Maryam Mirzakhani

“Doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.” – Maryam Mirzakhani

Image result for maryam mirzakhani

Is the Earth flat? Hopefully by now, it is common knowledge that the Earth is indeed not flat, but rather holds a spherical shape. Yet decades ago, there was a point in which our ancestors believed that the Earth was flat. And this wasn’t without reason, as any patch of Earth that you stand on feels very much like a two-dimensional plane. This is because the Earth is an example of a mathematical surface – a shape that can be covered in overlapping pieces, all of which can be mapped on a plane, making it homeomorphic to the plane. And there are many different types of mathematical surfaces, and they all depend on the number of holes in it. For example, a donut shaped figure contains one hole, and is therefore different from a spherical surface with no holes or a pretzel shaped surface with three holes. To put a name to this concept, a donut shaped surface with two or more holes that have a non-standard geometry is called a hyperbolic surface. And geometric objects whose points each represent a different hyperbolic surface are known as Riemann surfaces. This way of looking at mathematical surfaces is very abstract, but necessary in order to understand the work of Maryam Mirzakhani, who is the subject of this week’s Wonder Woman Wednesday post!

Image result for donutImage result for pretzel

Image result for maryam mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was born and raised in Tehran, Iran where she grew up in the midst of the war-torn country. Despite early challenges, she considers herself lucky in that she was able to attend a good high school and further her education by obtaining a Ph.D in mathematics at Harvard University. Mirzakhani’s interest in mathematics began in high school when she discovered her fascination with solving mathematical problems and treating them like puzzles. She is often complimented for her strong geometric intuition which allows her to grapple directly with difficult subjects like the geometry of moduli spaces. Her rare combination of superb technical ability, bold ambition, far reaching vision, and deep curiosity has led her to the success and accomplishments she has accrued over the course of her life so far. Now a mathematics professor at Stanford University, Mirzakhani was the first woman to win the prestigious Field’s Medal in 2014.

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The Field’s Medal is dubbed the Nobel Prize of Mathematics and is considered the most prestigious honor a mathematician can receive. It is officially titled the International Medal for outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics and was started in 1936. Mirzakhani’s winning of the prize in 2014 marks the first time a woman has ever received this honor and it shatters another barrier for women in STEM fields worldwide. In a way, the Field’s Medal is stacked against women in that it is restricted to mathematicians younger than 40, which are the years in which many women dial back their careers to raise children. Furthermore, mathematics itself is a field that is still highly dominated by men, and according to The Washington Post, only 9 percent of tenure-track positions in math are held by women. Despite the odds being clearly against women in this field, Mirzakhani’s win is a testament to the fact that women can in fact become successful in mathematics, and is an accomplishment to be celebrated by all women in STEM. Mirzakhani herself has said “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” and “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

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So what led to her winning of this award? Mirzakhani’s earliest work involved solving the problem of calculating the volumes of moduli spaces of curves on Riemann surfaces. She solved this by drawing a series of loops across their surfaces and calculating their lengths. She worked with geometry and dynamical systems and won the Field’s Medal for her sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces. For instance, geodesics are straight lines on a hyperbolic surface, and the number of closed geodesics of a given length on a hyperbolic surface has long been known to grow exponentially as the length of the geodesics grows according to this expression:

\[ e^ L/L, \]

Yet for the longest time, mathematicians couldn’t figure out just how many simple closed geodesics of a given length a hyperbolic surface can have. Mirzakhani answered this problem in her doctoral dissertation in 2004. She developed a formula for how the number of simple geodesics of length L grows as L gets larger. Turns out that, the number whose length is less than or equal to L grows much more slowly, according to the expression below, where g is the number of holes of the surface.

\[ L^{6g-6}, \]

All of this work is extremely abstract and hard to conceptualize. The bottom line is that moduli space is a world in which many new discoveries await, and it is up to people like Mirzakhani to lead the explorations for more mathematical discoveries. She summarizes her passion for pure mathematics by stating that “doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.” Hopefully she can indeed “find a way out” as these mathematical discoveries have great significance in many fields including physics and quantum field theory.

For more information about Maryam Mirzakhani and her research interests, check out the following video below by WIRED Science!

