Archive for ‘Science’

December 18, 2013

Meet Shaila Kotadia

Shaila Kotadia courtsey of Shaila Kotadia

Shaila Kotadia courtsey of Shaila Kotadia

Today I’m excited to introduce Shaila Kotadia. This month I learned about science policy, which is a topic that I had never considered as a possible career or just how important it is to the progress of science. But that is the amazing thing about this section of my blog it is an opportunity to learn about all the various careers in STEM that don’t just involve working in a laboratory.

A.H.:  Why did you want to go into STEM?

S.K: In high school, I first learned about the mechanistic details of diseases. In particular, in my freshman biology course, we studied the details of HIV/AIDS. Immediately, I was intrigued by the course of action taken by the virus and the body’s response. From that point on, I decided I wanted to find a cure to that disease. Similarly, the next year in a chemistry course, I learned about cancer development and switched to wanting to find a cure for it. I admit I was a bit fickle at first about my favorite disease, but I ended up sticking with cancer-related research for my career as a bench scientist.

A.H.:  What do you work on and why is this important?

S.K.: I currently work in science policy. This is an important issue because the majority of science funding comes from federal agencies. Oftentimes, scientists do not advocate to the government why the funding is essential to continue to discover new treatments and cures for diseases. Therefore, it is necessary to have informed individuals advocate for science and educate government officials on the benefits of funding science.

A.H.:  How can people learn more about science policy?

S.K.: People can learn more about science policy through various science organizations. For example, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where I work, has an advocacy website that has tools to help you advocate for science locally and contact information for our public affairs personnel, who can answer questions. Also, many scientists themselves participate in advocacy and can be very informative of the steps they took to be involved.

A.H.:  What motivates you?

S.K.: I am motivated by change. I want to make the world a better place to live in. Originally, I worked in scientific research hoping to advance discoveries that would ultimately lead to new cures for cancer. With policy, I hope to help scientists across the nation and the world to make groundbreaking discoveries with deserved support that will make grand changes.

A.H.: Do you have any words of advice for young women interested in pursuing STEM?

S.K.: If you are intrigued by a problem, then pursue it. As you move along your educational and career path, you will meet obstacles along the way and you have the choice on how to overcome them. Instead of holding yourself back in the face of opposition, face it head-on. This will take you in all different directions and may take time, but eventually you will find your fit, and that is when you will be happiest.

A.H.:  What type of obstacles have you faced and how?

S.K.: Most of the obstacles I have faced tend to be more internal. Within the research realm, I had a subconscious feeling of not being good enough to make it in academia despite my accomplishments. This feeling also extended during my job pursuits in administration and policy. Despite working hard, publishing, and creating programs, I always felt like I was missing some qualification. To face these obstacles, I spoke with others with this mindset to understand how they overcame it. I also interacted with individuals in higher, more established positions to have a better perspective of the most important factors to concentrate on. While there is always someone more qualified, I learned, and am still learning, that you have to be confident in your own abilities, even if they are limited. The external obstacles I faced tended to be a bias based on my personality. In those situations, I chose to continue to work hard and rely on help from others when necessary to move forward and prove that I was capable of being successful.

A.H.:   How do you share your love of science with others?

S.K.: I share my love of science through multiple avenues. During my research career, I started an outreach program with another postdocs. We organized scientists to visit K-12 classrooms to demonstrate that science is fun, that there is a diversity of scientists who approach real-world problems, and that anyone can be a scientist with hard work and determination. The scientists briefly explained their work and themselves, answered questions from the students, and conducted experiments that related to lab work conducted at the university. I also use dance to teach ongoing scientific research. I have used iterative choreography to teach high school students about my research. This finished piece was performed for the community. I also participated in helping to organize a Science Café, where scientists shared their research in lay terms for the general public. Finally, I try my best to talk about my work, both past and present, to individuals that show curiosity. I find that the most effective way to share my love of science is in a casual conversation.

A.H.: Do you have a favorite scientist?

S.K.: My favorite scientists are those who have taken the time to mentor me throughout my career. I have been quite lucky to have found several established professors who have given me sound advice and guidance and have helped me grow as a person and a scientist. In addition, their discoveries and creativity inspired me to be original and unique in my thought. An approachable, humble scientist will always be favorite.

A.H.:  What do you see as the biggest challenge to women in STEM? What can we as a person/society do?

S.K.: The biggest challenge to women in STEM is having the confidence to take that step to the next level. Women often desire to pursue STEM but express the inability to do so. I believe that, to overcome this barrier, women need to have positive role models who continued onto successful careers in which they are also happy. Women also need encouragement that they are capable and, while they may struggle at times and lose confidence, this is normal for everyone. Overall, there are many women who have a lot to offer in the STEM fields, but the perception of ourselves needs to reflect that, and we need to spread the same message to young girls.

