Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Crosspost: #BlackInAstro from astrobites

Image credit: Astrobites. Credit for the Milky Way picture in the background of the featured image: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

Astrobites, a grad-student led website that summarizes astrophysical journal articles for undergraduates, has been posting articles highlighting the experiences of Black astronomers in their series #BlackinAstro. We highlight the articles here with links to read more.

#BlackInAstro: How Can We Support Black Astronomers?

By Astrobites

This week, the U.S. is rising in protest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are the most recent in a long history of extrajudicial murders of Black people in the U.S. We at Astrobites stand in solidarity with the protestors, and against the systemic anti-Blackness that continues to enact violence on Black people in this country. We recognize that these same systems pervade academia and our field, and contribute to the inequities present in astronomy.

Why are we discussing these issues on an astronomy website? First, our scientific research is stronger when it comes from a community grounded in respect and diversity. But most importantly, we believe that the people in our community should be prioritized over our science. In order to do so, astronomy must be explicitly anti-racist and actively work to support Black students and researchers.



#BlackInAstro: Black Representation in Astro/Physics and the Impact of Discrimination

By Astrobites

Black students and researchers are drastically underrepresented in physics and astronomy. In this post, we break down some of the statistics about the representation of Black students in academia, and summarize some of the existing research on the experiences of Black students and researchers in STEM.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: KeShawn Ivory

By KeShawn Ivory

Graduate student KeShawn Ivory writes on how being Black has affected his trajectory in astrophysics, what the field would ideally look like for him, what he needs non-Black folks in the field to understand and change, and how all these questions are really one and the same.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: Ashley Walker

By Mia de los Reyes

To start off a full week of #BlackInAstro posts, we interview Ashley Walker—the person who came up with the #BlackInAstro hashtag!



#BlackInAstro: Not a Lack of Science Aspiration, But a Lack of Career Inspiration?

By Luna Zagorac

Today for #BlackInAstro week, we summarize a sociological study on Black students’ science aspirations & how to improve the “thinkability” of science careers.



#BlackInAstro Experiences: Cheyenne Polius

By Cheyenne Polius

Graduate student Cheyenne Polius writes about her experience as a Black woman studying astrophysics in the UK!



#BlackInAstro: Black Women in Astronomy and Physics

Kate Storey-Fisher

Today’s post for #BlackInAstro week looks at the underrepresentation of Black women in astronomy and physics, and summarizes two papers on their lived experiences in the field.



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Nominate our field’s best for the 2021 AAS Prizes and Honors by July 14**

Dr. Beth Brown, NASA astrophysicist (1969-2008). Learn more about the Beth Brown Memorial Award. Image credit: Jay S. Friedlander, NASA

By Aparna Venkatesan (U. of San Francisco), Ed Bertschinger (MIT), Dara Norman (NOIRLab), Sarah Tuttle (U. of Washington, Seattle)

The COVID19 pandemic and the nationwide protests for racial justice have revealed the longstanding injustices and inequities in our society, as well as in academia and the sciences. The pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing down, has already had a documented fallout on academe’s most vulnerable populations, including women, underrepresented minorities and especially women of color, as they try to navigate a radically altered higher education landscape, canceled interviews, and lost professional or research opportunities. Those most at risk are among our most talented, whose voices we most need in our profession in the years to come.

How can we collectively address this? As a first step, consider nominating a minoritized colleague, mentor or mentee, or nominating yourself, for a prize or honor offered in your department, institute, agency, or professional society. Like all privilege, awards and prizes tend to accumulate in certain institutional tiers or scientific lineages. At present, the pandemic and other current crises have amplified the lack of privilege more than ever. We can make a difference by nominating a colleague or mentee who is doing excellent and perhaps under-valued work, who is from - or works with - marginalized communities, or is a load-bearing circuit in their institution and our profession through the many roles and identities in their leadership and service, e.g. an indigenous astronomer, or a minoritized astronomer working on accessibility. The honor of a prize or award may be one of the factors that helps our most vulnerable colleagues navigate careers roiled by current circumstances. If you recognize yourself in the previous sentences, once again - please consider a self-nomination!

In the next week alone, we can make a difference by nominating a deserving colleague by July 14** for the 2021 AAS Prizes and Awards, as well as for AAS Fellows. Please take the time to prepare a thoughtful nomination package worthy of your nominee, that follows the stated rubrics/guidelines. Nominations can be done by AAS members online through a new online nomination system. Details and guidelines are at:


The AAS “specifically encourages nominations of, and self-nominations from, astronomers who are members of marginalized groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, and sexual and gender minorities.”

**June 29, 2020 The title and text of this post has been edited to reflect the sumbission deadline extension. The new deadline is now July 14, 2020 at 11:59PM EDT.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 2

The Central American - Caribbean bridge in astrophysics is a program created to mentor and train the next generation of students in astrophysics from that region. This was created because there is an enormous lack of resources and research opportunities for students interested in astrophysics. We hold monthly webinars and invite a speaker every month to talk about their personal life, academic obstacles, and research. The goal is for the students to feel represented, motivated, and capable, especially women in our group. More recently, we began a remote REU-like internship where students are able to complete a mini-project within a four-month period. Last Fall 2019, we had four students from Costa Rica and Honduras who worked with professors from Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. This Spring 2020, we are working with three students from Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. This opportunity brings research opportunities to these students and connects them to potential advisors and PhD programs.

In this series, we will highlight selected fellows. If you'd like to learn more about the program and ways you can get involved please visit https://cencabridgeastro.weebly.com/

My name is Nicole Stephanie Mejia Cerros. I was born on in Olanchito in the department of Yoro in Honduras. My childhood was a great influence in choosing a career in astronomy. My teachers at school and my parents motivated me to discover and read more about science topics. Many of the books I read were about astronomy in some way, and one of my teachers would always share with me what she had read on the subject. I did my high school in “Inmaculada Concepción” in Olanchito. In my town, there is not much development of science but my teachers always motivated me to pursue my dreams and choose this career. During high school, many questions about physical phenomena and the origin of the universe arose in me, seeking to understand them more thoroughly. Currently, I am a student of Astronomy and Astrophysics and also Physics at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH).

My favorite hobby is dancing, it is one of the things I enjoy most since it is a way of expressing my feelings through movement. I like to learn new choreographies. In the same way, I enjoy singing and venturing into different genres of music. I really enjoy traveling; every trip and every place is a new experience. I consider myself a very charismatic person. I really like to make friends. I have friends in many parts of the world. I really enjoy helping other people. It is important that as human beings we help each other and always seek the common good.

Facebook: Nicole Stephanie Cerros
Instagram: nicole.astro
Email: cerrosstephanie_at_gmail.com

What kind of work do you do?

I have collaborated with the astronomical nights project offered by the Faculty of Space Sciences of UNAH. I am also part of the SWISE (Society of Women in Space Exploration) project. I belong to the Central American- Caribbean Bridge for astrophysics group. I am currently collaborating on a remote internship on "The distribution of dark matter galaxies and subhalos in clusters of galaxies in the EAGLE cosmological hydrodynamic simulation." My favorite areas of astronomy (at the moment) are astrophysical instrumentation and galaxies.

Future plans (academic or non-academic goals)
-Participate in schools and/or astronomy internships in other countries.
-Study a master's degree in another country.
-Earn a PhD in astrophysics.
-To do investigation.
-Learn ballet and contemporary dance.

What are your aspirations? (what do you want to do or aspire to be)

I would like to inspire other girls to study astronomy or any science degree. I have had many difficulties along the way and I want to inspire and help other people to follow their dreams. I hope to have a PhD in astronomy, since I would like to be part of the development of astronomy in Honduras.

My name is Mitsa Marisol Castellanos Pineda. I was born and raised on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Guatemala. Since I was little I was interested in understanding the phenomena around me. I can remember that my first encounter with science was in a book cellar of the elementary school I attended. I began to read an encyclopedia of Astronomy at recess. After participating in several interscholastic science competitions, I decided that I wanted to study something related to it.

