Women in Physics

Last week I had the opportunity to talk at the inaugural all girl science club meeting at Footscray City College about being a scientist, and in particular about being a female physicist.

The club is named after the famed Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes for her amazing research on Radioactivity. Around 25 students turned up for the first Marie Curie club meeting and it was wonderful to see such a huge interest in the sciences.

The Marie Curie Science Club

The Marie Curie Science Club

Given that their namesake is such a famed and well known Physicist, I was also keen to introduce them to  Marie and a few more amazing women who in various ways had contributed greatly to Science. With such huge number to choose from and only a limited amount of time, I chose to speak about the following wonderful Scientists;

Marie Curie, first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work on Radioactivity

Ruby Payne-Scott, born in Australia and first person to detect the Sun through radio waves and responsible for identifying many solar characteristics. She was the third female to graduate in Physics at the University of Sydney.

Jocelyn Bell, discovered Pulsars during her PhD.

Fabiola Gianotti, team leader of 3000 members responsible for discovering the Higgs Boson, nominated for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2012

During my research of these women, it was very clear that they are all extremely well respected for their research, their science and the manner in which they conducted their work by their male colleagues. For Marie Curie, whose career peaked at the beginning of the 20th Century, I found it amazing that she seemed to have no problem reaching high posts in her academic career and was able to continue her work after having her children. 50 years later, Ruby Payne-Scott was being forced into retirement at the age of 39 for the simple reason she had gotten married and was no longer entitled to her benefits or a pension. Ruby was quite an activist for female rights and not surprising with so many rules just because she was female! Then 20 years further on, Jocelyn was discovering Pulsars during her PhD. This work was awarded a Nobel Prize of which Jocelyn’s supervisor was the recipient, not Jocelyn. There is still to this day an uproar about this ‘oversight’ and it certainly changed the view of many about the contributions students make and that they are just as worthy to be a recipient of such recognition. Thankfully, reading Fabiola’s bio told a story of respect and recognition from not only the Science community but the wider community as well.

I think everyone in Science has these women and so many others to thank for setting precedents, activating for women and student’s rights, for demonstrating that women have so much to contribute and for paving the way for so many more careers for women in Science.

For many more women in Science try this website. Let me know who your favourite woman in Science is and why.

My message to the girls at the science club meeting was that it definitely appears to be easier these days to be a female scientist and that as females we have many qualities to bring to the field of science. Science is fun, an exciting field to be in as it evolves constantly with each new discovery and allows us to contribute to the world in so many ways. It was a great pleasure to talk with the girls and I look forward to seeing them at the Astronomy nights and hearing about their other scientific pursuits.

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