Friday, June 12, 2009

Irrational Fears and Women in Science

Today, people who have mental warehouses full of irrational fears, not unlike myself, have something new to lose sleep over. According to SkyNews, a 14-year-old German boy was minding his own business on his walk to school when a meteorite, traveling 30,000 mph, hit him in the hand and sent him tumbling. Honestly? This brings me to my next point... The universe, in all its vastness, is terrifying.

Last night, I went to see "A Legacy of Light" at the Arena Stage with some coworkers. This play, written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Molly Smith, addresses the interconnectedness of the universe that is all-too-often taken for granted. It also addresses something else that we often overlook: women in science.

The play opened my eyes to the work of Emilie du Ch√Ętelet, born in 1706. If you are unfamiliar with her work, as I was before last night, one really interesting fact is that her research on momentum contradicted Newton's findings, which, as I am sure you can imagine, was quite controversial to say the least. Years after her death, it turned out she was totally right.

According to a short biography of her life on Oregon State University's Department of Philosophy website, Madame du Ch√Ętelet wrote a letter to Frederick the Great of Prussia, wherein she wrote:

"Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do."

She brilliantly continues, "It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one."

Pretty amazing lady, right? There is no good reason as to why I had never heard of this incredible woman before last night. If we want more women involved in science, it is about time we started teaching our students about women in science. You should totally go see the play. It is here through Sunday, so you should get your tickets now. And oh yeah, keep your eyes peeled for meteorites.

Feel free to contact with any questions or suggestions.

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