April 20, 2021

Day of the woman and the girl in science

Day of the woman and the girl in science

There is an invisible thread that runs through the history of science, the advance of human knowledge that was carried out "on the shoulders of giants". That thread marks in a subtle way that these giants are almost always men. To think of scientists is to exhaust the memory as soon as Marie Curie has been remembered and, to … Marie Curie?

But the history of science has also been written with the names of women, although with less visible ink. They are researchers, creators, pioneers that provoked revolutionary advances and that it is hard to find in the annals, unfortunately. These women that we are going to talk about here are just a small sample. Ada King happens to be the only legitimate daughter of the promiscuous Lord Byron.

In spite of that, she was abandoned by her father shortly after birth. Perhaps that settled his life, because instead of being educated in the frivolous and decadent paternal environment, he inherited the rational, cold and Cartesian character of his mother. Soon an unexpected mathematical talent emerged that led her to work with Charles Babbage, pioneer of artificial calculation machines. Ada dedicated part of her life to understand and improve these machines and to develop a language to make them work universally. In fact, while analyzing scientific articles on the subject, he took the annotations that happen to be the first programming algorithms in history.

In 1953, when modern computing began to take its first steps, pioneering programming engineers recognized that Ada texts were the first computer programs in history. Mathematics was also the passion of Emmy Noether, whose contributions to science are so remarkable that Einstein cited her as one of his greatest influences. Without the theories of Noether, that during its beginnings in the Germany of the 40 was even forced to publish with name of man, the current mathematics would not be as it is. Noether's theorem is today the basis for understanding the conservation of linear momentum or energy and is used to study black holes. The first name is not mentioned. Even today many mistakenly believe that Noether is a man. Mary Annig was born in a needy family in the United Kingdom in 1799. Since she was a child she showed a passion for geology that led her to make a series of important discoveries throughout her life. For example, he excavated until he found a skeletal section of a huge fossilized ichthyosaurus. In addition, he identified remains of plesiosaurus and other dinosaurs.

With their findings the theory of Evolution and the great extinctions could be demonstrated. Lise Meitner was born in Germany at the end of the 19th century, when the practice of science was forbidden to women. Even so, she studied physics and was able to obtain her degree in 1905. She was one of the few women who received a class from Max Plank (who did not accept females in her students). At the beginning of the 20th century, he began to work with Otto Hahn, a renowned chemist, with whom he formed a research tandem that can be considered the star duo of European physics. His advances in nuclear physics and radiation are fundamental. Meitner was in charge of deducting the Auger effect and some bases of the spectroscopy. The achievements of Hanh / Meitner on nuclear fission deserved the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944.

But the winner was only him. Lise was not awarded. The same fate followed Jocelyn Bell, the Oxford scientist who 52 years ago found strange radio signals in the radio telescopes of the university where she studied. At the beginning, the emissions surprised the scientific community so much that even they were raised to be signs of extraterrestrial civilizations. But Jocelyn, along with the director of the department where he worked, Anthony Hewish, determined the authentic origin.

These were stars that emitted powerful and regular pulses, pulsars: today fundamental bodies in the catalog of objects to study in the cosmos. The discovery also won the Nobel Prize in Physics that went, of course, to the male member of the couple: Hewish.


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