I fished a small treefrog out of my car today. The little guy wanted to stay and come help me do research. Kept jumping on my shirt and hands. He did make it to the ground after much protest. My depiction of the event is below.
Today’s Strong Female is Dr. Maria Goeppert-Mayer (b. 28 June 1906 – d. 20 Feb 1972):
Why is she strong?
Like many of the historical women presented on this site, she had to fight against a lot of societal and institutional sexism. She also developed the Nuclear Shell Model of electrons around atoms, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Physics (split with Hans D. Jensen and Hans Suess.) She even has a unit named after her, (the Goeppert Mayer unit GM,) which is a measurement of the two-photon absorption cross-section.
While she did defend herself and earned all credentials headed her way, she also was not afraid to work with other scientists and share credit and ideas when necessary. Cooperative science at this level is a rare thing to hear about.
As a personal note, it is interesting to see a historical example of the two-body problem which affects highly intelligent married academics everywhere. That is, how do you get both of you employed in the same city? There’s a story there that I did not research before making this post.
Keep it civil, people.
Why is she strong?
Though she dealt with significant hearing loss, she was able to not only invent a star classification system but also to classify more stars than anyone before or since. She worked with several other ladies under Edward C. Pickering at Harvard University. That type of collaborative, supportive effort and environment is very rare in science and hugely understated. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series has an entire segment dedicated to Cecilia Payne, with whom Cannon collaborated.
Keep it civil, people.
Why is she strong?
She prevented the morning sickness drug thalidomide from coming over to the United States, despite industry pressure. At the time, the FDA had only a few scientists and doctors working on testing drugs. She did what any good doctor or good scientist should do: in the case where you see that a given company or entity is not being entirely honest with you about its product, you prevent that product from being sold, approved, or distributed. You ask questions, like, say, “There is this neurological defect associated with this drug. What is wrong with you that you want to sell it here?”  Once word got out that there were massive cases of neurological defects associated with the drug, as the study showed, she was proved right. She was proven so correct that the FDA set up a system by which rigorous drug regulation standards were adopted and enforced. Each and every drug which goes to market in the United States must pass these tests. For her efforts, she received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service from President John F. Kennedy.
Keep it civil people.
There are 20 Strong Females here now. 20! Can you believe it? Got one for me? Leave a comment.
 The alert student will notice that there are two links here today. One is my regular Wikipedia link. The other comes from the Facebook page of A Mighty Girl, a fine resource for looking up strong female characters in fiction, history, science, acting, military, and other areas. Go give them some love.
 Please do not be flippant when calling out a person on their stuff. I can get away with it here, being a casual blog. It is more effective to use cited sources to back up your statements in such an argument.
Today’s Strong Female is as much a character as she is an idea: Ms. Goldie of GoldieBlox. Why is she strong?
She develops devices and makes race cars and zootropes, it is true. However, her true strength comes in the fact that she is shown making mistakes, failing, and trying again. She is there to inspire and to show that you can be girly as all get out while still working with tools and pursuing science.
(The fact that she is shown cooperating with others on projects as well as putting in the hard time thinking on her own is a very nice touch for someone with history in the sciences who, more often than not, has worked solo.)
 This is a character developed very recently by GoldieBlox, Inc. I in no way own this character, I just drew her because I am a fan. Go chuck money at them. Please do not sue me.
Today’s Strong Female is Marie Curie (b. 7 Nov 1867, d. 4 July 1934).
Why is she strong?
She discovered several new elements, including polonium and radium . She won two, count them, two Nobel Prizes for her work. She also served as a field radiologist during World War I. She did all this in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when it was difficult for a woman to be taken seriously in the scientific and medical fields.
Sidenote: I am certainly not the first to draw Marie Curie and post her picture online. Check out Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” comic and store for an excellent drawing of Marie with her husband Pierre and wonderful tshirts.
Keep it civil people.
 Unfortunately, at the time she was working with radioactive materials, none knew of the deleterious effects radiation could have on the body. She and her husband both suffered the effects of radiation poisoning.
Apologies for the missing post last week. I was busy nobly fighting a drying machine to repair it only to have the capacitors go on me.
If your childhood was anything like mine, at one point you visited a planetarium. This was likely in an older building as part of a college campus or museum made of brick or concrete with a sturdy, beautiful dome rising above it and a wonderfully machined projector in the center. However, portable planetarium domes have been developed:
This thing, developed by Go-Dome, is a small inflatable dome, probably close to 5 meters in diameter. I imagine that the tech is similar to stadium covers only on a much smaller scale. This thing combined with a portable projector allows a planetarium to go to several places it could not normally do so.
Does this mean that the traditional, stationary planetarium should be discarded? No, it just means that now there are options on how to view the night sky if said night sky is unavailable. The weather does not always cooperate and the ability to see can be reduced by lights from the ground.
If you are in an area where you can see the night sky clearly, however, nothing beats that. It is very pretty.