I started my studies in Physics at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, the first semesters were difficult because I did not have a good background, however, with much effort, work, and perseverance I managed to pass the courses. I am currently in the last year of the Bachelor of Physics degree, and throughout these years I have attended different schools and congresses on Astronomy and Fundamental Physics. Last summer I attended the ESAOBELA astronomy school held in Tonantzintla, Puebla, Mexico, which was a wonderful experience where I did professional Astronomy and lived with people from all over Latin America. Some of my favorite hobbies are listening to classical music, reading popular science books, and riding my bicycle.

What kind of work do you do?

I am currently in a research project on Blazares for my final bachelor practices, which I do with my advisor Dr. Rodrigo Sacahui and Mabel Osorio, Guatemalan astrophysicists from my University in collaboration with Dr. Magda Gonzalez, a Mexican astrophysicist at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. The project consists of making a quantitative comparison between observational data and theoretical predictions observed in blark Mrk 421. Observational data are obtained from different observatories, VERITAS, HESS, ARGO among others.

Future plans (academic or non-academic goals)?

After graduating from the degree I want to continue my postgraduate studies related in Astrophysics and Cosmology. And later I would like to dedicate myself to research, I also want to develop science projects in my country and also create connections between the institutions of different countries and my university. I would also like to teach at the University and work on dissemination projects.

What are your aspirations? (what do you want to do or aspire to be)

I want to be a quality researcher and teacher and I want to bring some progress to the understanding of astrophysics or science in general. And I would like to be a science promoter in underdeveloped countries like my country so that more boys and girls enter this beautiful area. I also want to be a source of inspiration for girls and show them that science can also be done by girls.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 1

The Central American - Caribbean bridge in astrophysics is a program created to mentor and train the next generation of students in astrophysics from that region. This was created because there is an enormous lack of resources and research opportunities for students interested in astrophysics. We hold monthly webinars and invite a speaker every month to talk about their personal life, academic obstacles, and research. The goal is for the students to feel represented, motivated, and capable, especially women in our group. More recently, we began a remote REU-like internship where students are able to complete a mini-project within a four-month period. Last Fall 2019, we had four students from Costa Rica and Honduras who worked with professors from Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. This Spring 2020, we are working with three students from Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. This opportunity brings research opportunities to these students and connects them to potential advisors and PhD programs.

In this series, we will highlight selected fellows. If you'd like to learn more about the program and ways you can get involved please visit https://cencabridgeastro.weebly.com/

My name is Natalia Ramirez Vega. I am from a small town in Costa Rica called Tres Rios. Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to study the universe. Thus, all my professional decisions have been made based on that goal. I am a Computer Systems Engineering student at University Fidelitas in Costa Rica. I really enjoy creating new things that will somehow help other people. I also love art; I feel there is a strong connection between science and art. I like drawing in my free time especially if I can do it in a place near a waterfall or a nice view. A fun fact is that I want to get a pilot license in the upcoming years just because I want to say I know how to fly an airplane.

Social media:
Instagram: ramirez__vega
Twitter: ramirez__vega
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/natalia-ramírez-vega-503389147

What kind of job do you do?

I am working as a Junior Data Analyst in a consulting company while finishing my senior year in college. I feel passionate about data science and I would like to apply that knowledge in the astronomy field. I spend most of my time trying to open new opportunities for Costa Rican students who are interested in STEAM specifically in a space-related field. In June 2019, I founded the Costa Rican chapter of SWISE (Society of Women In Space Exploration).

I have focused the chapter in Science Communication. Every month we have meetings with special guests who are Central American scientists who do research in astronomy or any related field. Also, I have organized different campaigns to include girls and women in STEAM. In Costa Rica astronomy is not a developed field to work in, so the goal is to let young people know they can make the change they want to see. Even though the opportunities in astronomy within the country are few, it is not impossible to follow your dreams. My goal with the chapter is to empower people to open new paths for themselves and for the new generations.

