O.k., so it’s not knitting. But String today celebrates Ada Lovelace Day, and takes part in a meta-project to honor women in technology, science and engineering worldwide on Tuesday 24 March. Although I’m non-of-the-above myself, I supposed if I had more support in advanced math, I’d have made it. But I didn’t and ended up a proposal writer – interpreting between the worlds of the engineer and the decision maker. So it goes.
It happens that the very first proposal I worked on was a series of grants for New York Institute of Technology to establish a pipeline program, providing tutors and other assistance to girls and minority students starting in fifth grade, with the goal of piquing then maintaining their interest and abiltiy in math and science. After completion of the program those students were pre-admitted to NYIT. I have no idea how many kids that program helped, but by my estimate the first group of them should be ten or so years out of college by now (fewer if they went on to grad school). Perhaps they’re fueling a quiet revolution in biotechnology or advanced computing somewhere.
In any case, on to the point.
A good place to start is the Smithsonian’s Women in Science gallery. Sure, it’s got pix of Marie Curie, of whom everyone has heard. But it also has pix of many women engineers, scientists, and science educators who are not as well known, but who should be.
I choose to honor Annie Jump Canon (1863-1941), luminary in astronomical research and stellar classification. Although living in a time deeply ambivalent (if not hostile) to advanced education for women, and suffering from profound hearing impairment after a teenage bout with scarlet fever Annie graduated from Wellsely College in 1884 with a degree in physics. She returned there for graduate studies in physics and astronomy, eventually gaining an MA in 1907. During her time at Wellsley she was hired by the Harvard College Observatory, and along with several other women, paid a pittance (less than a Harvard secretary) to assist Edward Pickering to compile the Draper Catalog, a massive, annotated atlas of all the stars in the sky.
While she was part of this project (itsef funded by Anna Draper, a wealthy widow of an amateur astronomer), Annie was instrumental in defining the spectral classification system, which defines the star classes O, B, F, G, K, and M – a system based on stellar temperature that along with later enhancements is still used today. Annie’s personal work included extensive cataloging of variable stars, including 300 for which she is credited as discoverer, and classifying over 230,000 stellar bodies, the most anyone has defined to this day.
I close with a quotation from her:
“In our troubled days it is good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.”
Annie, shine on!