by ABCCmain on October 26, 2016

I’ve been looking forward to reading Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky.  It arrived at a perfect time, hot off the press, when I was headed to a lake in Ontario’s North for a mini summer vacation. I also needed a dose of intrepid female inspiration right then and in this book it was aplenty. Trailblazers. Pioneers. Transformers. Leaders. Doers. Makers. Creators.


all images: Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky, Ten Speed Press

Rachel’s book profiles 50 notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Some of them I’ve heard of such as Ada Lovelace who created the first computer program in 1833 (there’s more to discover such as who was her dad and how as was a translator on an article about the invention she added her own lengthy notes). For others, it was the first time I met them, such as Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a German biologist who contributed to our understanding of evolution and how human fetuses develop. She won the 1995 Nobel Prize in physiology.


I also met Mamie Phipps Clark, psychologist and civil rights activist born in 1917 before full equality of the law was gained by African Americans in the U.S. Mamie had to attend poorly funded black-only schools but went to Howard University and pushed to do her PhD in psychology at Columbia. She proved segregation hurts children.

There were a couple clear themes running through the diverse and beautifully-illustrated profiles.


Do it in secret. Do it however you can – behind a curtain, at the back of the class, at night. Of course this was more the case a century ago to study or work in secret but we still have to push ceilings: doors and classrooms open; smash glass and ice ceilings, or otherwise cut a path.

It was a common method of getting to do the work you wanted to do when women were not allowed to study, be amongst men, be at school or were held back by families – by pushing boundaries and thinking laterally.

Florence Bascom, geologist, “was forced to take classes behind a screen so she wouldn’t ‘distract’ any of her male classmates’. She became an authority on rocks and how to categorize them through their chemical makeup and mineral content.”


Elizabeth Blackwell wanted to be a doctor after a friend died of what was likely uterine cancer. She became the first woman medical doctor in the U.S. She wasn’t allowed to sit with male students and was asked to leave a lecture about reproduction, but she argued her way into staying. Blackwell was born into a family of abolitionists in 1821 who believed in justice and equality – that helped, plus her “unexpected acceptance to Geneva Medical College” and the male doctor friends who mentored her when she worked as a school teacher.

Stick to it. Don’t yield to the first ‘no’, squeeze a yes, try again, find another path.


Collaborate with other women.

Sylvia Earle. The ‘aquanaut’, marine biologist and explorer’s love of the ocean “helps humankind understand the ocean more thoroughly”.  Her childhood playground became her inspiration to become a marine biologist. But she couldn’t join the all-male mission to a new (1969) underwater research laboratory, the Tektite Project. So she applied again and ended up leading the first all-female Tektite II team the next year (similarly the first female US scientists got to the Antarctic on an all-female team led by Lois Jones whose wiki bio entry I helped write.) Sylvia is a leader fighting to create protected oceans, stop pollution and overfishing. She made the deepest dive in 1979 and holds the women’s depth record.


I want to also know about all the other cases of collaboration, regardless of gender or marital status, and I certainly know that collaboration across disciplines makes a huge difference – as reiterated Jane Francis, paleoclimatologist and head of the British Antarctic Survey at the ‘Wikibomb’ event profiling and celebrating Women’s contributions in Antarctica at the Open Science Conference at the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) Conference in Malaysia in August 2016 (and Homeward Bound scientific faculty member Dr. Justine Shaw helped create and launch the cook wiki event).

Valentina Tereshkova was the first Soviet woman to go into space (1963). Growing up her family was so poor they couldn’t afford bread yet she pursued her dream of ‘traveling and exploring’ and joined a parachute club. She competed with four other women. The competition was fierce and top secret but at least she wasn’t the only woman in the space program.

Collaborate with anyone, men or women. Mentors, classmates, co-researchers, competitors, lovers. Well, not always find a smart husband, partner or wife, but there are few cases of interesting such “partner and partner” collaborations such as Marie Curie of course who married Pierre Curie and with him discovered polonium and radium (and more), winning two Nobel prizes. And less known perhaps, Hertha Ayrton, English engineer, mathematician and inventor collaborated with Professor William Ayrton who was her partner in invention (and later her husband): she improved lighting technology to make it quieter, invented the fan to blow away mustard gas during WWI, and “invented a better electric arc and furthered our understanding of electric current.”


