Oct. 8th, 2011

zdashamber: painting - a frog wearing a bandanna (Default)
Ada Lovelace Day! When you blog about a woman in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics who has inspired you. Technically yesterday.

I took some neat classes at Berkeley, since the MCB (Molecular and Cell Biology) path allowed for two free slots every semester. One class that I took for both entertainment and actual MCB credit was a tiny elective about plant genetic engineering; turned out to be two professors and about 18 students in a classroom the size of a normal room. The professors were Sydney Kustu and Mike Freeling; I get the impression they were both kinda having fun. That was the class where I found a lot of my science stories: the guest speaker who is the Most Bitter Scientist I ever met, a guy who worked on the ice minus bacteria; the class where Freeling talked about the interaction between the Novartis money deal and research; the independent study projects where I looked in to terraforming Mars with skunk cabbage (the professors: "...Huh...") and, I believe, pointed out to them the fascinating circumstance that one of our most recent super-useful science techniques, RNA interference, was discovered because the Dutch (through scientists in Oakland!) were trying to genetically engineer petunias of a richer purple.

Kustu was inspiring because she was aware of the social undercurrents in science, and she was willing to speak about them. She talked about how she was one of the few women in the National Academy of Sciences (in 2000, only 6%, according to this post). When she joined science in the early 70s it was still a very macho field. They had to mouth-pipette radioactive things, and people kept an eye out to be sure she was cool enough to join the boy's club.

It's nice to think that, although things aren't super in science these days, they are better. And it makes for a friendlier environment to know that there are scientific trailbreakers who are aware of the politics of gender.
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