Thursday, November 30, 2023

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 5

The Central American - Caribbean Bridge in Astrophysics (Cenca Bridge) is a nonprofit organization established in the state of Tennessee in the United States with the mission to create and develop astronomy research opportunities in Central America and the Caribbean. Opportunities to pursue astrophysics in the region are few with only a handful of programs offering master’s in physics with a concentration in astronomy. Cenca Bridge connects undergraduates from Central America and the Caribbean to mentors and advisors overseas in hope that they have the choice to pursue astrophysics as a profession. Every year, Cenca Bridge holds the remote internship program, where undergraduate students from the region apply to be selected for a 3-month long paid research internship. As the only organization to provide a paid research remote internship, it is important to highlight the contributions that many women in astrophysics from Central America and the Caribbean have already contributed to our field. 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

iPoster at 241st AAS meeting (Seattle, WA)

My name is Kaylan-Marie Achong and I grew up in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago. The expansive history and culture of my twin- island state has deeply influenced my outlook on life, and has greatly influenced my love for Astronomy. I am a recent graduate from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus with a BSc in Physics & Mathematics. Astronomy is not a popular field in my country; very few students have chosen to pursue this field. Nevertheless, I have pushed forward, forever thankful for every opportunity I have had to develop my career in Astronomy. 

Furthermore, I have a deep love for my country’s history and an immense appreciation for the struggles of the women from my country that came before me. I really enjoy learning, and I truly believe that you should never stop questioning the world around you. I also really enjoy art and I think that we should always remember to have a life outside of our daily 9-5. 

How did you first become interested in astronomy or planetary science ? 

Behind my house, there is a large expanse of ‘bush’ referred to as the rice paddy fields. These were fields that my ancestors would have toiled over to make their living. There are no street lights, and you can really sit and gaze at the night sky perfectly. Although I was not lucky enough to own a telescope growing up, I was still able to watch Orion traverse my half of the hemisphere every year. I saw Venus, Mars and other celestial bodies move in and out of view in my portion of the night sky. I think it is this wonder that drew me to astronomy. I would look up at the sky, marvel at the constellations, and think to myself, “These are the very same stars my foremothers would have stood and watched after a long day of laborious work. Here I am, in the comfort of my back yard- with my luxuries of being literate, gazing at the very same constellations years after them.”

What are your aspirations? 

I really love astrobiology. I based my final year project on the field, and worked very hard to achieve the Physics Head of Department award for my finished work as well as to graduate with first class honors. As such, I really want to produce useful research in the field. I think that all aspects of the search for alien life is exhilarating, and a lot can be learnt about humanity from searching for early life forms.

What are you currently working on ? 

Right now I am in the process of applying for graduate school 😀 Very daunting task! Wish me luck! Also, I was currently working on developing a catalog of triple component bent jet active galactic nuclei (AGN) sources with my mentors from my REU with NRAO. This project involved visual analysis of over 2000 sources to qualitatively determine their degree of bending, as well as to remove artifacts from the sample. I developed a program to measure their bending angle and was working on further categorizing them. However, as I am applying to graduate school I have taken a small pause from research. 

Fort Milfort, Tobago

What else is important to you and how do you make time for it?

I enjoy tending to my garden, and reading. I love being in nature and often take time to enjoy the many beautiful places my country has to visit. I truly believe that a balance is necessary for a good quality of life. My rule is that the weekends belong to me, and I try to spend the time not worrying about work- this is often hard to do. 

What community issues are important to you and why? 

I feel very deeply for the inclusion of Women in STEM. Coming from a country that is largely patriarchal, I have seen so many women run themselves dry trying to play the role of good wife, good mother, and business woman with little to no help from their spouses. I have also watched as brilliant women fight tooth and nail for jobs that are easily handed out to their male counterparts. Furthermore, growing up I was often told that my main purpose in life would be to serve my husband. In fact, a lot of my family were shocked at my defiance to focus on a career over ‘settling down’. They referred to me as a ‘career woman’- as if it was a bad thing. I resented this archaic mindset and worked very hard at school to ensure I would be able to pave my own path. As a result, I am actively involved in a local charity focused on highlighting the inclusion of women in STEM. Furthermore, I am a strong feminist, and I believe that women deserve the opportunity to choose what they want for their life, whether it is to focus on a career,  be a homemaker or even both- if they desire, without the choice being forced on them. 

What are your near-future plans? 

