15 October 2013

Ada Lovelace Day, “A Passion for Science”, and Earth Science Week

Posted by Jessica Ball

This year, Earth Science Week just happens to fall right before my (gasp!) final thesis defense. I’m deep into powerpoint construction and worrying myself crazy about the fact that that’s only a few more days away, but I have done something special this year to help celebrate the accomplishments of an Earth scientist – and, in this case, a woman. In light of the recent events concerning Dr. Danielle Lee and the deplorable way she was treated as a scientist and as a woman, I think it’s particularly relevant to draw attention to the accomplishments in women in geoscience this year. (My fellow geobloggers, as well as many others, have very eloquently spoken on why what happened to Dr. Lee is so important to draw attention to, and I’ll let them do the speaking on that.)

I’ve tried to be involved in Earth Science Week activities for a couple of years now, ever since I worked at the American Geosciences Institute, where the whole thing started and where you can find out how to join in ESW activities yourself. Usually I end up going to a local nature center and doing some demonstrations about geology (slinkies and seismometer apps are fun no matter what age you are – I certainly haven’t grown out of them!) But this year, as I try to finish my degree, I’ve had less and less time to do hands-on stuff. Still, I wanted to get involved somehow, and when I was approached by Suw Charman-Anderson about contributing to a book about women in science for Ada Lovelace Day, I was pretty excited.

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of women in STEM fields that’s sponsored and hosted by the Imperial College London. It’s meant to help people realize just how much women have contributed to science, engineering, math and technology by talking about the lives of those women we adimire – our role models and pioneers in our fields. Ada Lovelace, for those of you who haven’t heard of her, was a mathematician who described what we would now consider computer programs for mid-19th century inventor Charles Babbage’s analytical engine (a very early precursor to the computers we use today). (Her life is fascinating on its own, but for those of you who appreciate a light-hearted side to history, there’s even a pretty hilarious webcomic about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage that imagines what it would have been like if the two had had adventures fighting crime together.)

Passion-for-Science-cover-225x300How did I contribute? Suw Charman-Anderson (who founded the event) asked me to write a book chapter about a woman geoscientist who I admired, which would be part of the fantastic book that’s being released today, “A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention”. It’s a collection of stories about women who have blazed trails in STEM fields in the past, and who are still doing it today. My own chapter, which is about Dr. Florence Bascom, one of the first women in the United States to earn a doctorate in geology and the first female geologist in the U.S. Geological Survey, is one that I found particularly appropriate given that I’m doing my best to follow in her footsteps. (In just a couple of days, too!) My contribution is in fantastic company with accounts of ichthyologists, astrophysicists, archaeologists, and even Ada Lovelace herself, all written by scientists in communicators that I’m honored to be in company with myself.

To pique your interest, here’s a sample of my chapter about Dr. Bascom:

…Florence Bascom is the kind of geologist I would love to grow up to be. By all accounts she was intensely dedicated to her work and held it to the highest standards of quality and rigor. Her own words are enough to inspire any scientist: of her professional life, she said, “This is the life, to plunge into the welcome isolation of the field, to return to the stimulating association of Bryn Mawr, to observe and in part to clear up geologic phenomena, to return to the exposition and interpretation of geologic phenomena.” And again, “The selection of work in which one delights, and a diligent adherence to it, are the main ingredients of success.”

The ebook goes on sale today from the Ada Lovelace Day website, and you can go there to read a few sample chapters (though if you’d like to see the rest of mine, I hope you’ll buy the book!) All the proceeds from the book will go towards funding Ada Lovelace Day and the website in the future. And to find out more about how you can sponsor Ada Lovelace Day activities all over the world, have a look at the information page here.