Article Written By: Lisa He


Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/13/interview-maryam-mirzakhani-fields-medal-winner-mathematician

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/august/fields-medal-mirzakhani-081214.html

https://www.wired.com/2014/08/maryam-mirzakhani-fields-medal/

http://mathunion.org/fileadmin/IMU/Prizes/2014/news_release_mirzakhani.pdf

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0813/Maryam-Mirzakhani-Doughnuts-gender-equity-and-the-Nobel-Prize-of-math

https://plus.maths.org/content/mm

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

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“We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.”

– Marie Curie

This past Monday, November 7th, was the birthday of Marie Curie, an extraordinary female scientist in history who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Thus, it makes sense that this week’s Wonder Woman Wednesday post is dedicated to remembering Marie Curie and her numerous accomplishments and contributions to the scientific community and to the world.

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7th, 1867 and grew up to study physics and mathematics in Paris. There, she met her future husband, Pierre Curie, who was a professor of Physics at the Sorbonne School of Physics. Marie Curie’s initial experiments were conducted on uranium rays, in which she discovered that the rays remained constant, regardless of the form of uranium. She theorized that these rays came from the element’s atomic structure, and this revolutionary idea led to the field of atomic physics, and the term radioactivity was coined to describe the phenomena. Together with her husband Pierre, they investigated radioactivity, and managed to discover a new chemical element, polonium, in July of 1898. They then went on further to discover another element, radium. Curie was able to develop methods of separating radium from radioactive residues to allow for its characterization and to allow its properties to be studied. As a result of all this work, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 along with Becquerel, a French physicist.

Polonium  Radium

Unfortunately, life wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Curies, as Pierre’s life was terminated in 1906 following a tragic accident. After Pierre’s death, Marie took over his teaching position, becoming the first woman to teach at the institution. She dedicated herself to continue their work, and received a second Nobel Prize in 1911, for chemistry this time.

Image result for marie curie world war i

Curie’s research was also vital in developing x-rays in surgery. She was a brave, selfless person who personally drove to the front lines during World War One to help equip ambulances with x-ray equipment. She became the head of the radiological service of the International Red Cross, and helped to train medical orderlies and doctors in new x-ray techniques.

Although Curie was extremely successful in her work, she had to endure many struggles due to the simple fact that she was female. For example, despite her top grades in secondary school, she was unable to attend the men-only University of Warsaw, and was instead initially educated in Warsaw’s “floating university,” which was a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Furthermore, throughout her career, she faced some opposition from male scientists in France, and she never even received significant financial benefits from her work. By the late 1920s, her health began to deteriorate, and she died from leukemia on July 4, 1934, as a result of the exposure to high-energy radiation from her research.

Image result for nobel prize physicsDespite the struggles that Curie faced, she is still held in high esteem and admiration by scientists throughout the world. This is evident due to the numerous awards that she acquired throughout the years, of which include many honorary science, medicine, and law degrees, two Nobel prizes in different disciplines, the Davy Medal of the Royal Society, and more. Her legacy will live on, and her discoveries and research on radioactive compounds are extremely important both for further scientific experiments and in the field of medicine.

Article written by: Lisa He


Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/curie_marie.shtml

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/marie-curie-bio.html

http://www.biography.com/people/marie-curie-9263538#early-life

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/marie_curie.htm

http://www.myinterestingfacts.com/marie-curie-facts/

http://periodictable.com/Elements/088/index.html

http://periodictable.com/Elements/084/index.html

 

 

 

Dr. Anna Powers

Women are widely underrepresented in STEM fields nationally in higher education, research fields, and the science and engineering workforce as a whole. For example, while women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they only account for 29% of the science and engineering workforce. According to the American Association of University Women, this gender disparity is due to various environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments. Women may internalize a chronic negative stereotype that they cannot succeed in math and science, which as a result, significantly undermines their real ability. This week’s Wonder Woman Wednesday post features a woman who aims to break down this stereotype and support women who want to pursue STEM careers.