Right now, I hope to attend graduate school to obtain a PhD in Astronomy, with a specialization in Astrobiology. I am really excited about this multidisciplinary field, and I cannot wait to get involved in research focusing on it. As a result, I hope to stay in academia as a researcher.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Gratitude and Giving for the Holidays

A message to our readers from members of the CSWA and editors of AASWomen: As we enter the holiday season in the United States and other parts of the world, we wish everyone health and happiness.

In a tradition going back almost 10 years (and maybe longer), Women in Astronomy is providing a gift-giving guide to help you with your holiday shopping. Links and ideas are listed below and feel free to tell us about your favorite gifts in the Comments section.

STARtorialist continues to provide a universe of Astro-fashion! STARtorialist is a women-owned small business founded by professional astronomers to curate space- and science-themed products, support independent designers, and contribute to STEM education and outreach. New (to me) this year? JWST-themed drinking glasses (and more!), JWST-themed clothing, and Artemis items.

Image Credit: Dreamtime recently posted its 2023 list of best telescopes. Check out the guide from Sky & Telescope first, though, so the telescope doesn't end up as a doorstop

Sky & Telescope magazine offers annual print and digital subscriptions and a variety of  maps and globes in its shop. Speaking of maps and globes, check out Mova's light-powered rotating globes! The lucky recipient will think them out of this world!

For the youngsters (and those young at heart), A Mightly Girl, which boasts "the world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls", continues to have a wide selection of science toys and kits, free (yes, FREE!) posters celebrating women role models and mighty women in STEM, and children's book about girls and women in science. Crazed about Barbie? Mattel's Career Dolls series includes scientists, pilots, and doctors.

Penguin Random House publishers has a list of "Stellar Books That Take Place in Space"; published its best books for 2023; and Goodreads has a list of popular space books. Are your favorite books on any of these lists? If not, add the title and author in the Comments section.

Perhaps you know someone who just needs to get away. Maybe that someone is you. Check out some locations that support astrotourism. Going Cosmic, "a one-stop global forum for all aspects of astrotourism... that provide[s] a range of unique features to help celebrate our world and others", has a list of unusual holiday ideas to add stargazing to your travel plans.

galaxy popcorn
Image Credit:
Or maybe staying in is the holiday gift. Marie Claire published a list of the 44 best space movies of all time. Buy some space candy, make some galaxy popcorn, and settle in!

BTW, the Van Cleef and Arpels astronomical watch (with accurate orbits of the planets around the Sun), which we mentioned in our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, is still available. Just sayin'.

Need more ideas? Check out GeekWrapped's best space & astronomy gifts, and NASA's on-line Space Shop lets you shop, well, for space things. Finally, an extensive list with other ideas was posted in our 2014 Holiday Gift-giving Guide, so check that out, too!

Thursday, November 16, 2023

A Family Affair

By Jeremy Bailin, Nicolle Zellner, and Sethanne Howard

It’s not atypical for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents or for siblings to have similar career paths. During our research for various other blog posts, the editors of AASWomen were surprised to see so many family connections in the field of Astronomy and extending to planetary science and physics. We shouldn’t have been – the mother-daughter planet hunters Natalie and Natasha Batalha have already caught the attention of various news outlets. We tweeted a request for more family connections in these fields and were inundated with examples, which we list here in roughly chronological history. Do you know of more? If so, add them to the Comments section.

The earliest example of a female science lineage may be the mother-daughter-granddaughter line of women who lived c. 2334 BCE. According to some reports, Enheduanna (mother) was a princess, priestess, astronomer, and the world’s first known author. She lived in Ur in ancient Sumer. Two thousand years later in Alexandria, Egypt, the philosopher/astronomer Hypatia (~370-416CE) worked with her father, Theon. She taught philosophy at the Great Library in Alexandria, produced commentary on the works of her father, and also wrote her own book on astronomy. Hypatia invented the device for measuring the specific gravity of a liquid.

The Herschel siblings (1896 Lithograph from Wikipedia)
The Herschel Siblings, 1896
(Credit: Album/Wellcome Images)
Fast-forwarding several hundred years, we have the Herschelsperhaps the most well-documented family to share a passion for astronomy. Caroline (1750-1848) steadfastly assisted her brother William (1738-1822) while he painstakingly mapped the night sky. William discovered the planet Uranus. Caroline wrote down coordinates and other observations for William bringing necessary structure to his observations. Caroline became recognized for discovering several comets, and eventually she was awarded a gold medal for her lifetime of work. She was hired by the British government to finish William’s work and thus became the first ‘civil servant’ who was a woman. William’s son, John Herschel, was also an astronomer. He continued the star cataloging done by the Herschels and introduced the concept of studying individual stars for their properties.

