Tag Archives: science

The day Einstein died

http://time.com/3494553/the-day-albert-einstein-died-a-photographers-story/

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Group theory in simple English

Are you sick of academese? Or maybe your field really is so hard that the thought of explaining your research to your grandma has never even crossed your mind? Now you have a chance to explain a hard idea (e.g., your research topic) in simple words – in fact, with only the 1,000 most used words! A friend who is a group theorist has just made group theory sound awesomely simple: 

A group is a set of things with a way of putting two things together to get another thing. One type of group is all the ways of moving three things in space to a different place, and in fact if space was “bigger” we could get a bigger group by having more things to move. If we only do some but not all of these moves we can get a smaller group, but sometimes this will only be a little bit smaller than the group that we started with. I am interested in trying to find all of these slightly smaller groups in the situation where we are trying to move ten add six or ten add seven things.

And here is a longer explanation of Hilbert’s Hotel:

The House of Mr Hilbert:
Suppose that you are a person who has a big house where other people can give you money in order to come and live in a room for a short time. (click here to read the rest) …

Try it out here and post the results in the comments!

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UK women academics in 1974

This page and every sentence in it wins the prize for most depressing work-related reading of the month. I keep realising that I must have grown up on a different planet. I really hadn’t realised how recently things were shockingly horrible in what we in the East thought of as the enlightened Western Europe. For all the ills in the socialis bloc, at least scientists and engineers were, and still are, equally divided by gender… (See e.g. The chart on P.21  of this 2012 report on gender in science in the EU)

Excerpt from “The academic labour market” edited by Gareth Williams, Tessa Blackstone and David Metcalf, Elsevier, 1974 

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Women scientists in history

A scary timeline of female education: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_female_education

And some of the very few women scientists in the otherwise enlightened Europe:

Beatriz Galindo (1465?-1534), Spanish Latinist, writer, humanist and teacher of Queen Isabella of Castille and her children http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatriz_Galindo

Juliana Morell (16 February 1594 – 26 June 1653) Spanish nun, first woman to receive a Doctor of Laws degree http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliana_Morell

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646 – 1684)Venetian philosopher who also studied mathematics, first woman to receive a doctoral degree from a university (Padua) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Cornaro_Piscopia

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (1711 – 1778): the first woman in the world to earn a university chair in a scientific field of studies. The third woman to receive a PhD from a European university (Bologna, 1732). The first woman to earn an official teaching position, and the first female physics professor at a European university. In 1776, at the age of 65, Bassi was appointed to the chair in experimental physics by the Bologna Institute of Sciences, with her husband as a teaching assistant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Bassi

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 – 1799). First woman to write a mathematics handbook and the first woman appointed as a Mathematics Professor at a University http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Gaetana_Agnesi

Stefania Wolicka (1851 – after 1895) – polish historian. Not a mathematician, but the first woman to earn a PhD in the modern era http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefania_Wolicka
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Why aren’t graduates called Spinsters of Arts/Sciences?

Reading a book* about higher education. Found an interesting quote in the historical background section. So this is why university graduates today are called BA/BSc (Bachelors of Arts/Sciences). Duh!

“…Next came the bachelors, who were advanced students and were allowed to lecture and dispute under supervision. They corresponded to and derived their names from the journeymen or bachelors, who worked for a daily wage and had not sufficient maturity to establish themselves in the trade. (Hence they were still unmarried). At the top of the profession was the master, a rank common to both universities and guilds. He was a man who had demonstrated both his skill and maturity to the satisfaction of his fellow masters. Entrance to this stage was gained after elaborate examinations, exercises in the techniques of teaching, and ceremonial investiture. Admission fell exclusively under the jurisdiction of the other full members of the university…. The three titles, master, doctor, professor, were in the Middle Ages absolutely synonymous.”

I am not the kind of feminist who would nitpick about terminology. I’m quite happy to keep words along with their historical baggage even if it’s a history of unequality (what history ISN’T a history of inequality?), as long as we are aware of what the baggage means. Much better than opening future gates to new inequalities by erasing all trace of nasty legacies today … So, I feel even better informed about the patriarchal basis of my education (and that of my ‘research subjects’. the mathematicians) now!

Burton R. Clark 1983, The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-national Perspective, P.47 citing Baldwin and Goldwaite, eds, Universities in Politics, pp.8, 19

 

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Sexist or not sexist? The debate about academic science

Not sexist:
“Academic science isn’t sexist” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/academic-science-isnt-sexist.html?_r=1

Sexist:
“Science isn’t the problem, scientists are” https://chroniclevitae.com/news/804-science-isn-t-the-problem-scientists-are
The “Everyday Sexism in STEM” blog: http://stemfeminist.com/

If you read this, please, add more links and your opinions in the comments!

