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Lost Women of Science

Author: Lost Women of Science

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For every Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin whose story has been told, hundreds of female scientists remain unknown to the public at large. In this series, we illuminate the lives and work of a diverse array of groundbreaking scientists who, because of time, place and gender, have gone largely unrecognized. Each season we focus on a different scientist, putting her narrative into context, explaining not just the science but also the social and historical conditions in which she lived and worked. We also bring these stories to the present, painting a full picture of how her work endures.
26 Episodes
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In 1909, the Mayor of Tokyo sent a gift of 2,000 prized cherry trees to Washington, D.C. But the iconic blossoms enjoyed each spring along the Tidal Basin are not from those trees. That’s because Flora Patterson, who was the Mycologist in Charge at the USDA, recognized the original saplings were infected, and the shipment was burned on the National Mall. In this episode, assistant producer Hilda Gitchell explores Flora’s lasting impact on the field of mycology, starting with a blight that killed off the American chestnut trees, and how she helped make the USDA’s National Fungus Collection the largest in the world.
Scientist Leona Zacharias was a rare woman. She graduated from Barnard College in 1927 with a degree in biology, followed by a Ph.D. from Columbia University. But throughout her career she labored behind men with loftier titles who got the bulk of the credit. In the 1940s, when premature newborns were going blind after being born with perfectly healthy eyes, Dr. Zacharias was part of the team that worked to root out the cause. In this inaugural episode of Lost Women of Science Shorts, host Katie Hafner visits the archives at M.I.T. and The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston to try to understand Dr. Zacharias’s role in rooting out the cause.For host Katie Hafner, it's personal: Leona Zacharias was her grandmother.
Each season of Lost Women of Science tells the story of one remarkable female scientist, but hundreds more remain overlooked. That’s why we’re introducing Shorts—each 30-minute episode tells the remarkable story of a scientific breakthrough and the woman who played a crucial role in it. Join us as we launch Shorts on January 12th.
We’re hard at work producing the next season of Lost Women of Science, but we wanted to bring you this special guest episode from Portraits, a podcast from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was a towering figure in science whose parity experiment shattered our understanding of the physical world. She enjoyed rockstar status in China, met the pope, inspired an opera and even became a “Jeopardy!” question. But to Jada Yuan, she was grandma. See the portraits discussed in the episode: Dr. Wu in the lab Tsung-Dao Lee, Nobel Laureate Chen-Ning Yang, Nobel Laureate Dr. Wu on the forever stamp Also, check out Jada Yuan’s article about her grandmother here!
There's a test that we at Lost Women of Science seem to fail again and again: the Finkbeiner Test. Named for the science writer, Ann Finkbeiner, the Finkbeiner Test is a checklist for writing profiles of female scientists without being sexist. It includes rules like not mentioning her husband’s job, or her childcare arrangements, or how she was the “first woman to…”—all rules we break regularly on this show. In this episode, Katie Hafner talks to Christie Aschwanden, the science writer who created the test, and Ann Finkbeiner, who inspired it, to find out how they came up with these rules, and to see if there might be hope yet for our series. She reports her findings to Carol Sutton Lewis, who has a whole other set of rules for telling these stories.
