Hidden Figures

by Margot Lee Shetterly

I had been putting off going to see the much-talked-about film Hidden Figures until I finished reading the book, which with my full-time teaching position and my newly 10-year-old son, took longer than I expected.

I’m going to talk about the book here, after which I’ll see and report back on the movie.

The book Hidden Figures is the debut work of Margot Lee Shetterly, about the role African-American women mathematicians played in the United States Space race.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016), Rocket Girl

The first time I ever stood in line for a movie was when I was eleven years old. I remember the line wrapping clear around Wilshire Blvd, and what seemed all the way down a block of Glendon Avenue in Westwood. My brother, then thirteen, and I waited for over an hour to see a new film called Star Wars. The film was terrifying — at least Darth Vader was. And thrilling. It would be many years later as an adult when I would actually understand a large chunk of the storyline, despite the confusing and uninspiring Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones prequels. 

5 Ways to Re-engage Your Curiosity

My best advice for young people interested in pursuing a career in the sciences is to never lose your curiosity. Because curiosity, once lost, is difficult to reinvigorate — difficult, but not impossible. So, if you’re curiosity’s a little rusty, here are five ways to re-engage with it.

  1. Ask Questions

Questions are not just the byproduct of a curious mind, but also the root of curiosity. Even if you’re not curious, just the act of asking questions builds your curiosity muscle. Ask questions about anything and everything. When participating in a conversation, don’t be thinking of how to interject or respond, just listen to the person talking. Reaching answers or diagnoses too quickly dampens the inquiry process.

Ask Better Questions

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.” - Isidor Rabi, Nobel Prize Winning Physicist

Curiosity is the first and most important quality of a Rocket Girl. Curious people want to find out “Why.” Rocket Girls, like all good scientists, never stop asking questions.

10 Traits of a Rocket Girl

There are 10 traits that Rocket Girls must have to launch them in a scientific career, whichever field, such as biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy and engineering.

Trait #1 - Curious

The first of these traits is curiosity. Rocket Girls must be curious. Science is all about figuring things out. The curious mind is always questioning phenomena around it. So much of what we teach our science students are answers. What we need to teach them is how to question.

Leonard Susskind, known as the Father of String Theory explained to me that

“The object of a scientist is to follow his curiosity and figure out how and why things work, how and why the world works whether it's physics or biology, or [the other] sciences; indulging your curiosity.”

What do you want to know? Reengage with your curious mind. 

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



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!