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What do zombies have to do with maths?

UK maths educators are going more and more overboard in their attempts to make maths popular with young people.  Consider this Halloween special by the Oxford Science blog:

Or maybe I’m just too old to understand what the hype with zombies is all about. More pure human maths for me, please.

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Why are Indians so good at code?

Cheryll Barron offers a historical explanation:

“Indian software aptitude rests on an unlikely pair of factors: an emphasis on learning by rote in Indian schools, and a facility and reverence for abstract thought. These biases of Indian education are all but mutually exclusive in the modern West, where a capacity for abstraction is closely associated with creativity and stimulating, inspirational learning. In India, learning by rote is seen by many, if not most conventional teachers, as essential grounding for creativity – like Picasso’s mastery of perspective and anatomy in his youth – and for unbounded invention and speculation.”

from: “The Indian genius

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FT: “The North needs to retain its science graduates”

According to a new report, tech startups are disproportionately concentrated in the UK’s south. Unsurprising, really. Some analysis and (a small number of) counterexamples here –  article byBy Murad Ahmed and Chris Tighe

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a45561aa-2300-11e4-8dae-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3BUjQ6Bql

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Why do we (still) need to know more about female scientists?

Seemingly progressive posts such as “Eight women scientists that you need to know about” make my blood boil with anger. True, I had only heard about four of these eight scientists. You should read the article, it’s short, informative, and thought-provoking, and has inspiring historic portraits of the scientists at work – pictures which would have made at least one male relative of theirs mutter “she should be in the kitchen, not in the lab”. Their life histories made for an enjoyable and useful read on a Monday morning (and yes, that counted as research reading, aren’t I lucky). But this article was also a grim reminder of the fact that feminism has frozen in the first mile of a double marathon towards gender equality.

Why do we need to know more about female scientists?

Because of articles like this – how about some more female scientists? Are there really only eight?! And how about trying to read an article about the 800 or more male scientists who have made awesome discoveries that we also need to know about – I’m sure there’s lots that we don’t know about them? But no, that would not make for a nice news item or facebook trending post take because it would take longer than a Monday morning coffee break to read.

Because women who succeed in doing what they like and are good at (scientists or others) are still newsworthy. WTF?! Surely, not the ones who excel in anything related to the home, food or childrearing, that’s not news – women are just naturally good at it, haha.

Because becoming a scientist is a hard thing, and being a woman unfortunately continues to create more invisible barriers to a successful practicing of science than being a man does.

Because, if you take ten minutes to read their bios on Wikipedia, you will notice that most of them were at some point excluded, denied recognition, or discriminated against on the basis of being women. Nothing to do with their research, that was OK – in fact, it was good enough for others to gain credit for it sometimes. WTF?!

Because yesterday, when I heard that some friends have recently had a baby, I instinctively asked “girl or boy?” even though I can’t think of even one reason why the answer to that question should make a difference. But of course it will. (Un)helpful statistics, stereotypes, expectations, images and key words describing the likely life course, appearance, occupation, interests and possible futures open to persons of the male and female genders spring to mind immediately upon determining the sex of a newborn. Will people still care about that when that baby is an adult and wants, for example, to work as an astronomer? I hope not, but I’m afraid that they will.

Oh, just one thing <clambers onto soap box again>. Wikipedia has a special entry on “Female scientists before the 21st Century”. It seems to suggest that it has become easy enough – or at least relatively easier – for women to be scientists in the past couple of decades than it was previously. And it has. But it has not become equally easy to men, and it has not become sufficiently easy. 

And then, intersectionality. Combine class, race, wealth, disability, sexual orientation, and a bunch of other things that also mess up with our futures, making sure that the most talented, hard-working or brilliant people don’t  have a better chance.

We’re still far from a time when a person’s gender will not be the first thing we notice about them. Yes, there are numerous exceptions – but the point is, we have gone far in promoting exceptions, but we have not yet managed to create a world that supports a regularity, a world in which the particular set of sexual organs, secondary sexual characteristics and learned behaviours have no bearing to how well someone does their job.

Now, off that soapbox and back to my research desk before I evaporate in a puff of angry steam.

8-female-scientists

P.S. Maria Mitchell – first American professional astronomer who was female. And another reason why Quakers are cool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Mitchell

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