Image result for anna powers nyu

Dr. Anna Powers is an award-winning university lecturer, scholar, and scientist who started “Powers Education” with the innovative “Power’s Method” that provides a unique tutoring and mentoring service aimed towards helping women succeed in science and math courses in high school and beyond. There are two parts to the Powers Method. One is understanding science through relationships between concepts and formulas, how they interweave. The second is building relationships with mentors and tutors that will provide a strong foundation for success. It is about fostering an environment of support amongst women to improve their confidence in their own abilities to succeed. And it is about helping women reach their full potential in the STEM fields. For more information about her tutoring services, check out her website here! Image result for anna powers nyu

Amongst her many achievements, Dr. Anna Powers was the recipient of the Student Leader Global STEM Award by the American Chemical Society, where she was the first woman in fifty years to be bestowed such an honor. The Award recognizes an outstanding leader committed to international STEM activities, encouraging women and mentoring young people. She was also the recipient of an Outstanding Teaching Award, awarded to New York University faculty for their outstanding contributions to the classroom. Finally, her doctoral dissertation thesis defense was “On the Quantum Behavior of Nanoconfined Hydrogen.”

Image result for anna powers nyu    Image result for anna powers nyu

I had the opportunity to get in touch with Dr. Anna Powers and conduct a short little interview to learn more about her work, passions, and struggles as a woman in science.


Q: Are there any challenges you may have faced as a woman in science and how did you overcome them? 

A: Yes, sometimes when I tell people about who I am and what I do, they become intimidated by me! I am a very friendly person, and not intimidating at all! And so in an effort to better relate to people, I am sometimes shy about sharing my achievements or avoid talking about them. Obviously hiding one’s brightness is not a good thing. I am not sure if people find me intimidating because I am breaking stereotypes, about the image of science or in general about women in science? I am still trying to figure out a good way to overcome this, but one step I am taking forward is sharing my story with as many people as possible as to inspire them. For example, giving this interview!

 Q: Regarding your tutoring company: what is the aim of your business, what inspired you to create this startup, and what differentiates your company from other tutoring companies?

A: What differentiates us is something very important: relationships. We teach young women to see science in terms of relationships, like a scientist, and to build relationships with mentors who are successful in the field they are about to enter. There is no tutoring company out there specifically focused on women, and there is no company out there focusing on teaching math and science in a way that removes the memorization and instead, builds knowledge. And that is what we do! Over the 7 years that I’ve taught in the university level, I saw many young women struggle with confidence going into the STEM field, I often heard the phrase “I am not good in math” or “I don’t like science”. There were no female role models, and I was the only role model, so I became everyone’s role model in many science classes. It was extremely gratifying seeing my students succeed, but at the same time, I am one person, and can’t physically help everyone. So I decided it would be a good idea to put my two talents together: teaching science in an effective way and helping women succeed, and this is how Powers Education started. What inspired me to create is the need for women role models in STEM and an effective teaching method that makes science easy and accessible!

Q: You mentioned that one of your talents is teaching science in an effective way. When did you first start teaching and what do you think makes your teaching effective?

A: I served as a teaching assistant at the university level when I was only a junior in college – which is extremely rare – amongst other graduate students. When I taught, I found that students could relate to me well because I was similar to them, they understood me. I have a talent for communicating complex ideas in simple ways and I was always good at the quantitative sciences. Later in my career, I got an award for teaching, which was given to only 6 lecturers across NYU’s 50 departments. 

Q: What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of science/work?

A: I enjoy learning Chinese characters, I think they hold a lot of meaning and depth, and they are elegant and beautiful. I also enjoy painting and I paint at home with oil paint or acrylics. I also enjoy dancing, both performing and watching, especially west African dance.

Q: Can you tell me about your research interests?

