Been To The East

May 22nd, 2008

Recent events have had my head spinning, so when the opportunity came up (thank goodness for conferences in stunning locations) to visit Florida’s sunny Gulf coast I jumped at the chance. My favorite things about Captiva Island were the beaches and the birds. Osprey were nesting everywhere I looked. What a treasure trove of bird activity!

I mentioned on Twitter that I took a few pictures of said birds and beaches. Enjoy:

Pixie Dust?

May 20th, 2008

From the BBC.

I don’t think it’s pixie dust persay, but it is something special. It will be an amazing day when we discover the secrets of tissue regeneration.

And, some basic info from HowStuffWorks.

Thanks for the story, Ted!

Amazing Female Scientist

May 15th, 2008

I just read a profile of an amazing female scientist, named Susan Greenfield. She’s a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, and the director of the Royal Institution in London. She, being a woman and having reached such a place of distinction within academia, is a rarity in science.

According to statistics from the Association for Women in Science, in 2001 women made up 20.6 percent of those people employed in tenured academic positions for more than 10 years. Career longevity for women in the sciences appears to be something that’s lacking.

A more recent report suggests that the reason for the attrition rate (52% of women in sciences leave with the greatest rate being approximately 10 years into the career path, which coincides with the average woman’s thirties) may be due in part to hostile work environments that fail to take the female role as mother into account.

A brief look at Susan Greenfield’s life suggests that she continues to contend with the male dominated scientific environment, and may have made some compromises to her personal life in order to be so successful.

“It’s unfair. I publish three or four papers a year in peer-reviewed journals,” she says. She fits it all in by “not doing what other people do: gardening, watching television, sleeping in late. I wake up between four and five. If it’s a London day, I get the 6.30 train from central Oxford, where I live. I’ll have a working breakfast here with my second in command, then a day of meetings or interviews. In the evening, I may chair an event or go to a reception.”

On Oxford days she wears T-shirt and jeans, but is still in the lab by 7.30am, planning experiments, applying for grants, analysing and writing papers. She plays squash three times a week. With a trainer. “He pushes me to improve my skills.” At weekends? “I write, read, prepare talks.”

Her marriage to Oxford professor of physical chemistry Peter Atkins ended in 2005. Is all this activity a way to escape loneliness? “You can be lonely when you’re with someone,” she says quickly, “as much as when you’re by yourself.”

It is somewhat of a chicken and egg question, however. Is it only driven personalities, male or female, who are able to succeed so outstandingly? Or, is it the environment that engenders the sink-or-swim behaviors; people learning, and thus believing that if they do not work 16 hour days they’ll never get anywhere, and only those who do so being rewarded. It puts most women in a position of having to choose between family and career.

Usually, family will win.

Yet, I’m among a growing number of women who have put off starting a family in order to pursue my career. Is this a wise choice? I will certainly find out sometime down the road. It’s certainly both a blessing and a hazard to be a woman in this century.

Making Things…

May 14th, 2008

A few weekends ago I went to the Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but having been to Burning Man several times I think I was hoping for more fire. Lots more fire. What I did see was surprising and entertaining, but alas I left before dark and missed the fire. There were robots, bartending robots, battlebots, rockets, diy projects galore, a camera obscura tent, steam punk beauty, power tool races, and much, much more.

I went to the faire with a few friends (Colin, Kepi, and Marshall), and ran into many friends while there. It seemed like everyone I know had either brought something to the faire, or was there to see what everyone else had brought. And, I think everyone else who attended had the same idea. The place was packed. The parking lot was full by noon. It seems that the Maker Faire has hit upon a very successful model.

Interestingly, Marshall and I were talking recently about how there aren’t many festivals in the US that really make science fun and engaging to the public. Sure, there’s the occasional festival for smart kids in which they compete in various contests of engineering, science, or intelligence. But, what about festivals that just make doing things based in science fun for everyone? From what I saw, the Maker Faire does just that, bringing together scientists, engineers, artists, actors, and diy-ers from all walks of life.

My favorite moment had to be when a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 9 years old told me about the potential for carbon nanotubes in creating cable for a space elevator (all this while playing with the robot she had built and brought to the faire with her dad). Her dad informed me that she had recently completed a report on nanotubes for school. What school does she go to?!? Or, is just a matter of parental guidance? Either way, that young girl has a brilliant future ahead.

All around, I had a great time. Check out some of my pics from the day: