Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Crosspost: Who gets to use NASA's James Webb Space Telescope? Astronomers work to fight bias

Written by Nell Greenfieldboyce for NPR
Local astronomy enthusiasts turn out for an event featuring a model of JWST presented by Nobel Prize in Physics laureate, Dr. John C. Mather, and the program manager for JWST at Northrop Grumman, Scott P. Willoughby. 
The scientists who eventually get to peer out at the universe with NASA's powerful new James Webb Space Telescope will be the lucky ones whose research proposals made it through a highly competitive selection process.

But those that didn't make the cut this time can at least know that they got a fair shot, thanks to lessons learned from another famous NASA observatory.

Webb's selection process was carefully designed to reduce the effect of unconscious biases or prejudices by forcing decision-makers to focus on the scientific merit of a proposal rather than who submitted it.

"They assess every one of those proposals. They read them. They don't know who wrote them," explains Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist with the James Webb Space Telescope. "These proposals are evaluated in a dual-anonymous way, so that all you can see is the science."

This is a recent innovation in doling out observing time on space telescopes. And it's a change that came about only after years of hard work done by astronomers who were concerned that not everyone who wanted to use the Hubble Space Telescope was getting equal consideration.

Learn more about the "blinded" review process and how this method helped narrow the gender gap in accepted JWST proposals at:

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Crosspost: A physicist’s lessons about race, power, and the universe

Written by Neel Dhanesha for Vox
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and a core faculty member in the women's studies department at the University of New Hampshire. Credit: Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

When Chanda Prescod-Weinstein was a 10-year-old growing up in East Los Angeles, she came across the Errol Morris documentary A Brief History of Time, which chronicled the life of the physicist Stephen Hawking. Watching it, Prescod-Weinstein says, she realized Hawking “was being paid to use math all day to solve problems Einstein hadn’t worked out.”

For a queer Black Jewish kid from a working-class neighborhood who liked doing math, that seemed like a pretty good deal. “That was really where I got my first taste of the idea that math is kind of like the language of the universe,” Prescod-Weinstein told me.

She’s now an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, where she studies dark matter and particle physics. She’s also on the core faculty of the university’s Women’s Studies department — a seemingly unusual combination that hints at the multifaceted approach she brings to her work.

In 2021, Prescod-Weinstein published The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, a wide-ranging book that is both a scientific explainer and an argument that unjust power structures shape the world of physics. She tells stories of subatomic particles like baryons, which are the building blocks of atoms; she critiques a trend she’s seen, in which writers compare the mystery and invisibility of dark matter to the lived experiences of Black people. In a chapter called “Rape Is Part of This Scientific Story” — a chapter that grew unexpectedly out of her writing on the dark universe, and that she debated including in the book — she writes about how her own experience of sexual assault shaped her understanding of injustices in her field.

Read Dhanesha's full and fascinating interview with Dr. Prescod-Weinstein at:

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Crosspost: Advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion: a how-to guide

Written By Dr. Rowan M. Thomson, Canada Research Chair, physics professor, and assistant dean at Carleton University for Physics Today
Dr. Thomson's vision for the future of physics as a field that includes, accommodates, and values everyone, regardless of the gender identity, race, or disability status. Credit: Physics Today

Looking around the lunchroom on my first day at my first job in physics—as a summer student in a Canadian national laboratory—I was shocked to see that almost all the scientists present were white men! I loved that job and was thrilled to be paid to do physics, but I was disappointed in the lack of diversity at the lab. I expected that things would get better as I continued in my career. Surely, I thought, the diversity of the general population would begin to be reflected in physics. But 20 years later, my optimistic expectation has proven naive. The lack of diversity in physics is still striking. Moreover, the issues in the field go beyond representation. Insidious inequities, pernicious discrimination, and systemic barriers continue to prevent the inclusion of everyone in physics.

The numbers confirm that many groups are underrepresented in physics: Data from a recent NSF report demonstrate that among recent PhDs awarded in physics, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people, women, and individuals with disabilities are underrepresented by factors of about two to five.1 The representation of individuals in physics identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and additional identities (LGBTQIA+) has received less attention, but those groups are certainly underrepresented too.2,3 And representation gaps seem set to persist for a long time. To take just one example, currently only 13% of senior authors of articles in physics are women. That number is rising by only 0.1% per year—at that rate, it will take 258 years to come within 5% of gender parity!4
What factors lead to those disparities in representation? What are the challenges faced by equity-deserving groups? Why should physicists be motivated to effect change? What can physicists do to help the field improve? This article is a call to action for all physicists to work together on concrete and sustained efforts to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion through awareness, collaboration, and engagement.

Check out the rest of the article to learn more about Dr. Thomson's inspired plan for helping physicists at every career level make the field of physics more inclusive:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Crosspost: Physicists turn to TikTok for science communication

Written by Madison Brewer for Physics Today

Kirsten Banks is a physics graduate student at the University of New South Wales in Australia and creator of the popular TikTok account, @astrokirsten, on all things astrophysics.
When the pandemic hit, Kirsten Banks missed speaking to audiences. A physics PhD student at the University of New South Wales in Australia, she was used to giving educational astronomy talks regularly at elementary and secondary schools and at public events. When those engagements were canceled, she turned to social media to continue her science outreach.

