Tag Archives: scientist

From paleontology to radioactivity: 5 Amazing Women Scientists

Some of the greatest discoveries and contributions to humanity’s knowledge and understanding have been made by women scientists. These were revolutionary female role models with passions and smarts who would prove that it did not have to be a man’s world. And they would prove much more than that.

Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter

Mary Anning – Paleontologist

Mary Anning (1799-1847) is best known as an early paleontologist, and a female paleontologist to boot, making her a very unique character in her century. The Anning family lived on the southern shores of England. Mary’s father, Richard, was known to collect fossils from time to time. He died in 1810, leaving behind only the skills of fossil hunting to his poor family.

About 1811, young Mary Anning at age twelve, came upon the fossilized remains of a prehistoric sea-dwelling creature later called an ichthyosaur. This was the very first time anyone had reported finding such a specimen; it was the first recorded ichthyosaur to have been unearthed! A bit later on in her career, Mary was also accredited with discovering the first specimen of what is now known as Plesiosaurus, another long since extinct sea animal. Paleontology owes this young lady a debt of gratitude.

Sonia Bleeker: Field Researcher and Author

Sonia Bleeker and Herbert Zim

Sonia Bleeker (1909-1971), born in Russia, performed graduate anthropology work at Columbia University, the college her future spouse Herbert S. Zim attended. In 1934, the year following her graduation from Hunter College, the couple were married. Starting in 1931, Sonia was an editor for Simon and Schuster for fifteen years. This woman was an amazing anthropologist (a person who studies cultures and societies). Her particular fascination was the study of native tribes living in the Americas as well as Africa. Her first book was published in 1950, entitled Indians of the Longhouse. Most of her books required research in the field which meant she spent a good deal of time on continents including South America, Europe, and Africa.

Sonia’s husband, Herbert Zim, was a writer and consultant on almost all of the nonfiction informative books in the Golden Guide series. In 1967, Sonia Bleeker was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Beloit College in Wisconsin. She passed away just four years later. Sonia and Herbert were a couple truly made for each other. Both were talented scientists and writers, and they traveled together frequently. It is unfortunate that this woman is probably the least renowned of all of the women mentioned in this article.

Maria Agnesi: Faith-Filled Woman of Many Sciences

Maria Agnesi

The earliest female scientist to be discussed here, Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) was a bright (if not brilliant) child raised in a faithful Catholic family. By age five, the girl could speak clearly in both Italian and French, and she would go on to learn a handful of other languages. While still living at home, Maria served as an exemplar as well as a tutor for her younger siblings.

Apparently, at the age of nine, the girl gave a speech in Latin to some of her father’s visiting friends. It turned out to be a thesis arguing that women have the right to be educated, and she was right. In her day many women were able to be publicly involved in the fields of art, literature, and some of the sciences. Pietro, Maria’s father, had a collection of her essays published under the title Propositiones Philosophicae. The sciences that she touched upon in her papers included elasticity, gravitation, chemistry, botany, and zoology. Pope Benedict XIV made her a professor of mathematics, natural philosophy, and physics at Bologna University. Laura Maria Caterina Bassi was the first woman professor of a university, and Maria Agnesi had the honor of being the second.

Marie Curie: Scientist Who Studied Uranium and Paid for It

Marie Curie – Physicist

Born in Poland, Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867-1934) was a physicist along with her husband Pierre Curie. The pair of scientists worked closely together on numerous tests of various elements. They are responsible for discovering that a dark black and brown rock, the uranium ore pitchblende, gave off significantly more radioactivity than uranium in its pure form.

The Curies deduced pitchblende had to be made up of other substances as well, substances which were more radioactive than plain uranium. Following four years of work, in 1902 they had successfully isolated two entirely new elements: radium and polonium. The Curies did not know about many of the harmful effects of radioactivity. Pierre died in 1906. When Marie passed away almost three whole decades later, the cause of death was leukemia which had resulted from radiation exposure. Both Marie and her husband are remembered for their huge contributions to science, but they eventually paid the price of their fame.

Jane Goodall: Woman Among Apes

Dr. Jane Goodall

Perhaps the most famous primatologist (person who studies primates) and the most famous female scientist given in this list, Dr. Jane Goodall is last but not least of all of the scientists mentioned here. It is almost ironic that primatologist Goodall was born in 1934, the very same year that physicist Marie Curie died. Goodall is a living legend. For decades she has lived among apes, observing their behavior from a close perspective. Evidently, Goodall was inspired during her childhood by stories such as those of Tarzan and Doctor Dolittle. It is also interesting to note that the original 1949 film version of Mighty Joe Young (a tale about an ape which grows to extraordinary size and whose keeper is a kind-hearted young woman) was released when she was a teenager.

This also may have had some sort of influence. Interestingly enough, she never attended college for the scientific field in which she is now the expert. From her humble beginnings, she eventually achieved her dream of traveling to Africa and being able to study animals (especially chimps) in their natural environment. She found that primates were intelligent animals living in complex social clusters. Her findings finally saw the light of day in a film documentary produced by National Geographic in the 1960’s.

She does not like apes being depicted in fiction and pop culture. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute, and she serves as a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations. These five stunning examples of bold women scientists go to show that sex has nothing to do with the beauty of a mind. It also is certainly not a factor of what a person is capable of.

Scientists seen as competent, but not trusted by Americans

Americans trust the competency of scientists, but they don’t trust scientists themselves. In particular, the general population is weary of scientists manipulating results to obtain bigger grants or pushing forth hidden agendas.

Credit: Susan Fiske, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

“Scientists have earned the respect of Americans but not necessarily their trust,” said lead author Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and professor of public affairs. “But this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions.”