A.H.: Who is your favorite Science Fiction or Fantasy writer?

S.K.: So I don’t really read science fiction or fantasy. I do love to read though. My favorite book is “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck in general. “East of Eden” is amazing as well. I’ve read a variety of female authors but have not picked up on one in particular.

A.H.: I wish there was more time in the day, so I could….

S.K.: …travel all over the world (I guess this would require more days in the week or more weeks in the year!)

A.H.: If people wanted to learn more about you how could they reach you?

S.K.: I can be reached at @shpostrapheaila . I also have a YouTube channel: I have only two videos on there but will soon add another. The videos are my venture into using dance to describe scientific processes. I hope to continue this outreach effort and have more videos posted in the future.

A.H.: Thank you,Shaila!




December 9, 2013

Tis the season to bake with Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian Gilbreth



Dates: May 24, 1878 to January 2, 1972

Field of study: Ergonomics, industrial/organizational psychologist

Invention: Kitchen design, electric food mixer, shelves in refrigerator, trash can with foot-pedal lid-opener

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen this time of the year, but I never give much thought to it. We’ll that’s not exactly true, I think about buying new appliances but not the layout how it came to be, why and who decided it should be this way. Today I’m sharing with you Lillian Gilbreth, the Mother of Modern Management and the woman behind our kitchens. In the 1920’s she was a pioneer in making domestic work a field of study. One of her greatest accomplishments was cutting the number of footsteps in the kitchen from 281 to 45! Two of her twelve children, co-authored a book about their home growing-up maybe you’ve heard of it “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

Lillian Gilbreth was born and raised in Oakland, California into a large wealthy family in 1878. Her parents believed in education for their daughters up to secondary school after that it was expected that they would marry. However Lillian didn’t have her parents’ confidence that someone would marry her, so she decided to become a teacher.  She studied at University of California Berkeley where she graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in literature. After graduation she moved to New York where she attended Columbia University for a year before returning home to finish her Master of Arts at University of California Berkeley.  She completed her Ph.D in psychology from Brown University in 1915. She met her husband Frank Gilbreth before she left on summer vacation to Europe.

By utilizing new techniques and working with their family Frank and Lillian Gilbreth created a new field of science called ergonomics and industrial psychology. Today the International Ergonomics Association defines it as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” But back then there was no definition or defined field, instead Lillian and Frank pioneered their field through trial, error and demonstrating the benefits. Lillian was introduced to the idea of finding “the best way” to do things by Frank who had begun his studies years before. It was also Frank’s encouragement which caused Lillian to change her major from English to psychology. In their partnership, Lillian was the advocate and promoted the human side of the worker while Frank was the technical side.  In their consulting firm, they were the first to use short films to watch how industrial processes and office tasks were done, breaking them down into components parts.  The Gilbreth’s  worked from home conducting trainings for managers and develop practices with the aid of their children. Frank and Lillian consulted for industry, lectured and wrote for national publications and published 5 books on organizational management, none of which bore Lillian’s name.

frank and lillian from purdue university engineeringAfter Frank’s unexpected death in 1924, Lillian was forced to reinvent herself.  She took a visiting lecturer position at Purdue University and several years later was given a faculty position in the home economics department, which is ironic because she wasn’t a cook. The home economics department allowed her the opportunity to create a new niche for herself where she could apply the technical skills she learned from Frank and her humanist approach to improving the lives of women.  She consulted for Macys and General Electric, wrote several articles for national publications, guest lectured, conducted training session out of her home and patented several household appliances.

After reviewing all of Lillian’s contributions I find her contributions to the home to be the most revolutionary. Lillian patented several home appliances and designed the contemporary kitchen. After an in depth investigation into the amount of walking that a woman does in the kitchen Lillian redesigned it to create a tight circuit where the cook wouldn’t need to move their feet as frequently. Lillian’s concept was that “In an efficiently planned kitchen, the perimeter of the triangle formed by stove, sink, and refrigerator should be no greater than 26 feet, with a typical distance of 5.5 feet between appliances.”(Slate) This design was and still is called the L, C, or U Shape arrangement. She also designed a kitchen for handicapped people. She patented the electric food mixer, shelves in the refrigerator and the foot-pedal lid-opened trash can.

Lillian Gilbreth was an accomplished woman by any standards and her accomplishments are still relevant today. She was the first person to show industry management the importance of direct and indirect incentives to motivate employees, something that I think we are all grateful for, by studying the psychology of workers at work.  She was also able to identify how detrimental the effects of fatigue and stress are on time management.  By combining the technical knowledge she learned from her late husband, Frank, with her own understanding of the psychology of women, she did more than just the improve the kitchen, she advocated for the improvement of the lives of women and people with disabilities.

