Our second volume of playing cards, Women in Science and Math, features women from many different scientific disciplines. We wanted to broaden the number of fields in the deck so girls can learn about all the amazing things that scientists pursue. As much as I love Physics, the other sciences and math are cool too!
As I researched women for this deck, I discovered that every person I chose has had a complex and interesting life. Many struggled to get an education. Most are trailblazers. Few can be summed up in a sentence or two. So unlike Volume 1, which lists each woman’s main accomplishments, I decided on a minimalist approach. Each card lists the person’s name, highest degree achieved, school, and the date of the degree. I want you to find out why the woman is in the deck, what her accomplishments are, and what challenges she faced. After you learn her story, tell it to someone else. Inspire others to pursue science!
As you research, you’ll learn about an M.D. astronaut who served in the Peace Corps, is an accomplished dancer, and an author. You’ll find out which woman pursued flavor chemistry with the goal of removing the “tired taste” from chicken. You’ll learn about a woman who provides health and wellness education for African-Americans, championed sickle-cell anemia screening for infants, and produced a documentary film. You’ll meet the “Termite Lady” who co-discovered the Florida damp wood termite. You’ll find out who terrified her family by collecting snakes as a child and now studies dragonflies and damselflies.
If you like duck, you’ll be grateful to learn about the woman who isolated the bacteria responsible for killing commercially raised Long Island duck. You’ll become acquainted with the woman who started her education in a one-room schoolhouse, pursued thermochemistry, and ended up as the Chairman of the Board of General Mills Foundation. You may notice that one woman in the deck has two masters degrees listed. She died while pursing her doctorate. Find out what caused her death. Then there is the woman who has only a Bachelors degree. How did she end up in the deck? What is her claim to scientific fame?
I invite you to pick a card, any card, from Volume 2. Learn the story of that woman and share it with others. Get Volume 2 for a girl you know and encourage her to learn about each of the scientists and mathematicians in the deck.
When I started researching women for these cards, I immediately thought of Lisa Randall and Janna Levin. They each wrote books that I read--Warped Passaged: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions and How the Universe Got Its Spots. Next I thought of Carolyn Shoemaker of Comet Shoemaker-Levy fame. Then Jill Tarter, former Director of the SETI Institute and Carolyn Porco, who leads the imaging science team for Saturn. Five women. Could I find enough women to make a deck of cards?
I found so many stellar women in the physical sciences that I could make many decks of cards. The problem became one of narrowing the possibilities to just 54. I learned so much during my research. The cards highlight only a few of each woman’s accomplishments. But each has a much richer story.
Hypatia, a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher was way ahead of her time, but died at the hand of a murderer in the year 415. Caroline Herschel, the first women to discover a comet, fell into astronomy as a profession. She had an illness as a child that stunted her growth and impaired her vision in one eye. Her family assumed no one would want to marry her, so Caroline ended up living in her brother’s household. When he took an interest in astronomy, she did took an interest as well. They worked together, and she became an astronomer of her own right. She was the first woman in England to be paid for her work in astronomy. That was in 1787. In contrast, Priscilla Fairfield Bok, astronomer and co-author of one of the most successful popular science books--The Milky Way—was not paid for her work at Harvard. The Director of Harvard who hired Priscilla’s husband as professor, stipulated that Priscilla could do her research and writing at Harvard College Observatory only without pay. That was in the 20th century.
Many women died too early, like Judith Young, who started the Sunwheel project. Sunwheels—like Stonehenge—keep people in touch with the cycles of the moon and the sun. Judith, a professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, built one there. But her long-term vision was to see sunwheels built in all the national parks. Working with the public was just one of her passions. She managed to publish more than 130 papers and receive the Goeppert-Mayer Award for being the best young physicist in the world. Her mother, Vera Rubin was also an astronomer. Vera's specialty was dark matter. Some people think Vera deserved a Nobel prize. Vera, like many other women in the physical sciences, did not get the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. .
I encourage you to pick a card, any card, and do your own research. Learn that woman’s story, and I’m sure you’ll be as inspired as I am.