Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.
From the Ada Lovelace website, Finding Ada:
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.
I heard about Ada Lovelace Day from Skepchick, and I went to the website to register. I pledged to write a blog about a woman in either science or technology. My coworker suggested I research Linda Clickclocken, who was once quite the hottie of the plant world. Yeah…I wasn’t a fan of the TV Show Friends, so I had to google it to realize that it was a joke.
At the bookstore last nightI started asking my friends and coworkers to name female scientists that came to mind. Here are the depressing results:
Marie Curie (16 mentions)
Jane Goodall (3 mentions)
Rachel Carson (2 mentions, one of which was “that lady who wrote Silent Spring”)
That Watson and Crick lady (so wrong on several levels…but I count that as “1” mention for Rosalind Franklin)
Dian Fossey (1 mention)
Mary Leaky (1 mention)
Dr. Ruth (1 mention)
That Israeli woman who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1 mention for Ada Yoneth)
That woman who invented the bulletproof vest (Casimir Zeglen – a man – is given credit for inventing the first commercial bulletproof vest, but Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, so this is a sort-of mention?)
I can’t think of anyone (8 mentions)
Most people could only name Marie Curie, i.e., when prompted to think of any other women in science, technology, medicine, physics, aeroscience, computer technology, etc….could still only come up with Madame Curie.
Then I had an epiphany…maybe this wasn’t a problem with recognizing women in science, but a wash of general science ignorance. So I started asking my customers and coworkers to name any scientist (not specifying sex) they could think of. Most of them rattled off 3-5 male scientists in under five seconds. Here are all of the names I received:
Dr. Offit (It was pretty awesome that someone named Dr. Offit!)
My sample size was insufficient, and this in no way could be used to draw any stat-based conclusions, but…suck.
In between customers I ran over to the science section and started looking for female authors or editors. I only made it through one bay (containing General Science writing and Astronomy), but here’s how it broke down:
16 females (11%)
136 males (89%)
There appeared to be a larger proportion of female authors in the medicine bay, but the women were clumped in the personal stories section (my life as a neurosurgeon, heart surgeon, psychology ER doc, etc), and fewer women were seen in the history of medicine and health insurance sections. Again, this is only the briefest hint of observational study and not statistically significant in any way, but it might support the idea that there is a need for more focus and support of women in the sciences.
Dr. Patricia Bath
I found so many inspirational women scientists, but in the end I decided to concentrate on Dr. Patricia Bath.
Patricia Era Bath is known for being the first black female doctor to receive a patent for an invention. The reason why I chose Dr. Bath is because she not only achieved amazing success as a doctor and inventor, but she is also social activist for the poor. Among her accomplishments:
In 1981 Dr. Bath conceived the the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical tool that uses a laser to vaporize cataracts via a tiny, 1-millimeter insertion into a patient’s eye. The Laserphaco Probe allowed the surgeon to remove the cataract, after which a new lens could be inserted into the eye. In 1988 she received a patent for the device. Before the Laserphaco Probe, invasive surgery was needed to remove cataracts.
As a young student, she derived a mathematical equation for predicting cancer cell growth.
She conducted a population study that supported the fact that blindness among blacks was nearly double the rate of blindness among whites. She concluded that this was largely due to many African Americans’ lack of access to ophthalmic care. As a result of this research she helped develop the discipline of Community Ophthalmology, defined by laico.org as
…a conceptual shift to improve the eye health status through preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative approaches thereby giving a holistic view of eye health. It can be envisaged as a health management approach of preventive eye diseases, to reduce the rates of eye morbidity and promote eye health by active community participation at the grassroots.
She was the first African American resident at New York University.
She was the first African-American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman faculty member at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.
In 1977, she and three other colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.
She was elected to the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1988 and named Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine in 1993.