My future goals:

Once I finish my undergrad, I want to work in order to get experience as a Data Analyst while I prepare myself to apply for a PhD in Data Science with a focus on Astronomy. My biggest goal is to get a job working with data from telescopes in order to make it readable.

My aspirations:

I would like to see how my work influences younger generations of Costa Rican students to follow their dreams. I want to become a successful professional so I can open new opportunities in an easier way. I know someday we’ll see a meaningful number of students and professionals doing research in astronomy and astrophysics based in Costa Rica without having to choose between their career and staying close their families, friends, and home.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Call to Participate in Strike for Black Lives and Black Survival and Wellness Week

By Gregory Rudnick

As a community and society we are grieving the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, James Scurlock, Manuel Ellis, and so many others who have been victims of the institutionalized and systemic anti-Black racism that deprives Black people regularly of their lives and livelihood. In this moment of grief and anger we must also confront the ingrained racism within our departments, institutions, disciplines, and communities.

We must harness the anger and thirst for change and justice that we are feeling and convert this moment into a movement that is grounded in action at all levels of society. Sometimes it is hard to know where to start with such an endeavor. One way is to start locally, inspired by a global movement. The chance to do this is now.

On June 10th, there will be a global day of action, affirming that Black Lives Matter in academia as well as in our communities. This day of action is organized by Particles for Justice and led by physicists Dr. Brian Nord Jr and Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

If you are interested to learn more, please read this Dear Colleagues letter from Dr. Nord. The call is asking for academics to not work on anything related to their research, administration, or teaching missions on June 10, in order to give Black academics a break and a chance to breathe. Particles for Justice folks started a petition in order to collect signatures. To quote from the particlesforjustice.org web page:

“The strike is not a “day off” for non-Black scientists, but a day to engage in academia’s core mission to build a better society for everyone; see below for suggested actions that participants can take on strike day to educate themselves and advocate for change in their communities. Those of us who are Black academics should take the day to do whatever nourishes their hearts, whether that’s protesting, organizing, or watching “Astronomy Club.””

Along with some members of the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Kansas, I will be taking part in this strike on Wednesday. We will be using this time, working together in an all-day workshop, to develop a plan of action for how to address the goals of the strike and ensure that Black Lives matter in academia. Our goal will be not only to educate ourselves, for that is something that we should be pursuing on a daily basis, but to come up with concrete steps, responsible parties, and milestones for achieving concrete goals. I will write in a future blog post on what resulted from our workshop.

I encourage all of us to consider the actions we, as non-Black academics, can take in solidarity with our Black colleagues and to make our profession, departments, and universities more welcoming, affirming, and just.

Strike details: https://www.particlesforjustice.org/strike-details

Resources: https://www.particlesforjustice.org/resources



There is also a Black-women led effort specifically targeting people in academia. It will be a week of training and accountability to grow our consciousness of anti-Black racism and to support Black Survival and Wellness in academia. The week starts June 19 (Juneteenth), and you can register as well as sign the call to action here: https://www.academics4blacklives.com/. I also urge you to donate to support the incredible effort and work that these primarily Black academics are doing to educate white academics.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Cross-Post: AAS President Calls on All Members to Support Black Americans Now

By Megan Donahue

As AAS President, I wish to comment on the tragic and brutal murders of Black Americans Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. As scientists, researchers, educators, and human beings we have a responsibility to respond, to see and name these injustices, and to empathize and acknowledge our different human experiences and reactions to these events. We stand together with our Black members, their students, and their families. We stand with our Black AAS employees and volunteers from whom we have asked so much during these difficult and challenging times.



Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Women Leading Pandemic Research Through Time

By Sethanne Howard

Medical schools routinely have 50% female students. Does that mean women are equal participants in the field? Let us consider the issue and start with the current pandemic. Women are leading research teams studying the novel COVID-19 virus. There is Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, MD at the National Institutes of Health who is leading a team developing a vaccine for the virus. Dr. Susan Weiss, PhD, along with Dr. Frederic Bushman, PhD, directs the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens. The goals of the Center are to: expand the research, centralize information on the research, and compile sources for new funding for research on SARS CoV-2.

So we can see that today there are women leading research teams studying this class of virus. Were they active before then? Let’s look back at the wonderful women who came before!

Women in medicine go back a very long way. Much of what we call medicine and midwifery is and always has been the province of women. The first mention of a woman in medicine occurred in 2800 BCE. Midwifery was almost exclusively run by women until the 18th century when men usurped the lead away from this traditional women’s task.

As always, women kept their medical tradition alive even in the Dark Ages (that were not really so dark). The first Western-type university was founded in Salerno, Italy in 875 CE as a medical school. And from that time to this, for over a thousand years, women equally with men have been welcome at the doors of Italian universities. So it is not remarkable that there are so many talented Italian women in medicine.

In the United States by 1860 there were about 200 women with MDs. The census of 1880 showed that there were 2,400 women of medicine. By the end of the 19th century, the number of women with MDs increased to over 7000. Here are some women who made huge strides in the fields of pandemics and vaccines during the 20th century.

  • Josephine S. Baker (1873 – 1945 CE) went to the Women’s Medical College in New York City to earn her MD. She took a part-time job with the Department of Public health as a public school health inspector where she rose in the ranks to create and run the Bureau of Child Hygiene. In terms of epidemics, typhoid was ubiquitous. Dr. Baker helped track down “typhoid Mary” (Mary Mallon). She also perfected the application of silver nitrate eyedrops to infants, now a standard procedure to prevent eye infections in newborns. She was the first woman to be assistant surgeon general in the United States. She was also the first woman representative to the League of Nations – as Health Committee representative for the United States.
  • Sister Kenny (c. 1886 – 1952 CE) was a pioneer in the treatment of polio before the discovery of the Salk vaccine. Her autobiography (written in 1943) entitled And They Shall Walk was made into a movie. She trained as a nurse in the Australian medical corps and served during World War I. After the War she learned more about polio and developed her own ideas for treatment. She invented a special stretcher to transport patients in shock. Royalties from the patent gave her the money to start her own clinic for the treatment of polio. She advocated applying heat and physical therapy to polio victims in opposition to the medical establishment that advocated immobilization. She came to the United States to the University of Minnesota medical center. Although her methods were never formally endorsed by the medical profession she got good results. In the late 1950s, the Kenny Institute and the World Health Organization were the major supporters of continued polio research. The Kenny Institute survives as part of the Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
  • Anna Wessel Williams (1863 – 1954 CE) isolated a strain of diphtheria that was instrumental in the development of an antitoxin for the disease. She was a firm believer in the collaborative nature of laboratory science and helped build some of the more successful teams of bacteriologists, which included many women, working in the country at the time. In 1896 Williams traveled to the Pasteur Institute in Paris hoping to find a toxin for scarlet fever that could be used to develop an antitoxin, as she had done for diphtheria. She was unsuccessful, but while there, she developed a new interest in the rabies work that was going on in Paris. She returned to the United States with a culture of the virus to try to develop a better way to diagnose rabies. By 1898 the culture had been used to develop enough vaccine to allow for the large-scale production of rabies vaccine.
  • Rachel Fuller Brown (1898 – 1980 CE) was the first woman to receive the Pioneer Chemist Award from the American Institute of Chemists (1975). She discovered the vaccine for bacterial pneumonia that is still used today. In 1950 along with microbiologist Elizabeth Hazen she isolated the first antifungal antibiotic, Nystatin, effective against fungal diseases. Nystatin is a polyene antifungal drug to which many molds and yeast infections are sensitive. It was also the first antifungal antibiotic to be safe and effective in treating human diseases. Not only did it cure many serious fungal infections of the skin, mouth, throat, and intestinal tract, but it could also be combined with antibacterial drugs to balance their side effects.
  • Gertrude Elion (1918 – 1999 CE) studied chemistry at Hunter College in New York City graduating in 1937. She was initially unable to obtain a graduate research position because she was a woman. She did find a job as a lab assistant at the New York Hospital School of Nursing in 1937. She worked as a research chemist at other places finally settling at Burroughs Wellcome Laboratories. There she was first the assistant and then the colleague of George Hitchings, with whom she worked for the next four decades. So, although she never received the PhD, she contributed a great deal. In 1988 Elion, Hitchings, and Sir James W. Black received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their development of drugs used to treat several major diseases. Elion and Hitchings developed thioguanine and 6-mercaptopurine against leukemia and pyrimethamine against malaria. Azathioprine, a drug that prevents rejection of transplanted organs and allopurinol which is used in the treatment of gout were developed in 1957 and 1963, respectively. An important discovery was that the chemotherapeutic effects of pyrimethamine and trimethoprim were markedly enhanced by sulphonamides. In 1991 she also received the National Medal of Science and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
  • Although penicillin, the miracle drug, was first identified by Sir Alexander Fleming, he was not the one who pursued its further development. It was women who carried the flag forward: Gladys Hobby (1910 – 1993 CE), Elizabeth McCoy, Dorothy Fennel, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994), and Margaret Hutchinson (1910 – 2000 CE). Dorothy Hodgkin bombarded penicillin with x-rays to deduce how it was put together. She received the 1964 Nobel Prize in medicine. Gladys Hobby brewed the first batch of penicillin tested on people. Margaret Hutchinson designed the first commercial plant that made penicillin on a massive scale. Elizabeth McCoy created the strand of penicillin used today.
  • Louise Pearce (1885 – 1959 CE) was one of the main figures in the development of the drug typarsamide. This drug wiped out whole epidemics of African sleeping sickness. She and her colleagues were awarded the Order of the Crown of Belgium.
  • Angela Ferguson (b. 1925) was a relentless researcher who received her MD from Howard University in 1949 and went on to study the disease of sickle-cell anemia. Her work, along with others, led to the efficient detection and control of this terrible disease.
  • In 1923, microbiologist Gladys Dick (1881 – 1963 CE) and physician George Dick isolated the cause of scarlet fever, and later developed a test for the disease.

By looking backward we highlighted several women in medicine. Clearly, women were and remain at the forefront of medical research.

Dr. Sethanne Howard is a research astronomer with over 40 years of experience in astronomy and education. Her research specialty is interacting galaxies but her hobby is the history of women in science. She has worked at many astronomical observatories and also for NASA, for the National Science Foundation and finally just retired as Chief of the Nautical Almanac Office at the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.
She is the first woman to receive a degree in physics from the University of California, Davis. She went on to receive a Master’s Degree in nuclear physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in astrophysics from Georgia State University. Between her bachelor’s degree and PhD she worked for many years in various scientific fields and taught high school physics and university astronomy. All those years of working in science led to a series of scientific publications including determining the rotational periods of Neptune and Uranus, the rotational temperature of Jupiter, masses of Seyfert galaxies, the total neutron cross section of uranium, as well as developing the early image processing in astronomy [that eventually led to IRAF]. Only at age 42 did she return to graduate school to complete her PhD studying large-scale computer simulations of interacting galaxies [she grew tired, you see, of staying up all night at telescopes]. Her dissertation explained the now accepted idea behind for the appearance of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51.
After her PhD work she spent time working with x-ray satellites at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Onward to NASA/Marshall Space Center where she worked with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (a NASA satellite). She became a national Shapley Lecturer for the American Astronomical Society. From Marshall she went to NASA Headquarters where she managed several operating NASA astrophysics satellites and mission programs. Before coming to the US Naval Observatory she spent three years at the National Science Foundation as the Program Manager for Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology and also Executive Secretary for the international Gemini Telescopes Project.
Her hobby is the history of women in science and technology. She maintains a web site dedicated to this effort hosted at the University of Alabama where you can learn about more women in STEM. www.4kyws.ua.edu