“Since her death in 1979, the woman who discovered what the universe is made of has not so much as received a memorial plaque. Her newspaper obituaries do not mention her greatest discovery. […] Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.”—
Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition Cecilia Payne gets, even today, for her revolutionary discovery. (via alliterate)
She correctly suggested that silicon, carbon, and other common metals seen in the Sun were found in about the same relative amounts as on Earth, but that helium and particularly hydrogen were vastly more abundant (by about a factor of one million in the case of hydrogen). Her thesis thus established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars. When her dissertation was reviewed, she was dissuaded by Henry Norris Russell from concluding that the composition of the Sun is different from the Earth, which was the accepted wisdom at the time. However, Russell changed his mind four years later when other evidence emerged. After Payne-Gaposchkin was proven correct Russell was often given the credit.
At 11, Alan Alda was fascinated by the colorful, translucent undulations of a burning flame.
So he asked his teacher, “What is a flame?”
“It’s oxidation,” she said.
The answer dumbfounded him. A flame is indeed oxidation, a type of chemical reaction that occurs when something burns. But the word did not capture why a flame burns orange or why it produces heat, or anything else that the young Mr. Alda really wanted to know about it.
“It’s just giving it another name,” he said by telephone last week. “It’s like saying, ‘Well, a flame is Fred.’ And that really doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Mr. Alda, now 76, pursued acting rather than science — many people still think of him as Hawkeye Pierce from the television series “M*A*S*H” — but his fascination with the universe persisted.
In the 1990s, he led the collaboration that created “QED,” a play about the brilliant, irascible, bongo-playing physicist Richard Feynman, with Mr. Alda playing Dr. Feynman. Also, for 11 years, he hosted the PBS television show “Scientific American Frontiers.”
The discovery of the Higgs boson would be a gratifying verification of present theory, but it will not point the way to a more comprehensive future theory. We can hope, as was the case with the Bevatron, that the most exciting thing to be discovered at the LHC will be something quite unexpected. Whatever it is, it’s hard to see how it could take us all the way to a final theory, including gravitation. So in the next decade, physicists are probably going to ask their governments for support for whatever new and more powerful accelerator we then think will be needed.
This is a must-read take on the crisis of funding Big Science. From Ernest Rutherford’s £70 discovery of the atomic nucleus to the £6.2 billion Large Hadron Collider, science has pushed the envelope of knowledge and spending.
In a time of uncertain financial futures, how do we ensure that the benefits of funding science (to the economy and to innovation) are worth the cost, when there are so many other places to spend the money. An interesting, if not pessimistic take, from a Nobel Laureate.
“Now a sometimes almost unrecognisable Rosalind has been put on an unrealistic pedestal. She is no longer a warning, but has become “the forgotten heroine”. Her story has been adopted by feminists as a symbol of a woman struggling and unacknowledged in a man’s world. This would, I think, have embarrassed her almost as much as Watson’s account would have upset her. It suited the feminism of the 1960s and 1970s to portray her as a victim of male dominance, but she would have thought of herself simply as a scientist whose achievements should have been judged on their own terms, not as a “woman scientist” striking a blow for the rights of women. It is hard to say how far Rosalind’s difficulties at King’s College were added to because she was a woman, as well as arising from misunderstandings and a basic personality clash. She certainly felt insulted when she found that the main dining room at King’s, where scientists would meet for discussions over lunch or coffee, was open only to men; this un-Parisian attitude was hard to take even if not unusual in English colleges at the time. Never integrated into the life of the lab, she felt marginalised, in a way that may well have made her more prickly and assertive, increasing the tensions.”—
Jenifer Glynn has a new book out recounting the life and work of Rosalind Franklin from a sister’s perspective. Rosalind Franklin was thrust into a position as heroine of the “downtrodden woman scientist, brilliant but neglected” that she neither sought nor would have wanted. Her deep personal conflict with a small group of scientists (Watson and Wilkins) have made many forget that she too, was independently brilliant. She certainly deserves more credit than she’s received, but this is a refreshing perspective on her many successes rather than just her identity as an ignored woman scientist.
The only way this can be successful is if you - yes, you - have a science blog (or 4 like me!) and would like to add yourself to this directory. There have been times I’ve received messages asking me, “Can you suggest science blogs to follow?”. Of course, I only follow a certain amount of blogs, and there’s just so many out there waiting to be discovered.
“Science On!” makes it easy for anyone looking for new blogs to follow, and just to keep count of who blogs about what. If someone messages me and says, “Suggest some blogs?”, I’ll be able to say, “Yes! Check out scienceon.tumblr.com for all your science-y needs.”
Everyone’s always looking for new blogs to follow, so I feel this will help us all out in the future.
Spread the word, submit your science blogs, and enjoy!