In the pre-telescope era, Tycho and Sophie Brahe (brother and sister) made their own contributions to the advancement of science. Many of us are familiar with the observations of Tycho (1548-1601), which allowed Johannes Kepler (astronomer) to develop the laws of orbital motion. Sophie, a physician, helped Tycho with his observations.

Maria Magaretha Kirch (1670-1720) was the spouse of Gottfried Kirch (1639-1710).  He founded the Berlin Observatory in 1700 and was the first member in the Prussian academy (Leibniz was the second). Margaretha was an accomplished astronomer and a recipient of the gold medal of the Prussian Royal Academy for discovering a comet. Of her 14 children her daughters, Christine (1696-1782) and Magharetha (1703-1744), and her son, Christfried (1694-1740), were all astronomers and continued the work of their parents. After Christfried’s death, Christine even came on the payroll of the academy (a novum at that time) with a considerable salary. 

In more contemporary times, we have a slew of relatives who work or worked together in the same field or parents who (intentionally or not) influenced their children to pursue careers in science:

Mother/daughter or son
  • Paris Pişmiş (1911-1999) and daughter Elsa Recillas are both astronomers. Her son, Sevín Recillas Pishmish, became a mathematician. Recillas married astronomer Carlos Cruz-González, and their daughter Irene Cruz-González also became an astronomer.
  • Carol J.A. Rieke (1908-1999) and son George Rieke.
  • mother Vera Rubin (1928-2016) and daughter Judy Young (1952-2014) were both astronomers. Son Karl Rubin (1956- ) is a mathematician.   
  • mother Yolanda Gómez (1962-2012) and son Vicente Rodriguez-Gomez are both astronomers.
  • Ulyana Safronova is a physicist who does work in laboratory astrophysics; she has at least two daughters also doing physics: Alla and Marianna
  • Silvia Torres Peimbert served as President of the International Astronomical Union. Her husband, Manuel Peimbert, and son Antonio Peimbert, are both astronomers.

L to R: Pişmiş (Credit: BAAS), Recillas Pishmish (Credit: CONAHCYT), Cruz-González (Credit: UNAM)

Father/daughter or son
  • Georg Christoph Eimmart was an avid amateur astronomer (1638-1705), and his daughter Maria Calara Eimmart (1676–1707) produced some of the most striking astronomical art since the invention of the telescope
  • Norman Pogson (1821-1891) discovered several minor planets and made observations on comets and daughter Isis Pogson (1852-1945), who was one of the first women to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • Vernon Barger (Physics) and Amy Barger (astronomy)
  • Jeff Hester and Janice Hester 
  • Jerry Ostriker and Eve Ostriker
  • Dan Gesari and Suvi Gezari
  • Ralph Wijers and daughter Nastasha Wijers 
  • Sean Matt and Cayenne Matt

Else Starkenburg (Credit: University of Gronigen) and Tjitske Starkenburg (Credit: Northwestern)

Other relationships
  • Jan Smit, a geologist/paleontologist who studies the impact that killed the dinosaurs, and Wildrik Botjes (1810-1874), from an earlier generation in the family, who invented the planetarium
  • E.E. Bernard (1857-1923) and his niece Mary Ross Calvert (1884– 1974)
  • daughter Hamsa Padmanabhan, mother Vasanthi Padmanabhan, and father Thanu Padmanabhan are/were astrophysicists
  • the Allers, with three generations of astronomers, including grandfather Lawrence H. Aller and granddaughter Monique Aller
  • The Carters (father, daughter, grandson), three generations who worked in the fields of geodesy and astronomy.
  • Elizabeth Lada and Charles Lada 

We thank the following for their contributions: Randall Smith, Maria Calara Eimmart, Tod Lauer, Renske Smit, Keren Sharon, Matthias Steinmetz, and Benjamin Lefebvre. If any corrections need to be made, please let us know.

[Ed. note: Completely serendipitously, Nature published an article titled "A family affair: how scientist parents’ career paths can influence children’s choices".]