If you want to learn more about Lillian there are numerous options. There are several autobiographies and biographies about her

Local Input~ A model kitchen created by Lillian Gilbreth for optimum efficiency.

Local Input~ A model kitchen created by Lillian Gilbreth for optimum efficiency.

available. Plus there are several websites, which I have listed below each tells a slightly different story about her accomplishments. You should also check out the interview with Historian, Jane Lancaster over at The Lemelson Center for the study of Invention and Innovation. Also, I have listed a couple of website and a blog post about Lillian Gilbreth.



Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science A Biographical Dictionary. Denver: ABC-CLIO, 1994. Print   132-133

There are number of books about Lillian Gilbreth and her work.


“The Woman Who Invented the Kitchen” Alexandra Lange


Grandma Got STEM

November 11, 2013

Vassar College and women in astronomy

When I decided to write a piece on women in astronomy I had no idea what I would learn. First, I learned there are not a lot of women in astronomy and there are even fewer statistics to prove or disprove this. Second, Vassar College provided the first formal education for women in astronomy and the first observatory to be directed by a woman.  Third, we need more women to know about the accomplishments of female astronomers.

Vassar College

The idea for an all female institution for higher education was inspired by Matthew Vassar’s niece, who was a strong believer that

from Vassar Encyclopedia

from Vassar Encyclopedia

women needed to have higher education because they were responsible for the intellectual instruction of their children. So in 1861 Vassar a respected and affluent businessman founded Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The doors for the school officially opened in September of 1865.  It was the second of the Seven Sisters Colleges, all-female sister institutions to all-male Ivy League institutions. Vassar College remained all-female until 1969, but females are still the majority of the student body.

Vassar chose, the famous astronomer, Maria Mitchell as his first choice for a faculty member. As part of her agreement, she requested that an observatory be built.  Charles S. Farrar, Vassar’s first professor of mathematics, chemistry, and physics designed the observatory. The telescope was commissioned from the renowned telescope maker Henry Fitz of New York in 1863. The observatory was completed in 1865 the same year the school opened and continued to be used for a hundred years. In 1991, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

True to Vassar’s design, Vassar College was an important institution for women during a period when they still didn’t have the right to vote.  The first three directors for the observatory were Maria Mitchell from 1865 to 1888, Mary Whitney from 1888 to 1895, and Caroline E. Furness from 1895 to 1899.  Each woman brought something unique to the program and without their passion for astronomy and dedication to providing opportunities to women to further their education we would be worse off.

Maria Mitchell

At the age of 29 years old, while stargazing with her father one fall night in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Mitchell spotted a telescopic comet. Subsequently, she would be awarded the King of Denmark’s Cometary Prize the following year after some confusion about who was the first observer. As the first woman to receive such a distinction, Mitchell was immediately elevated to celebrity and international fame.  This enabled her to become the first professional female astronomer in the U.S. She was the first women elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science in 1848 and American Association for Advanced of Science in 1850.

Mitchell came from a large Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where it was believed that women deserved the right to equal education which allowed her the encouragement and freedom to pursue her studies. She attended several Quaker grade schools that further encouraged her education including a school started by her father. Eventually Mitchell decided to open a school and despite local disfavor it was opened to all races. One year after the school was opened Mitchell took the position of librarian at the Nantucket Athenaeum where she remained for 20 years. Throughout her life, her father remained her mentor in astronomy even accompanying her to Vassar College.

It was very important to Matthew Vassar that his first choice of faculty be able to validate his school as a respected institution for study; Mitchell’s accomplishments and international fame made her Vassar’s first choice. In 1865 she accepted the position with the amendment that her father be allowed to live with her on campus. As professor, Mitchell changed how science was taught making sure that her students were able to receive extensive field experience. The benefits of their field experience was demonstrated in 1869 when Mitchell and seven students went to Iowa to observe a solar eclipse, the other astronomers were so impressed that Mitchell and five students were the official observers in July of 1878 in Denver for an eclipse. While at Vassar, Mitchell continued her personal studies on the surface of Jupiter and Saturn. She was also able to use this position to advocate for equal education for women and in 1873 she co-founded the America Association for the Advancement of Women and served as its first president. She retired from Vassar in 1888.

Mary Watson Whitney

While Maria Mitchell is credited with being the first female professional astronomer, Mary Watson Whitney is credited with making the Vassar astronomy program the finest in the country. There are several events that shaped Whitney’s vision for the astronomy program at Vassar. As a young student of Mitchell, she was a member of Hexagon, a group of students that believed the future of women’s higher education depended on them. When she began to look for work after graduation, despite her extensive education in astronomy and mathematics, Whitney often felt the limitations of her gender in finding suitable employment. These events shaped her social responsibility and from 1888 to 1915, during her tenure as director of the observatory and professor of astronomy, the program focused heavily on providing students with direct field experience and getting students research published in scientific journals to make them more competitive.

