood. As such, parents tend to exert greater pressure on first-borns to succeed, especially through the established pathways provided by higher education. This is especially true among immigrant children, whose parents regard education as the shortest path to climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Parental attention, parental involvement and even parental pressure often mold children to follow the traditional path of hard work and higher education.

As additional children are born to them, these same doting and involved parents naturally become more lenient and accepting. Their later-born children then, given more latitude and often being less overscheduled, grow up more independent, finding ways to engage themselves and stand out that may not always be the most traditional or accepted.

Raising a scientist means raising an individual who values and follows her curiosity, has the patience to see her hard work through fruition and the independence to follow her findings to their natural conclusions, regardless of the opinions of others. Raising a scientist, then, means combining the best parenting practices of both first-borns and later-borns.

In other words, give your child plenty of attention, while at the same time, allow her the freedom to explore her own interests.

Encourage and involve yourself in her education, while disengaging yourself from the outcome. Your daughter does not need to go to Harvard or Stanford to be a successful scientist, nor does she need to become a scientist to live her life’s purpose.

Cut back on her afterschool commitments. Allow her more playtime.

Guide her without directing her. Share experiences with her.

Share your interests with her.

Let her share her interests with you.

Listen to her.

Follow her lead.

You may be surprised where she takes you.

Standing Alone

“It's easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Scientists, charged with the mission of following the evidence wherever it leads, are ironically often too well-entrenched in their own status and a priori beliefs to accept it. In other words, the established scientific community that devotes years and lifetimes doing the work that inspires scientific revolutions, may also be the last to accept these very same revolutions.

Rocket Girls know when to stand alone.

In order to address the epidemic of infanticide among illegitimate children in nineteenth century Europe, free maternity clinics were established to care for underprivileged women and their infants. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician serving in a “chief resident” capacity at the First Obstetrical Clinic of the Vienna General Hospital, worked at one of these maternity clinics in his off hours.

He found that the four percent mortality rate due to puerperal fever, a form of sepsis of the genital tract, of women in the poor clinic was considerably lower than the ten percent mortality rate at Vienna General Hospital. This discrepancy was so well known, that some women preferred to give birth in the street rather than be admitted to the latter, more established, hospital.

Dr. Semmelweis investigated the possible causes of these discrepant events, one by one, following the evidence wherever it lead. He eliminated differences in religious practices, overcrowding – because the clinic was far more overcrowded than the hospital -- and climate, as the two institutions were close to each other. The only difference he could find was that the hospital trained medical students, whereas the clinic trained midwives, only.

When his friend Jakob Kolletschka died in 1847 after being accidentally poked by a student’s scalpel during an autopsy, Semmelweis discovered a pathology in his friend similar to that of the women who were dying from puerperal fever.

Semmelweis proposed a connection between working with cadavers and then attending to childbirths, without washing in-between, and spent the remaining years of his life, canvasing for antiseptic medical procedures. The subsequent scorn he received from the medical establishment eventually landed him in an insane asylum and early death. Germ theory wouldn’t catch on until later that century, ushered in by the work of Louis Pasteur.

As physicist Maxwell Planck wrote in his autobiography, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die.” In the end then, good science does triumph over the status quo, even if the status quo has to die off first. Still, scientists must be willing to “follow the evidence wherever it leads,” though it may lead to the occasional post-operational death, bruised ego, or ulcer in its wake.

Rocket Girls are Independent Thinkers

Rocket Girls are Independent Thinkers

Lawrence Krauss describes what could be termed the Scientific Credo in his 2012 book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing:

Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles:
1. Follow the evidence wherever it leads
2. If one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right.
3. The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.”

These three key principles could just as well describe any independent thinker, a person who bases her conclusions not on someone else’s dictates, but on her own findings, and more than that, is willing to be wrong if her findings prove otherwise. And so it is with Rocket Girls.

One of the most well-known and underestimated Rocket Girl of the twentieth century was Rosalind Franklin. Rosalind Franklin was said to have meticulous golden hands and a genius “that did not suffer fools gladly.” Her x-ray crystallographs of the DNA molecule were the most sought after because of the carefully detailed effort she expended establishing the ideal conditions under which to record the images. Franklin, being a scientist of the highest possible order, refused to reach conclusions without conclusive evidence. James Watson and Frances Crick, on the other hand, were in a rush to find DNA’s structure and make a name for themselves. In so doing, they tried failed model after failed model, trial-and-error, to reach their coveted prize. Franklin, the scientist, tried to prove her findings “wrong as much as one tries to prove it right,” using the “ultimate arbiter of truth experiment.”

Though there are many who faulted Franklin for being difficult to work with, too methodical and slow to publish, it was her passion in collecting data to reach conclusive evidence of DNA’s shape that enabled Watson and Crick to publish their findings.

Scientist: ‘What did Watson and Crick discover?’
Me from the back of the room: ‘Rosalind Franklin’s notes.’” - Tweet by Robby Kraft