This week, we’re bringing you an episode from another podcast hosted and produced by Katie Hafner, Our Mothers Ourselves. It’s a show that celebrates extraordinary mothers through conversations with their children. In this episode, Katie speaks with Yvonne Young Clark’s daughter, Carol Lawson. We hope you enjoy this episode of Our Mothers Ourselves, “The ‘Relentlessly Positive’ Yvonne Young Clark: An Interview with Y.Y.'s Daughter, Carol Lawson.”
YY taught at Tennessee State University, a historically Black university, for 55 years. In this episode, we hear from YY’s colleagues, students and family members about who she was as an educator and how she’s remembered. We’ll also explore where HBCUs stand today – particularly, why they graduate so many successful Black scientists compared to other institutions, and their place in the future of science. Plus, a reimagining of YY’s accomplishments: what did it mean to be the first? Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/this-black-female-engineer-broke-through-the-double-bind-of-racism-and-sexism-and-directly-nurtured-a-legion-of-stem-leaders/
What is mechanical engineering? What was YY actually doing? This episode is about the work itself – specifically, the work Yvonne Young Clark did at NASA on the Saturn V rocket, and in designing the “moon rock box” for transporting lunar samples back to Earth. And we take a deep dive into the history of the American space program, the mechanics of a rocket, and how YY brought her troubleshooter’s mind to a problem that was plaguing some of the country’s top scientists. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nasas-saturn-v-rocket-the-moon-rock-box-and-the-woman-who-made-them-work-properly/
When YY started college at Howard University as a mechanical engineering student, there were three things she swore she’d never do: marry a tall man, become a teacher, and work for the government. But love and life had other plans, and YY soon discovered the difficulty of entering private industry as one of the few Black women in her field. After success at RCA-Victor and Frankford Arsenal, YY moved back to the South, where Brown v. Board of Education had recently integrated public schools, prompting a violent backlash. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/for-the-first-lady-of-engineering-freedom-meant-facing-down-racism-and-sexism-and-breaking-her-own-rules/
With a librarian mother and a physician father, YY was brought up in a supportive, educated, and prosperous Black enclave of Louisville, Kentucky. Her parents nurtured her knack for engineering. She got her start as a young child when she repaired the family toaster. An early introduction to a Black pilot group inspired her to fly planes, and she applied to the University of Louisville, where she hoped to study engineering and eventually aeronautics—until she learned her race disqualified her. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-first-lady-of-engineering-lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-3-episode-1/
Yvonne Y. Clark, known as YY throughout her career, has also been nicknamed “The First Lady of Engineering,” because of her groundbreaking achievements as a Black female mechanical engineer. Season 3 of Lost Women of Science traces her trajectory, from her unconventional childhood interest in fixing appliances to civil rights breakthroughs in the segregated South; from her trailblazing role at historically Black colleges and universities to her work at NASA. What can YY teach us about what it means to be the first in a scientific field, especially as a Black woman in America?
Carol Sutton Lewis, host of the podcast Ground Control Parenting, has long been interested in Black history. This season, she’s joining Lost Women of Science as a cohost to help tell the story of the mechanical engineer, Yvonne Young Clark. Known as Professor Clark to her students and YY to her engineering colleagues, YY’s career spanned academia and industry. She was a dedicated STEM educator and a champion of historically Black colleges and universities. Alongside cohost Katie Hafner, Carol will trace YY’s life and work through fascinating chapters of Black history, from the promises of Reconstruction to integration efforts at NASA.
BONUS: The Weather Myth