Whitney was raised in a family that encouraged equal education for their children. Her brother attended Harvard and she attend, its sister school, Vassar in the year it opened. In 1868 she graduated with a Bachelor’ and in 1872 she graduated with a Masters’. In 1869, Whitney’s younger sister entered Vassar and she accompanied Mitchell and other students to Iowa to observe the eclipse. From 1873 to 1876, Whitney attended the University of Zurich and studied mathematics and celestial mechanics, while her sister attended medical school.  Whitney returned to Vassar in 1881, to be Mitchell’s assistant when her health began to fail.

In 1888, Whitney officially succeeded Mitchell when she retired. At Vassar Whitney focused on advancing the rights and work of women and using her connections to help students gain employment. Whitney continued to provide students with ample field experience with the telescope and making calculations. She also continued the small social groups that Mitchell established to encourage young women in science. Whitney’s work focused on double stars, variable stars, asteroids, comets, precise measurement of photographic plates. She published 102 articles that focused on calculating orbits and making observations of minor planets in scientific journals. As the current Director of the Observatory and professor of astronomy, Whitney was able to help students gain employment at other universities and observatories. In 1899, she was a founding member of the American Astronomical Society. In 1910, Whitney was forced to take a medical leave from Vassar, but she did not officially retire until 1915.

Caroline E Furness

Mitchell and Whitney did a lot for the astronomy program at Vassar and Caroline E. Furness took the program to the next level. Before taking on the role of Director of the Observatory and professor of astronomy, she was the first woman to receive a PhD in

from vcencyclopedia,

from vcencyclopedia,

astronomy from Columbia University in 1900. At Vassar, Furness started a class on variable stars that was based on the research that she did with Whitney, which was the first of its kind in the U.S. She also was the first to publish a standard book on astronomy, “Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars” (1915), which continued to educate generations of astronomers.

Furness entered Vassar College on a full scholarship in 1888. Originally, astronomy wasn’t her major but after attending classes in the astronomy department she decided she wanted to take it all the way to a PhD. A true testament to her capabilities came in 1894 when Whitney hired her to assist with teaching and observations until 1898. She also attended Ohio University, University of Chicago, and University of Columbia; it was at latter institution that she received her PhD in 1900. Her dissertation was on “Catalogue of Stars within One Degree of the North Pole, and Optical Distortion of the Helsingfors Astro-photographic Telescope, Deduced from Photographic Measures.” In 1903, she went back to Vassar as an instructor and in 1911 she became an associate professor.  In 1915, Whitney officially retired from Vassar and Furness took over her roles.

During her tenure Furness continued to bring prestige to the Vassar program through her publishing and involvement with astronomy associations. Furness was the first astronomy faculty to publish a book on astronomy. In 1913 she published a collection of observations made by Whitney and herself on 4,800 stars during 1901 to 1912 entitled “Observations of Variable Stars.” Her “Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars” solidified her authority on the subject of variable stars. And her dissertation for Columbia included observations from fellow classmates at Vassar.  As a charter member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) Furness encouraged students to participate in furthering the study of variable stars. Aside from the AAVSO, Furness participated in many international astronomical societies including the Royal Astronomical Society where she was a fellow in 1922 and the American Astronomical Society.


“Maria Mitchell”, “Mary Watson Whitney”, “Caroline E Furness” “Maria Mitchell Observatory,”  Vassar Encyclopedia –  November 6,9, 10 2013
“Matthew Vassar,” Vassar College –  November 6, 2013
“Maria Mitchell,” Distinguished Women – November 9, 2013
“Maria Mitchell,” Wikipedia –  November 9, 2013
“Mary Watson Whitney” Britannica – November 10, 2013
“Caroline E Furness” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers –  November 10, 2013

August 28, 2013

Women in Science Profile Flossie Wong-Staal

I present to you Flossie Wong-Staal the woman who discovered that HIV caused AIDS and the first to map the genetic code which allowed for scientists to create blood tests.

July 28, 2013

Next section to my blog: Women in Science

I’m excited to present a new section to my blog called “Women in Science.” This section will be devoted to discussing women who have made amazing contributions to science by their inventions, being first, and their scientific contributions.

The first women that I have decided to profile is Patricia E. Bath. An amazing women who changed the face of ophthalmology for people around the world. Along with her invention, she is also the creator of the community ophthalmology, a program that teaches ophthalmology awareness to the public, and co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.