Feature Stories

Women in Science

Exhibit highlights the stories that are all around us
  • Two women in white lab coats inject solution into test tubes.

 

"You cannot be what you cannot see."

-Sally Ride

As up-and-coming scientists, UMass Amherst first-year students Nicole Parsons and Elizabeth Kilgallon are curious about women scientists of the past and present. They recently came to the new campus exhibit, “Women in Science: The Stories Are All Around Us,” to learn about and be inspired by the lives of pioneering women.

The exhibit highlights 12 women scientists, most unrecognized. African American Annie Easley, for example, was a leading member of the team that developed software for the Centaur rocket stage, which laid the technological foundations for the Space Shuttle launches.

UMass Amherst Associate Professor of History Laura Lovett spoke at the exhibit’s opening on the remarkable accomplishments women have made in science despite formidable obstacles. She told the story of a group of women featured in the exhibit who were hired by Charles Pickering, then director of the Harvard College Observatory, to process astronomical information. Although their work was integral to the mapping of the universe, they were poorly paid and popularly referred to as “Pickering’s Harem.” Lovett praised the ISB exhibit for making women’s contributions to science visible and valuable. “We have reasons to be optimistic in the 21st century,” she said.

The Harvard Computers

 

Twenty-first-century UMass Amherst science students Parsons and Kilgallon have already encountered some gender bias and were eager to hear Lovett’s talk. Parsons, a pre-med student majoring in biology with plans to become a pediatrician, said that new acquaintances often assume that she chose that specialty because she wants to “play with babies.” Kilgallon said that people sometimes act surprised that she is studying neuroscience and hint that the subject is too difficult for her.

Martha Baker, CNS associate dean of undergraduate education and cocurator of the exhibit, hopes that the images and stories of exceptional women scientists in view at the ISB will help to dispel biases like these and inspire women to pursue careers in science.

As astronaut Sally Ride famously said, “You cannot be what you cannot see.”

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