Wang Zhenyi was born in 1768 in China, was an astronomer, poet and mathematician. Her grandfather and father taught her astronomy and math although education was only available to the poor under the feudal system. She created her own eclipse model using a “mirror, a lamp and a globe to prove her theories about how the moon blocks our view of the sun- or the earth blocks the sun’s light from reaching the moon – during an eclipse.”

I urge you to read this book. Or check the great short piece on the book in another amazing woman’s blog, Maria Popova‘s Brainpickings.

Some of the women scientists profiled were rich, some were poor, some invented young, some when older. Some were celebrated in their time, others died in obscurity despite their prolific contributions to science. This book remembers, celebrates and inspires.

Statistics in Stem – at least in the US workforce, the 2011 census gives insight on how poorly women are represented in STEM fields – we can help change this!


by Carol

Antarctica Reads – Scott Base Library Antarctica ++

by ABCCmain on February 07, 2016

On National Library Day it was fun to take stock of the value of public libraries and even those obscure ones in the Antarctic.

Here’s Scott Base’s Library, courtesy of New Zealand’s Antarctic Program digital assets.

Linda Harrison 1985-86

A blurb on Scott Base so you see how remote the reading is:

Scott Base has been New Zealand’s permanent base in Antarctica since 1957. The Base provides services and accommodation for the many scientific research parties and groups who visit Antarctica during the summer.  The Base is located on Ross Island in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Ross Island is 3932 km (2114 nautical miles) from Christchurch New Zealand and 1500 km from the South Pole. The Antarctic mainland is 70 km across McMurdo Sound from Scott Base. The closest neighbour to Scott Base is the American base, McMurdo Station, at 3km distance.

Lets pop over to a US Library in the Antarctic at McMurdo Station, run by the US Antarctic Program. You already have a sense that this is thousands of km from big libraries and here it’s the old-school honour system, no electronic phone calls that your books are late. From a blog Scott Afar of a one-time McMurdo Library volunteer:

“The library has over 8,000 books available for checking out. There is a specific section of Antarctic and Arctic books, as well as a section of travel guides. The library also includes a typical reference section in addition to a reference section specifically related to Antarctica. Books on tape and CD are available as are hundreds of music CDs. Patrons check out books by filling out the little card in the back of the book. The library volunteer then enters the information into a spreadsheet. Books are due back in three weeks. The whole thing functions on the honor system really. There are no fines for returning books late as sometimes it is impossible to return them on time. People take books out and then go to the Pole or remote field camps. The three book limit is also overlooked on occassion. Not that I would ever bend the rules when volunteering. Rules are rules!”

Here’s an interior, houseplant and all.

from Scott Afar blog, McMurdo Library, Antarctica

As you wander across the continent you’ll reach another  scientific base, Casey Station run by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD)  where their library even has puzzles and games. The Librarian Ben “is too modest to mention himself is that on top of his day job, he also keeps the base library running! He has support from a Librarian back at Australia Antarctic Division headquarters in Tasmania”, according to a special blog guest post about International Games at libraries.

Here’s Casey station and its nicely lined shelves.

Casey Station Antarctica

Casey library with puzzle in the works

Bellingshausen station where we lived, the Russian station up on the Antarctic peninsula had a few lounging spaces with a pool table, a major film room and books, but in Russian. We had the books we brought and of course the couple referral cookbooks Wendy carried with her. Not much time to read.

Lets take a last look at the UK’s state of the Art, Halley IV Research Station that floats on the Brunt ice shelf on the edge of Antarctica, where UK scientists first observed the hole in the ozone layer. It’s run by the British Antarctic Survey.

The station has a 1,510 metre sq base features a library, a TV room, a gym, and a communal area with a pool table and dartboard on top of scientific labs.

Halley IV Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica

A quiet room at the north end of the station. Each building sits four metres above the ice on hydraulic legs fitted with skis. This helps to prevent snow drifts accumulating, and allows Halley VI to be relocated with relative ease from Daily Mail UK

Here’s to reading wherever, whenever, and to libraries.