BONUS: The Weather Myth

2022-06-0227:0117

We saw the story over and over again: computer programmer Klára Dán von Neumann was a pioneer in weather forecasting. But when we talked to Thomas Haigh, a historian who studies Klári’s work, he said he’s found absolutely no evidence of this. How did this weather myth start? We set out to answer that question, and in the process, we asked this: Why is it so tempting to credit the wrong person, even when that false credit is given with the best of intentions? Note: we’d like to acknowledge the operators of the ENIAC who ran the 1950 weather simulation, Homé McAllister and Clyde Hauff. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-weather-myth-lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-2-bonus-episode/
E5: La Jolla

E5: La Jolla

2022-04-2831:311

After Johnny’s death, Klári becomes the keeper of his legacy. It’s an exhausting, full-time commitment that takes her out of the computing world for good. She marries her fourth husband, a physicist, and moves to a Southern California beach town. She resolves to settle down, and starts writing a memoir. We discuss her legacy in computing and beyond, and the current state of gender and programming. Note: this episode includes content that could be upsetting. We’ll be talking about depression and self-harm. Access a transcript of the episode here.
E4: Netherworld

E4: Netherworld

2022-04-2140:582

After World War II, tensions build between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Scientists at Los Alamos continue developing nuclear weapons, helped by the recently-reconfigured ENIAC. Using a statistical method called Monte Carlo, they optimize nuclear weapons through computer simulations. In these simulations, physics is neither purely experimental nor theoretical–it’s both, creating what historian Peter Galison calls a “netherland…at once nowhere and everywhere.” And Klári finds herself immersed in this sort of netherworld, turning nuclear physics into code. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-2-episode-4-netherworld/
When John von Neumann runs into fellow mathematician Herman Goldstine at a train station, Goldstine clues him into a new powerful computer called the ENIAC that is being constructed to help with the war effort, and Johnny immediately grasps the machine’s enormous potential. Though the computer is not completed in time to be useful in the second world war, it finds new purpose in the war’s aftermath. Soon, Klári von Neumann is enlisted to instruct the machine what to do, and in doing so, becomes one of the first coders. This episode takes a deep dive into the workings of the ENIAC and the origins of computing in the 1940s. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-2-episode-3-the-experimental-rabbit/
E2: Women Needed

E2: Women Needed

2022-04-0741:261

With John von Neumann absorbed in work, Klári struggles to find a niche in her new suburban home while dealing with devastating losses. A new chapter opens for Klári when the U.S. finally enters the war and women are called into the workforce. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-2-episode-two-women-needed/
E1: The Grasshopper

E1: The Grasshopper

2022-03-3139:025

To understand how Klára Dán von Neumann arrived at computer programming, we need to first understand where she came from. Born in Budapest to a wealthy Jewish family, Klári grew up surrounded by artists, playwrights, and intellectuals. Her first marriage, to an inveterate gambler, took her on a tour of Europe’s casinos, and in one of them, she had a chance encounter with the famous mathematician, John von Neumann. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lost-women-of-science-podcast-season-2-episode-one-the-grasshopper/
The first modern-style code executed on a computer was written in the 1940s by a woman named Klára Dán von Neumann–or Klári to her family and friends. And the historic program she wrote was used to optimize nuclear weapons. This season, we dive into this fascinating moment in postwar America through Klári’s work. We explore the evolution of early computers, the vital role women played in early programming, and the inescapable connection between computing and war.
The Resignation

The Resignation

2021-12-2328:111

In 1949, at the height of his career, Rustin McIntosh, the director of pediatrics at Columbia University’s Babies Hospital, submitted his letter of resignation. Dr. Scott Baird, who wrote a biography on Dorothy Andersen, takes us back to this pivotal moment, which occurred at the dawn of pediatric pathology in the United States. Through archival resources, Scott explores the institutional tensions that led to this abrupt resignation. At the eye of the storm is a character we’ve come to know well, perhaps the most important person working in pediatric pathology at the time: Dr. Dorothy Andersen. Access a transcript of the episode here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lost-women-of-science-podcast-bonus-episode-the-resignation/
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Comments (5)

Billy Weinheimer

I did not know that! “Since her death in 1979, the woman who discovered what the universe is made of has not so much as received a memorial plaque. Her newspaper obituaries do not mention her greatest discovery. […] Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.” — Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition Cecilia Payne gets, even today, for her revolutionary discovery. (via alliterate) OH WAIT LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT CECILIA PAYNE. Cecilia Payne’s mother refused to spend money on her college education, so she won a scholarship to Cambridge. Cecilia Payne completed her studies, but Cambridge wouldn’t give her a degree because she was a woman, so she said to heck with that and moved to the United States to work at Harvard. Cecilia Payne was the first person ever to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College, with what Otto Strauve called “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” Not only did Cecilia Payne discover what the universe is made of, she also discovered what the sun is made of (Henry Norris Russell, a fellow astronomer, is usually given credit for discovering that the sun’s composition is different from the Earth’s, but he came to his conclusions four years later than Payne—after telling her not to publish). Cecilia Payne is the reason we know basically anything about variable stars (stars whose brightness as seen from earth fluctuates). Literally every other study on variable stars is based on her work. Cecilia Payne was the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within Harvard, and is often credited with breaking the glass ceiling for women in the Harvard science department and in astronomy, as well as inspiring entire generations of women to take up science. Cecilia Payne is awesome and everyone should know her.

Jan 17th
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Fatemeh Dehqan

that was excellent 👌🏼😍

Sep 27th
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Sara Shahriari

this podcast is amazing 👏 😍 keep going 💪🏻

Jun 23rd
Reply (1)

rocetpally

m.h xxxx

Jun 9th
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