Ursula Franklin

ImageThanks to Deb Hirsch, who pointed out this article in the Atlantic about Ursula Franklin.  According to the article,

The 92-year-old metallurgist pioneered the field of archeometry, the science of dating archaeologically discovered bronzes, metals, and ceramics. Her research into spiking levels of radioactive strontium in baby teeth factored heavily into the U.S. government’s decision to institute a nuclear test ban.

The extensive interview is terrific.  And something Franklin says about gender issues reminds me of conversations I have had with Iris Critchell about WWII.  During the war, people did what needed to be done, and stepped in where they could to get the jobs done.   More significant issues arose postwar, when some women were supposed to step out of roles they successfully had assumed.

Posted in Biology, Chemistry, Medicine | 1 Comment

Irene Greif

ImageCheck out this super article in the Atlantic about Irene Greif, the first woman to get a PhD in Computer Science from MIT.   I like the way she talks about interdisciplinary connections between mathematics, engineering and computer science.

Posted in Computer Science | Leave a comment

Mary Petty


Thanks to Deb Hirsch who shared this terrific picture from the UNC-G Archives of Mary Petty, who led the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Chemistry Dept from 1893 to 1934.

Here’s a bit more info from Erin Lawrimore:

As University Archivist at UNCG, I’m so happy to see Mary Petty featured on your blog!

Mary Petty grew up in a Quaker community known as Bush Hill outside of Greensboro, NC. She received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley in 1885, and taught briefly at Guilford College (also in Greensboro) before coming to the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) in 1893. She led the department of chemistry there from 1893 to 1934. In addition to her classroom teaching, she helped lead the campus’s Science Club, an organization for faculty members and advanced students to explore areas not included in the formal coursework.

In 1960, the science building on campus (originally constructed in 1940) was renamed in her honor and continues to be known as the Petty Science Building.


Posted in Chemistry | 1 Comment

Gertrude Elion

ImageThanks to Margery Nelson, who suggested Nobel Laureate Gertrude Elion.  The picture above and a terrific autobiography can be found on the nobelprize.org site.

Posted in Biochemistry, Pharmacy | Leave a comment

Joanna Chorley

Today is the first birthday of Grandma got STEM!  Thank you to everyone who has submitted #GGSTEM posts and made this project possible.  A big hello to the readers around the world (so far from 137 countries)!

Thanks to Kimberly Moynahan, who shared this article in the Telegraph about a picture of WWII codebreakers that was put aside in a drawer until recently.

WW2 codebreakers - the final secret

According to the article,

Mrs Chorley described the “sense of urgency” that filled the office where the women worked as Colossus stood next to them, filling “half a room”.

“Bletchley Park was one of the pleasantest places I’ve worked in, you knew the work was worthwhile and Colossus was an amazing machine and I found it thrilling.

Posted in Computer Science, Military | Leave a comment

Fannie M. Gordon

Thank you to David Gross, great-grandson-in-law of STEM-ma  Maria Dee Salmonson, who took the time to write this terrific post about Fannie Gordon.  If anyone has a picture of her that we could share, we’d appreciate it.

Fannie M. Gordon operated computers in the 1950′s Los Angeles office of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known after 1988 as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She contributed to some great and lasting works in numerical linear algebra, and appears to be acknowledged only in the footnotes of mathematical history. After the publication of Lanczos’ eponymous algorithm and a another great work by Hestenes and Karush, a colleague of theirs by the name of Rosser came together with them to publish a test case that would apply to both, and all future methods of finding tricky eigenvalues*. It is essential that we find the eigenvalues of matrices because they (and their relatives) can tell us about the short, medium, and long term behavior of real life systems like the economy or the climate. This was considerably difficult, and required calculations that ran for days on behemoth computers. Given the importance of having a benchmark for these calculations, the four published a paper about theirs, with Gordon only finding acknowledgement elsewhere than on the title page:

There’s isn’t much to be found about Gordon, but it appears she had worked with Lanczos before at the Institute for Numerical Analysis (INA, the name for the offices of the NBS on the campus of UCLA). With this hint a much more appreciative account was uncovered in Lanczos’ previous paper. It displays his passion in explaining the high fidelity calculations the algorithm requires, the astonishing results it provides, as well as deep admiration for that work contributed by Gordon to the collaboration:

While she didn’t go down in the record books like Lanczos and friends, it’s great to see that her work behind the scenes was appreciated and talked about, a part of mathematical history we don’t talk about now as much as we should. For another peak into this corner of the mathematical world, check out the list of all of the NBS/NIST staff members mentioned in A Century of Excellence in Measurements, Standards, and Technology: A Chronicle of Selected NBS/NIST Publications, 1901-2000 [Text, Google Books]. *On eigenvalues: when you go out in the world, you make an impact and push things in the direction of the values you believe in, and certain values are more important to you than others. Matrices (arrays of numbers) do the same thing with the (eigen)values they espouse. Check out a longer post about the eigenvalues in this test matrix and the deeper dive into computational history from which this post was adapted.

Posted in Computer Science, Mathematics | Leave a comment

Esther Szekeres

The Sydney Morning Herald published a lovely obituary of George and Esther Szekeres, Mathematicians, 1911-2005, 1910-2005.  The picture above was from a conference to celebrate George Szekeres’ 90th birthday.

Here’s an excerpt – you really should go read the whole thing.

Esther and George were born in Budapest. They met at university, where George was studying chemical engineering so he could enter the family leather business and Esther was studying physics. She had exhibited outstanding ability in mathematics and physics from an early age but in 1927 it was difficult for girls to go to university, let alone study mathematics or physics.

As well, in Hungary there were severe restrictions on places for minority groups and only two places were open to the Jewish students from her school; her friend Marta Sved took the mathematics place and Esther the physics spot.

Posted in Mathematics | 1 Comment