A: My research interest lies in the area of quantum dynamics, using and developing novel methodology to simulate molecules in nanoconfinement. Specifically, I have extensively studied hydrogen encapsulated inside clathrate hydrates, which are crystalline compounds subject to international research effort that has identified them as a potential material for hydrogen storage. I have investigated the free-energy profiles that describe the motion of hydrogen inside these nano cavities using quantum mechanics which is resulted in the first ever quantum free energy profiles of hydrogen inside this system. The simulations were carried out using methods such as path integral molecular dynamics (PIMD) with blue moon ensemble. Ring polymer molecular dynamics rate theory, incorporating both exact quantum statistics and approximate quantum dynamical effects, was utilized to determine the H2 diffusion rates in a broad temperature interval. A paper on this topic, which is a culmination of a two year international research collaboration, is due to be appear in a high impact journal this fall. I have also aided in the development of new theoretical methodology as well as its application to carbon structured materials, which lead to a discovery of new spectroscopic selection rule. I have given talks about my research at Cambridge University, Tel-Aviv University, as well as the American Chemical Society.

Article written by: Lisa He


Sources:

http://www.powerseducation.com/#success

http://www.aauw.org/research/why-so-few/

https://ngcproject.org/statistics

http://thetab.com/us/nyu/2016/06/01/spoke-dr-anna-powers-women-stem-powers-education-5978

http://www.powerseducation.com/about-us/

http://allevents.in/new%20york/meet-and-greet-with-dr-anna-powers/1693414837591199#

http://chemistry.as.nyu.edu/object/chem.news.PowersWinsACSStudentLeaderGlobalSTEMAward2014

http://cas.nyu.edu/object/cas.teachingawards.winners2011


 

 

 

 

 

Huda Akil (1945- )

Huda_Akil

“Genes are not destiny. Such discoveries and studies offer hope that depression is not just a fate into which you’re born.”

~Huda Akil

Mood is an ephemeral experience that is difficult to define and capture, yet it is a phenomenon we all experience. Through the perspective of a scientist, mood may be defined as an adaptive tool and biological mechanism we use to tell us how we are doing in the world. However, some individuals are predisposed due to an intricate relationship between genes, neuronal wiring, and environment to suffer from a painful and hard to define mood disorder called depression.

Depression is a disease that plagues more individuals in our community than many of us are aware of. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 350 million individuals of all ages who suffer from depression. Those with depression suffer from various degrees of psychological and physical pain that has resounding and variable influence on cognition, behavior, and movement. It is an illness that can happen early in life and be long lasting if not treated early or if it is underdiagnosed. Currently, treatment for depression commonly involves talk therapy or prescription antidepressants. However, these two treatment options together may not be enough, take too long to have a significant effect, or simply not work depending on the individual. To this day it is not clear to what extent depression is due to genes, the ways in which neurons wire, or environment and how each contribute to depression. There are many dimensions to approach and unravel depression, and Dr. Akil offers a perspective to help.

The mission of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) is to fund cutting-edge, scientific research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and its related mood and other emotional disorders – bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety disorder and suicide.

The mission of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) is to fund cutting-edge, scientific research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and its related mood and other emotional disorders – bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety disorder and suicide.

This week’s Wonder Woman is Dr. Huda Akil, a neuroscientist whose research has contributed to understanding the neurobiology of emotions. As a young girl, Dr. Akil was inspired by the work of Marie Curie—a famous Nobel Laureate who moved from Poland to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist. Following Marie Curie’s lead in relocating to pursue her dreams, Akil moved from Damascus to America in order to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist. Dr. Akil received her BA and MA at the American University of Beirut and then went on to earn her PhD at UCLA and to become a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University. She is currently a faculty member of The Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan. Dr. Akil is former president of the Society for Neuroscience—the “world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system” and is an elected member of the National Academy of Science. Additionally, she is 1 of the 7 scientists who are members of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation Task Force.

Dr. Akil’s research is focused on understanding the neurobiology of emotions, including pain, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Her major contribution to the field of neuroscience is the first functional evidence that our body activates endorphins (a type of “pain relieving” chemical our body makes naturally) when we are faced with stressful situations in order to block pain. Furthermore, she investigated the molecular and neural mechanisms underlying stress and how this relates to anxiety and depression. She used hamster models to discover new molecules and genes that are related to mood and addiction. Additionally, she is the author of over 500 original scientific papers, and has been recognized as one of the most highly cited neuroscientists for her work.

