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Women who broke the barriers….. July 15, 2009

Posted by dhsscienceteacher in Astronomers, Astronomy.
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Mellisa Ray has her blog at http://dhsscienceteacher.wordpress.com/ and is my long suffering Graduate assistant this summer.

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Einstein, Newton, Kepler…. these are astronomers whom every high school student knows. However, I remember wondering in high school, “Where are the women scientists?”  Whether it be in the grade school or the university level, I believe every science teacher should know of more scientists than Einstein, Newton and Kepler. Perhaps the astronomers I will discuss are more obscure than Newton, but discussing them might inspire a young girl to choose a different career path. Although this list is short; these are a few of my favorite great women.

Hypatia of Alexandra was born between 350 and 370 AD. A woman in a land of very few options, she rose to be considered the first notable woman in mathematics. Her father was her teacher while living in Roman Egypt. It is thought she wrote on astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. She may have invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer, and the hydroscope. The plane astrolabe would be used to estimate time given a known star’s altitude. A hydrometer would be used to find density, and the hydroscope would be used to see under water. She was a very unusual woman during her time often acting like a man in a time when men and women held very separate roles. It is believed she angered an influential bishop at the time who convinced others to dislike her. In the year 415 AD, she was killed by a Christian mob. Although it is unknown for sure, it has been said she was flayed and burned. Very little is know about her since much of her work was destroyed in a fire.

Annie Jump Cannon was born in 1863.  She was a Wellesley graduate for her undergraduate and graduate studies. She worked for Professor Whiting learning spectroscopy at Wellesley. After graduation, she was hired by Harvard to work as a “computer” along with a number of othe women making very little money. She found the spectral sequence of different stars eventually helping come up with OBAFGKM. She published nice volume of Henry Draper Catalog and the Henry Draper Extension. She was appointed professor at Harvard two years before her retirement. Cannon classified close to 300,000 stars in her lifetime. She also classified five nova and approximately 300 long-period variable stars.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was born in 1900. She completed her studies at Cambridge but was not awarded a degree because women did not receive degrees at the time. She eventually traveled to Harvard to work with Harlow Shipley. By 1923, she was ready to present her thesis to Radcliffe College. Her dissertation is considered one of the best ever in astronomy. In her thesis, she calculated a temperature scale to go with the classification system. Due to her theory of what stars are composed of, she discussed the Sun being made almost completely of hydrogen. Although she was correct, she did not make a definite conclusion as many believed at the time that the Sun was made of the same main elements as our planet.  She stayed at Harvard for career only briefly thinking of leaving because of her lack of title. Eventually she was named chair of the department.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in 1943. While at Cambridge, she helped her advisor, Antony Hewish, to create a telescope for their research needs. It was an extremely large radio telescope. She analyzed long pages of lines to try to find differences. She did find a difference in the lines, leading to the discovery of pulsars while she was working on her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in 1967. She received her Ph.D. in radio astronomy in 1968. Eventually, Martin Ryle and Hewish provided the theoretical information about pulsars and received the Nobel Prize for it; however, Burnell was left out of the award. After graduating, she continued her love of astronomy by seaching the night sky throughout her career while working at a number of universities in the United Kingdom.

Websites:

http://www.wellesley.edu/Astronomy/Annie/

http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/cannon.html

http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/biographies/cannon.

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/hypati1/a/hypatia.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_of_Alexandria ,

http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/whos_who_level2/bell.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=10-nobel-snubs&thumbs=horizontal&photo_id=D2B78179-CAD3-E707-DB0C8A010B583A87

http://cwp.library.ucla.edu/Phase2/Payne-Gaposchkin,_Cecilia_Helena@861234567.html

http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/payne2.html

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