The results, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) show that being competent is not the same as being trustworthy – especially when it comes to science. Humans are hardwired to split other people into two categories – friend or foe.

The fact that scientists can’t get their ideas across is a big problem, due to a simple misconception: that scientists are not warm.

“Science communicators arguably need to know about this possible type of response to them,” said Fiske. “From this view, scientists may seem not so warm. Their intent is not necessarily trusted and maybe even resented.”

This is likely one of the reasons why researchers consistently find it harder and harder to obtain grants. Interestingly enough, climate scientists are better trusted than moth scientists.

“People are not idiots. The public’s issue with science is not necessarily ignorance,” said Fiske. “So, the road to communicating climate science starts with some advantages. The public has some knowledge. Climate science communicators have effectively conveyed much evidence, which should encourage their continuing to educate and communicate. Just like other communication, science communication needs to continue to convey warmth and trustworthiness, along with competence and expertise.”

Teachers and nurses scored best in terms of warmth, while lawyers are believed to be competent but not trusted at all.

Journal Reference: Susan T. Fiske and Cydney Dupree. Gaining trust as well as respect in communicating to motivated audiences about science topics. September 15, 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1317505111

Lifeless prions are capable of evolution

prionsup35Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute have determined for the first time that prions, which are just bits of infectious protein without any DNA or RNA that can cause fatal degenerative diseases are capable of Darwinian evolution.

This study shows that prions do develop significant large numbers of mutations at a protein level as a response to external influences, and through natural selection, they can eventually lead to mutations such as drug resistance.

“On the face of it, you have exactly the same process of mutation and adaptive change in prions as you see in viruses,” said Charles Weissmann, M.D., Ph.D., the head of Scripps Florida’s Department of Infectology, who led the study. “This means that this pattern of Darwinian evolution appears to be universally active. In viruses, mutation is linked to changes in nucleic acid sequence that leads to resistance. Now, this adaptability has moved one level down — to prions and protein folding — and it’s clear that you do not need nucleic acid for the process of evolution.”

This also started another discussion, well actually restarted it, that of the quasi-species. First launched 30 years ago, this idea basically suggest a complex, self-perpetuating population of diverse and related entities that act as a whole.

“The proof of the quasi-species concept is a discovery we made over 30 years ago,” he said. “We found that an RNA virus population, which was thought to have only one sequence, was constantly creating mutations and eliminating the unfavorable ones. In these quasi-populations, much like we have now found in prions, you begin with a single particle, but it becomes very heterogeneous as it grows into a larger population.”

“It’s amusing that something we did 30 years has come back to us,” he said. “But we know that mutation and natural selection occur in living organisms and now we know that they also occur in a non-living organism. I suppose anything that can’t do that wouldn’t stand much of a chance of survival.”

Mammals, half way extinct??

The previous 5 mass extinctions wiped out more than three quarters of the world’s animals, and if things continue to move in the same way, the same thing will happen in North America, according to a University of California, Berkeley, and Pennsylvania State University analysis.

a151-mammals_poster

Numerous scientists have warned that the direction things are moving in is way more dangerous than believed by most authorities, and the combined effect of habitat destruction, global warming and environmental degrading will lead to a global catastrophe, yet fully accurate estimations were not done, due to the inability to compare species that live today with species that live in the past. However, the researchers from the above mentioned universities teamed up in order to overcome that obstacle, and using data from three catalogs of mammal diversity they were able to conclude the study.

“The optimistic part of the study is that we haven’t come all that far on extinction in the past 10,000 years,” said co-author Anthony Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “We have this pulse when humans had their first effect about 13,000 years ago, but diversity has remained pretty steady for about 10,000 years.”

In the last 100 or so years, however, “we are seeing a lot of geographic range reductions that are of a greater magnitude than we would expect, and we are seeing loss of subspecies and even a few species. So it looks like we are going into another one of these extinction events.”

But there are still things that can be done.

“I’m optimistic that, because we haven’t lost those species yet, if we redouble our conservation efforts we can stem the tide of extinctions and have those species around in the future,” he added.

Double our efforts to conserve species – do you really see that happening? I would be absolutely thrilled to see this happening, or even a less significant intensification, but it makes me sad to think how unlikely this is. Just this month massive distress calls were launched about koalas and siberian tigers. The thing is, we are responsible for this, and this is why it’s our responsibility to do something. Everytime mammals (and not only) had such problems, they would eventually get over it, but all that changed ~13.000 years ago, when humans entered the scene.

“The bottom line is, mammals in general were able to deal with these changes in the past. Only when humans arrive do the numbers fall off a cliff.”

That’s something to think about when you go to sleep at night, or when you’re complaining about bad weather.

Scientists heat matter to hotter than surface of the Sun

 

sun

Think about the hottest thing that comes to your mind; probably, 90% of people would answer the Sun. But what if you found out that some scientists in Oxfordshire have heated matter to 10 million Celsius, hotter than the surface of the Sun, marking a major landmark in research, you’d probably change your mind.

The break of this amazing milestone was possible due to an international team of scientists from Japan, the EU and the US working at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. This comes as a crowning in the field of high energy density physics.

Previously, scientists have been able to heat only ultra-thin layers of matter which were actually more than 100 times thinner than a milimeter. With this, scientists are one step closer to achieving laser fusion, the process that “powers” the Sun. The Vulcan laser concentrated power equivalent to 100 times the world’s electricity production into a tiny spot for a fraction of a second.

“This is an exciting development – we now have a new tool with which to study really hot, dense matter” says Prof Norreys, whose work is backed by a research council called the STFC.

Related article: heating matter to 2 million degrees.