Dr. Akil was the keynote speaker at Brain Awareness Series sponsored by Vanderbilt Brain Institute (2002)

Dr. Akil was the keynote speaker at Brain Awareness Series sponsored by Vanderbilt Brain Institute (2002)

Dr. Akil’s research sheds some light through the dark clouds that depression casts over millions of people. Ultimately, studying depression through the lens of neuroscience can further our understanding of the causes and perpetuation of depression that has evaded us for decades.

Below you can find a video of Dr. Akil’s lecture at the NIH titled “The depressed brain: sobering and hopeful lessons.” If you have the time, you should definitely check it out!

Article written by: Alexandra McHale

Sources:

http://www.mbni.med.umich.edu/mbni/faculty/akil/akil.htmlhttps://www.hopefordepression.org/about-us/depression-task-force/

http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/reporter/index.html?ID=1987

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huda_Akil

https://www.aamc.org/initiatives/awards/358164/akil.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3592598/

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/

https://www.sfn.org/About/Mission-and-Strategic-Plan

Terrie Williams

Terrie_Williams_Seal

“My philosophy is to trust the Great River that is in your heart. I like to think of our life’s journey as a river that we travel. We begin as a trickle and get progressively larger as we grow. Along the way we encounter difficult times that are rapids to navigate, as well as easy times when we can simply slip along happily. Every once in a while there are big boulders that are like the professor who said I could not be a scientist. These boulders try to steer us off course. It is best to ignore them and go around. Sometimes we get caught in eddies, but recognize that eventually you can swim out if you try. Rather than spending your days trying to fight the current in the wrong direction, trust that your instincts and your internal river will deliver you to where you need to go, allowing you to be the person you are destined to be. Learn to GLIDE and be willing to live the adventure—dolphins do and they are always smiling.”

As I was growing up, two of my favorite past times were watching Animal Planet religiously and taking care of pet birds and rabbits at home. Because of this, I thought I would become a veterinarian when I “grew up” (spoiler: I didn’t). However, once I learned more about Dr. Terrie Williams’ work, this “little kid” in me lit up. Dr. Terrie Williams work focuses on large marine and terrestrial mammals. Her macroscale research on animals like seals, dolphins, cheetahs, and whales is a nice contrast to research endeavors that mostly focus on mice, monkeys, and flies that are much more common today in the research world.

Like a few of the scientists mentioned on this blog in previous weeks, Dr. Williams grew up in New Jersey. She notes that even as a young girl she had always loved mammals. What provoked this love further was when she saw pictures of cheetahs in a special issue of Time magazine covering big cats.

Dr. William’s background was originally in medicine at Rutgers University, where she earned both her M.S. and PhD. She switched to comparative exercise physiology from human physiology when she realized that animals were capable of “extraordinary feats of athleticism and disease resistance” compared to humans.

Dr. Williams cleaning a sea otter during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Dr. Williams cleaning a sea otter during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

A common theme in Dr. Williams’ research is getting to the heart of “how do animals survive?” Her “big picture” question is asking how do large animals—marine and terrestrial—survive in a world with increased pollution, habitat destruction, rates of disease, and competition with humans. In her life, she studied why steller sea lions are disappearing in Alaska, determined how dolphins and seals are hurt by man-made sounds, studied diseases in cheetahs when she traveled to Africa, and saved hundreds of sea otters during the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Her main areas of research are studying thermoregulation during exercise, plasticity of mammalian skeletal muscle, and swimming energetics. She believes that researching the limitations of animals allows us to understand their limitations in the face of global warming.

Her most cited paper: “Sink or swim: Strategies for cost-efficient diving by marine mammals” has 272 citations and is published in Science, which is certainly a very prestigious accomplishment in the science research world. In this study, she observed swimming behavior in Weddell seals, elephant seals, bottlenose dolphins, and blue whales. She did so because she was curious as to how these animals are able to spend such a long time underwater—sometimes a whole hour or more—without rising to the surface for air. In order to accomplish this, Dr. Williams and a team of scientists placed submersible cameras that faced backwards or forwards on the aforementioned marine mammals. They did this in order to reveal what behavioral strategy these animals use for energy efficiency. They discovered that every one of these marine mammals use the same “gliding” technique in order to conserve energy.

Photo of a Weddell seal with a submersible camera that was used in Williams' Science paper.