“I started doing science communication on social media by joining Twitter and making a Facebook page and an Instagram page,” Banks says. Then her partner introduced her to TikTok.

TikTok launched internationally in 2017. In contrast to Twitter, which features mostly written text, and Instagram, which consists primarily of images, TikTok users can post only short videos. If Twitter is like writing a pithy summary, TikTok is akin to giving a short, catchy talk with audiovisual aids. The platform is most popular with teenagers and young adults; in a survey conducted earlier this year, nearly half of US adults ages 18–29 reported using the service, compared with 22% of those 30–49 and 4% of people 65 and over.

Learn more about some of the fabulously creative #scientistsoftiktok by checking out:  https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20220105a/full/ 

Friday, January 7, 2022

AASWomen Newsletter for January 07, 2022

AAS Committee on the Status of Women AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of January 07, 2022
eds: Heather Flewelling, Nicolle Zellner, Maria Patterson, Alessandra Aloisi, and Jeremy Bailin

[We hope you all are taking care of yourselves and each other. Be well! --eds.]

This week's issues:

1. Crosspost: Remembering Astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt

2. Shoutout to Amena Karimyan, Afghani astronomer and one of BBC's 100 Women of 2021

3. Crosspost: Meet the first woman appointed as astronomer royal for Scotland

4. Crosspost: Eight Women Astronomers You Should Know

5. Cheryl Praeger's inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Lecture

6. “You Have To See It To Be It”: Missing Female Role Models and What We Can Do About It

7. Interview with Don't Look Up science advisor Amy Mainzer

8. Podcast: A New Picture of a Scientist — New Book Chronicles a New Chapter for Women Scientists

9. Eunice Foote -- the woman who discovered climate change 5 years before the man who gets credit for it

10. Association for Women in Science scholarships for 2022

11. New data on how race and gender shape science

12. Mothers in Astronomy Project

13. Job Opportunities

14. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

15. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

16. Access to Past Issues

An online version of this newsletter will be available at http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com at 3:00 PM ET every Friday.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Crosspost: Eight Women Astronomers You Should Know

Written By Sidney Perkowitz for JSTOR Daily
Headshots of eight trailblazing women in physics and astronomy from antiquity to now. Top row, left to right: Hypatia, Dr. Andrea Ghez, Henrietta Leavitt, Mary Somerville. Bottom row, left to right: Dr. Sara Seager, Emilie du Chatelet, Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and Caroline Herschel. Credit: JSTOR Daily via Wikimedia Commons
Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics for finding a supermassive black hole stuffed with 4 million suns at the center of our galaxy. Among the four female Nobel Laureates in physics to date, Ghez is the only astronomer. Her award is a pinnacle for women in astronomy and astrophysics. Yet women astronomers remain a minority and often encounter a lack of recognition, unwelcoming career paths, and harassment. But today women participate and publish in astronomy and astrophysics at higher rates than in physics overall, producing world-class research.

Read the rest of the article at https://daily.jstor.org/eight-women-astronomers-you-should-know/ to learn more about the incredible legacy of women in astronomy dating back to ancient Greece!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Crosspost: Meet the first woman appointed as astronomer royal for Scotland

Written By Jenny Darmody for Silicon Republic

Dr. Catherine Heymans, professor of astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh, is the first woman to be appointed to the role of astronomer royal in the history of the United Kingdom. Image credit: BBVA Foundation.

As the first woman in the role, Catherine Heymans wants to bring astronomy and science to the masses.

Earlier this year, astrophysicist Catherine Heymans became the first woman to be appointed astronomer royal for Scotland since the position was created almost 200 years ago.

She is the 11th person to hold the role after it became vacant in 2019 following the death of John Campbell Brown, who held the position since 1995.

However, while the title lasts a lifetime, Heymans doesn’t plan on holding onto it for all that time.

“I think this title gives me immense opportunity to go out there and tell people about astronomy and what we do, but at some point, I’ll run out of energy.”

She said while there can sometimes be an elitist idea of holding onto prestigious titles, she’s more focused on using it to do the work she wants to do and then letting the title go to the next person.

“There are so many big questions I want to answer [and] I’ve got a big project that I want to do to get telescopes installed in all our outdoor centers. Once I’ve got that done, then I will pass this very sparkly tiara onto someone else.”

Originally, the position was linked to the royal observatories in the UK. Up until 1995, the astronomer royal for Scotland was the title of the director of the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Since then, it has become an honorary title which, in Heymans words, means she gets to decide what exactly the role is.

“It’s a really great opportunity to be able to share with everyone just how much astronomy we’re doing in Scotland, both professional astronomy and amateur astronomy,” she said.

“My local amateur astronomy group, their membership has grown by 30pc during lockdown.”

Discover more about Dr. Heymans' career in physics and her vision for making astronomy more inclusive at: https://www.siliconrepublic.com/innovation/astronomer-royal-scotland-catherine-heymans