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Physics and Astronomy SEA Change Updates

By Alexis Knaub

SEA Change logo

Physics and Astronomy (P/A) SEA Change has been up to quite a bit since our initial AAS CSWA blog article and the cross-post from the SPS Radiations magazine. If you don’t remember, SEA = STEMM (two Ms- one is for “medicine”) Equity Achievement (SEA). 

The broader SEA Change goal is to support continual, data-informed systemic change regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in postsecondary STEMM education acad The SEA Change process entails undergoing a comprehensive self-assessment for populations (i.e., students, faculty, staff) and disaggregating the data (when possible) especially for race, gender, and intersections of these identities, among other demographics. Topics include policies, procedures, recruiting strategies, culture, climate, and outcomes. Both qualitative and quantitative data are used to understand the context. After looking at the data and considering what is possible in one’s given context, a 5-year action plan is created. The action plan needs metrics to ensure specified actions are indeed improving some aspect of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The action plan, along with a narrative that describes what was learned, is reviewed. If awarded with a Bronze Award, the action plan is implemented. At the end of 5 years, the department can reapply for the award.

You may be familiar with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Institutional SEA Change. P/A SEA Change works in partnership with AAAS (and in collaboration with AAS) and has launched the first disciplinary award pilot.

Shirley Malcom (AAAS) and Alexis Knaub (P/A SEA Change) at the AAAS SEA Change meeting in October
Shirley Malcom (AAAS) and
Alexis Knaub (P/A SEA Change)
at the AAAS SEA Change
meeting in October

Milestones and developments

The SEA Change process, for institutions and disciplines, is not prescriptive. There are not any specific actions to take, metrics to meet, etc. Context matters, and what is possible for one place may not be for another due to resources available. The intent is to examine where one is and make it better for those who are marginalized.

With this goal in mind, we have been working with two different cohorts to ensure this process is indeed viable and useful. Our first pilot cohort, consisting of 5 departments, began on 3 May 2021. Our second pilot cohort, consisting of 6 departments, began in winter/spring 2022. These departments vary in size, institution type, location, etc. There is one astronomy-only department participating in the pilot. The departments are working through the self-assessment and working on action plans. Despite the multiple challenges departments are facing within their institutions (e.g., leadership changes, enrollment declines) and in the broader context (e.g., Covid-19 pandemic, legal challenges to doing EDI work), the departments are persisting.

The P/A SEA Change Committee, with a lot of support from Shirley Malcom (Director of AAAS SEA Change) and Beth Ruedi (Associate Program Director of AAAS SEA Change), has been working to design the processes for application review and supporting departments in implementing their action plans once they receive a Bronze Award. We have learned a lot from AAAS SEA Change, but there are differences between institutional and departmental/disciplinary level endeavors. We want to ensure that the program is fair and does indeed support departments in making meaningful changes to be equitable and inclusive.

Community resources

P/A SEA Change offers webinars featuring promising practices one might implement in their department or classroom. These are free to anyone who registers; they are also on the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) YouTube channel playlist. For upcoming webinars and other info, we have a monthly mailing list that is free to sign-up for. There is also the AAAS SEA Change Port of Call, a message board for discussion and information sharing, which is free to use for most parts; we have our own section in the Port of Call.

Our first Bronze application!

We received our first Bronze application towards the end of May 2023. We anticipate more applications soon, given that the departments in the pilot cohorts are still working on this endeavor.

P/A SEA Change’s Future

We are exiting the pilot phase as I write. In September, AAAS SEA Change received an NSF Creativity Extension, and P/A SEA Change was included as a subawardee. As a a result, I was named the Director of P/A SEA Change and more importantly…

Seeking departments for cohort 3!

… We are recruiting for cohort 3. Interested postsecondary physics or astronomy departments should fill out this form by 22 November 2023. 

If you have questions, please email me at (replacing _at_ with @).

P/A SEA Change has been generously funded by the AIP Venture Partnership Fund. 

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Crosspost: How 3 women scientists have overcome gender bias and stereotypes in astronomy, genetics and mathematics

By Fairoza Mansor, for the South China Morning Post

Planetary astronomer Jane Luu, geneticist Huda Zoghbi and 
mathematician Hélène Esnault show they can excel in fields dominated by men

women in STEM (shutterstock)
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The presence of women in science should be normalised today, but research shows there is still some catching up to do. According to the Unesco Institute of Statistics’ data, focused on women working in science, fewer than 30 per cent of the world’s research scientists are women.

The trio reveal how they have established successful careers in their chosen areas of expertise, despite challenges that come from being women working in fields dominated by men.