heroic science and science heroes

Sabine Dippel sabine at hlrz24.zam.kfa-juelich.de
Fri Apr 26 03:03:28 EST 1996

In article <ravena-2504962117480001 at ravena-ppp.caltech.edu>, 
ravena at cco.caltech.edu (Karen Allendoerfer) writes:

|> > PS Let's make a great physics legend out of how Leibniz tried to
|> > get Maria Winkelman appointed the Court Astronomer! There was
|> > a good man whose efforts to conquer sexism were 300 years ahead
|> > of his time.  This is what we should be RECYCLING from the past
|> > -- not those old Pauli stories. 
|> Where can we get more of these stories?  I certainly have never heard the
|> one about Leibniz!

Neither did I. A story quite famous in Germany is the one about Hilbert,
a famous mathematician, who exclaimed "But gentlemen, a department is 
no swimming pool!", when people came up with the craziest excuses why
Emmy Noether, an excellent mathematician, could not get a professorship
(some time early this century) as a woman.  
(My translation, the original quote is "Aber meine Herren, eine 
Fakultaet ist doch keine Badeanstalt!")

|> Not long ago a woman came to Caltech to do a piece of performance art.  It
|> was called something like "Water over Time" and it was about Laura Bassi,
|> the first woman to get a professorship in physics in Europe, at the
|> University of Bologna . . .  Well, in the play, Laura Bassi appears to a
|> modern woman in her basement while she's trying to do her laundry.  (Like
|> I said, it's performance art.)  But Laura Bassi was a real person.  Not
|> only was she a professor, but she had 8 children.  The author told us
|> about how Bassi had to fight to get any financial remuneration for being a
|> professor (you mean we have to pay her, too?).  It made me wonder, over
|> all the years I've been in science, why haven't I heard of Laura Bassi
|> before?  How many real stories of heroism have been buried?

I admit that I also heard of Laura Bassi only very recently. In our 
library I found a book on short biographies of women scientists, 
ranging from well-known ones like Marie Curie to contemporary scientists
who are not so outstanding, but could serve as role models to "normal"
scientists. I will go later, look up the title and post it here. It 
also includes an explanation of the work these women did, a list of
important publications, etc. - it is a really good starting point for
finding out more. 

For those interested in "Water over time": the performer usually posts
the dates and places in this "wiphys" list as well. The only one left
of the dates she gave is 
Mon       April   29     La MaMa, NYC
If people here are interested, I can also repost her announcements 
here in this newsgroup.

One more thing: at a job fair for women here in Germany I found out that 
the German federal ministry of education has produced a really nice poster 
with the title "Important female scientists". It covers the whole 
timespan from the 6th century a. c. to this century, has some nice 
pictures (comment of a colleage on Ada Byron Lovelace: "Hey, she's 
really pretty") and short biographies. Now, the point is - except at 
this fair (and now on my office wall - reactions of people to this
had a quite far range and are worth another post some time) I have 
never seen this poster. As it turns out, the ministry of education
of the _state_ in which I live has asked all scientific departments 
in Universities to put up a poster with pictures and names of important
scientists (male and female). However, when you look at this poster,
you completely overlook the women, few as they are. So why don't they
ask departments as well to put up this nice poster on women?  


| Sabine Dippel     | e-mail: s.dippel at kfa-juelich.de                | 
| HLRZ              | phone : [++49] (2461) 61-2318                  | 
| KFA Juelich       | fax   : [++49] (2461) 61-2430                  | 
| 52425 Juelich     | WWW   : http://w3.hlrz.kfa-juelich.de/~sabine/ | 
| Germany           |                                                | 

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