Science is highly concerned with data. You can collect it by studying the amount of light from a binary star system over time, by looking at the changing thickness of a polymer thin film over time, by seeing how many times a piece of paper can be folded before it cannot be folded anymore. Whatever an experiment is, there will be data collected from it
And yet, there, in the midst of your data, there is a human .
“But wait!” you say. “Stars are really far away and have in no way been touched by humans. This data was collected by a computer. In the case of computer simulations, it was GENERATED by a computer. How can you possibly be saying that there is a human in my data?”
I can say that because a human built that computer and wrote that simulation. I can say that because a human built your telescope. I can say that because several humans wrote your textbooks or academic journal papers. I can say that because there is a human writing down the numbers or observations. Humans are there, however distantly, along every step of your experimental design, execution, and analysis.
Because a human is involved along every piece of data collected, there must be an allowance for human error and bias . This is the most basic source of error bars in graphs. Because we are human and make mistakes, we must reflect that source of error in our data.
Those of you who do their best to be objective, accurate, and precise in science will find this stubborn and ineradicable source of error frustrating. Have some compassion for yourself and do the work to the best of your ability. Humans are your primary audience, so you’re in good company.
 For simplicity, assume that the experiments I speak of do not involve clinical trials in humans. There are several splendid double-blind controlled trials out there, but those contain humans automatically. People are not particles.
 Sometimes the error is along the lines of, “Derp, I accidentally hit the table where my experiment is running.” Sometimes the error is in the way the telescope interprets light coming into it. Sometimes it is the way a computer program is written. Sometimes the person looking at the data does not want to see it LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
I have a strong background in science, (Master’s in Physics from Emory University if you’re curious,) not to mention countless hours reading and watching scientific books and tv/online programs. This means that I have been trained to spot weaknesses in arguments, to critically think about evidence presented, and to present and research new ideas.
However, science in no way trains me for how to deal in a non-blunt, non-formal way when presented with ideas in conflict with established science. Suppose you come across someone claiming that a given product is chemical-free . I can go about an argument, (which, in short, would say that yes your product does contain chemical compounds,) in a way which presents the most solid evidence in the most direct fashion, but it can come across as a bit harsh. What good does being right do if the person feels threatened by your method of delivery, or does not understand your terminology , or simply does not want to listen?
By no means am I advocating not educating people or not correcting errors. However, you may have to present your information taking into account your audience. This could mean not referencing x paper or y study, but rather using more colloquial terms and less formal language. The person disagreeing with you likely is not attacking your credibility as a scientist. Use some compassion to figure out the best way to get your ideas across without offending your audience. It may take some time for their established ideas to change. People are not particles.
As for those who are not ready to listen or not ready to learn, there is nothing that can be done until one or both of those conditions change.
For an article which tackles the same topic in a more thoughtful way than my own, please visit the October 2, 2013 post of the fine blog “It’s the Rheo Thing.”
 This appears to be a common bit of advertising for more eco-friendly products. I believe that the intent is that the product which they are trying to sell you is going to not contain, say, strong solvents or chlorine-based compounds. This will very likely be true, depending on the product.
 I am not implying the audience is incompetent, just that they may not be familiar with scientific terms which you use everyday.
[Errata] In this article, I am talking about engaging someone in scientific argument who is not on your thesis committee or at a scientific conference or a peer within the scientific community. In such cases mentioning x paper and y study is highly recommended to back up your arguments. It is advisable to still not be a jerk though.
When one is trained in the sciences, one is given weapons with which to fight ignorance, ala Phantom Tollbooth. One is trained to tease out relevant information from a sea of evidence, spot nonsense a mile away, vigorously defend ideas, and, with much labor, increase the knowledge available today. Through regular sparring with peers one is trained in the art of scientific debate. This sparring discards some ideas and makes others better. The scientific method works.
However, one is also trained to be acutely aware that one’s ideas cannot stand impregnable through all time and space. Ideas in science do change when new evidence, carefully reviewed, upsets an existing theory. For example, Pluto was considered a full-sized planet up until the past decade. Dinosaurs went from cold-blooded, sluggish lizards to warm-blooded things that increasingly look like muppets. None of this affects most people very much in their day-to-day lives…
…unless you are one of the people who has spent time and energy upon one of the ideas being disproven. That person is very unlikely to accept the new idea without putting up a vigorous defense and will fight tooth and nail to defend their idea. In the case where the new idea is not nonsense, where over time and debate this new idea has found footing and has been tested and proven, than the person with the idea being disproved will feel pressure to change.
This change is hard. In a cold world of spherical particles with uniform density, such changes would happen overnight without anguish and without regret. But every piece of scientific evidence and analysis we do comes through a human at some point, and humans have emotions and politics and biases and goodness knows so much else. Have some mercy on yourself in that the acceptance of new ideas will not likely happen over a short period of time. You’ll need some time to catch up to new ideas and digest them. It is fantastic in itself that you are remembering that science is bigger than just you and that you are willing to change. It is much better than being known as a stubborn person who does not change and does not listen.