Photo of a Weddell seal with a submersible camera that was used in Williams’ Science paper.

A lot of the public though, especially in politics, sees research as a “waste of taxpayer’s dollars” and tends to misrepresent the research that they are speaking out against. This unfortunate reality interferes with funding for the scientists who are in fact contributing a lot to our communities. Williams wrote an Op-Ed column in the LA Times to discuss this issue that happened to her personally. In this article, Williams speaks about how a senator’s misrepresentation of her research “has the potential to affect wildlife conservation for years to come.” He “judged without reading the study” and “condemned without contacting us.” This speaks to a wider issue of the importance of science literacy in the general population so that situations like the one Dr. Williams faced do not continue as a common theme in research.

Hopefully, more of our society will recognize the importance of studying animals. The presence of large animals on this Earth may inspire the next generation of children to become interested in science. I know for a fact that learning about animals was the start of my long-term love for science and fueled my desire to pursue a career in it. At the end of the day, the more we learn about animals, the more we learn about ourselves and the beautiful biodiversity that our Earth has to offer.

Terrie_Williams_Dolphin

Below you can watch an inspiring video discussing some of the work that Dr. Williams has done. In this video, we learn about Williams’ role in studying how exercise and diving affect the heart in dolphins, and the causes of declining rates of sea otters in the Bay Area and monk seals in Hawaii. Happy Wednesday!

Article written by: Alexandra McHale

Sources:

http://archive.sciencewatch.com/inter/aut/2009/09-aug/09augWill/

http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu/faculty/singleton.php?&singleton=true&cruz_id=tmwillia

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-williams-wildlife-coburn-wastebook-20141107-story.html

http://www.icfw.org/Williams%20Adams1.qxd.pdf

http://www.talkinganimals.net/2012/08/terrie-m-williams/

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/12917/title/Sink-or-Swim—–or-Glide/

Susan Solomon (1956- )

Solomon

“We have a beautiful planet, and I feel very privileged to have the chance to work as a public servant in helping the public understand that planet.”

~Susan Solomon

Every year on April 22nd since 1970, the world has celebrated Earth Day to honor our one and only home on the outer edge of the Milky Way Galaxy. This day marks a shift in spreading public awareness to take necessary actions in protecting our environment. Rachel Carson’s powerful novel “Silent Spring” contained content that certainly prompted our need to recognize how our actions and byproducts are (mis)shaping our global landscape. Yet, we still need scientists and communicators today to discover and spread more evidence showing why environmental protection should be a priority.

Susan Solomon—an atmospheric chemist—is playing a part in finding the answers we need for this journey. Born in Chicago, Dr. Solomon has had a lifelong interest in science that began with watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Who could blame her for loving this beautifully done documentary revealing the wonder beneath our waters? Her interest in learning about the atmosphere then became apparent when she won 3rd place in a high school science competition for her project that measured the percentage of oxygen in a gas mixture.

Solomon_Books

Dr. Solomon’s Books

Dr. Solomon moved on to her undergraduate career at Illinois Institute of Technology and then to University of California, Berkeley to gain her PhD. Dr. Solomon is currently an Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT and has numerous publications on her research in climate science. From this point, she continues her role as an international leader in atmospheric science. Dr. Solomon has authored 2 books: The Coldest March: Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition and Aeronomy of the Middle Atmosphere: Chemistry and Physics of the Stratosphere and Mesosphere. 

She made discoveries regarding the Arctic and Antarctic ozone chemistry, and her claim to fame is in explaining the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole. Both her theoretical and field research has shown us that the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole is due to man-made chlorine compounds that react with ozone to form chlorine dioxide.

Here is Dr. Solomon hanging out with some penguins in the Antarctic.

Here is Dr. Solomon hanging out with some penguins in the Antarctic.

For a bit a background information, ozone is composed of 3 oxygen molecules bonded together, but this type of bond is not a very stable one. Although not the most stable compound, ozone does a great job of filtering out harmful UV rays from the sun. But, when humans release byproducts that contain chlorine into the air, chlorine then bumps off one of the oxygen molecules because chlorine forms a much stronger bond to 2 oxygen molecules than 3 oxygen molecules do to one another. Now, thanks to our chemical waste, we are depleting the ozone in the sky because ozone has now been converted into chlorine dioxide—a compound that does not filter out UV rays.

Dr. Solomon believes that scientists should interact with politicians as much as they can to prevent the spread of misinformation. She also states that once we all reach a common understanding, we can then bring scientific issues into discussion with everyone. She believes the best way to move forward is to monitor how we engineer and innovate by finding ways to recapture carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and return it back into the ground. Her work deals with things that transcend any one country or society, and as a result we can learn about the world as a whole.

What Earth Day stands for is a step in the right direction to lessen our negative impact on the environment. Dr. Solomon’s work exemplifies the perpetuation of this important tradition that will hopefully make our world a better cared-for place for future generations.

Earth_Day

Below you can watch some videos of Dr. Solomon and a link to a paper she has published in the National Academy of Sciences:

Dr. Solomon’s paper: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/17/6220.long

Big ideas for Busy people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmq9qF6Ikbc

Interview with Dr. Solomon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsvoinOTVhE

Article written by: Alexandra McHale

Sources:

http://discovermagazine.com/2002/nov/feat50

http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/historymakers/solomon/welcome.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Solomon

http://globalchange.mit.edu/news-events/news/news_id/202#.VTW-mmTF_88

http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/public-and-environmental-health/environmental-chemistry/molina-and-solomon.aspx

http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement

Ruby Hirose (1904-1960)

Ruby

Although it is a part of history we do not like to admit, the United States did—and still does—have internment camps to isolate individuals that the government deems “suspect.” Native Americans were sent to live on reservations so colonists could access more desireable land. In more recent events, detainment camps were established at Guantanamo Bay to interrogate and Japanese Internmenttorture those suspected of terrorism. One instance that tends to go under the radar in history class and current news is the Japanese internment camps that appeared on the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dr. Ruby Hirose, a researcher in the Midwest for William S. Merrell Laboratories during World War II, luckily escaped this fate by simply not living on a coast. As such, Dr. Hirose did not leave Ohio and was able to conduct her research without the constraints of living in an internment camp. Unfortunately, her siblings and father were not as lucky as her because they were Japanese-American residents of Washington State.

Article about Hirose’s research in The Chicago Tribune

Article about Hirose’s research in The Chicago Tribune

A graduate from University of Cincinnati, Dr. Ruby Hirose was a Japanese-American biochemist and bacteriologist who conducted vaccine research in infantile paralysis. A sufferer herself, Hirose also conducted research in hay fever—which is basically another way of saying “pollen allergies”. She researched a way to improve pollen extracts to desensitize hay fever sufferers.

In addition to her valuable research on the polio vaccine and on hay fever, she also published a paper titled “A Pharaceutical Study of Hydrastis Canadensis” which can be found in full here. In this paper, she chronicles the history of a native North American plant called Hydrastis Canadensis, also known as Goldenseal, and the history of its use. She chronicles how Native Americans first used this plant for dyes and as a way to treat sores and how Lewis and Clark documented this plant during their journey to the west coast. She also tried to find the best conditions in which Hydrastis would grow.

Hydrastis Canadensis

Hydrastis Canadensis

This research is oddly symbolic of her experience during World War II. She was an American born-and-raised just like Hydrastis Canadensis. She found her “best condition for growth” in research in Ohio as this was a place that allowed her to utilize and embrace her gift as a researcher.

Hirose’s talent and work flourished and ultimately made her one of the 10 women who was recognized by the American Chemical Society for her accomplishments in chemistry in 1940. She gave back to America even though fear mongering during wartime did hold back many of her relatives.

She was buried in the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery in Washington state—the very state that sent her family away to an internment camp during the war. In the end, the research she conducted to improve the quality of life for others will live beyond the confines of wartime limitations. Her efforts will continue to inspire others to discover their passion for science.

Article written by: Alexandra McHale

Sources:

http://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_297429

http://www.doublexscience.org/notable-scientists-overlooked/

http://www.themarysue.com/women-in-science-gallery/

http://images.sciencesource.com/preview/14700646/BW3366.html

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jps.3080190409/abstract