Monday, September 26, 2016

Black women scientists: Katherine Johnson

"In an age of racism and sexism, Katherine Johnson broke both barriers at NASA. She calculated the trajectory of man’s first trip to the moon, and was such an accurate mathematician that John Glenn asked her to double-check NASA’s computers. To top it off, she did it all as a black woman in the 1950s and ’60s, when women at NASA were not even invited to meetings. And you’ve probably never heard of her."

Trailer of Hidden Figures film:

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gravity: From Aristotle to Einstein, by Erik Gregersen

"This view of why objects fall reigned until the scientific revolution that began in the Renaissance. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” like Kepler and Galileo, Isaac Newton realized that the apple falling to the ground and the Moon orbiting Earth were subject to the same gravitational force. The force was proportional to the mass of the two bodies attracting each other and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. (That is, when two bodies are twice as far apart as they were before, the gravitational attraction is 1/[2×2], or ¼ as strong.) The force operated between everything in the universe and explained the motions of the Moon and the planets very well.

Well, almost. Newtonian gravity had its triumphs. It was used to predict the location of the then unknown planet Neptune. However, for Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, Newton’s law was not quite as accurate in predicting the location of the planet’s perihelion (the point in its orbit where it is the closest to the Sun) as it was for the others. This point seemed to move about the Sun, and the motion vexed astronomers until Einstein introduced his theory of general relativity in 1915, in which gravity is not a force reaching out across the universe but is a bending of space-time around a massive object. The orbits of the planets and the apples falling to the ground follow the shape of space-time."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gertrude Belle Elion (1918-1999)

 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1988
Sir James W. Black, Gertrude B. Elion, George H. Hitchings

Gertrude Belle Elion (1918-1999) American biochemist and pharmacologist who played a key role in developing the AIDS drug AZT, receiving the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988 together with two other researchers. She was the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

This was her Nobel lecture:

Friday, May 20, 2016

The human brain does not work as a computer

"The landmark event that launched what is now broadly called ‘cognitive science’ was the publication of Language and Communication (1951) by the psychologist George Miller. Miller proposed that the mental world could be studied rigorously using concepts from information theory, computation and linguistics.
This kind of thinking was taken to its ultimate expression in the short book The Computer and the Brain (1958), in which the mathematician John von Neumann stated flatly that the function of the human nervous system is ‘prima facie digital’. Although he acknowledged that little was actually known about the role the brain played in human reasoning and memory, he drew parallel after parallel between the components of the computing machines of the day and the components of the human brain.
Propelled by subsequent advances in both computer technology and brain research, an ambitious multidisciplinary effort to understand human intelligence gradually developed, firmly rooted in the idea that humans are, like computers, information processors. This effort now involves thousands of researchers, consumes billions of dollars in funding, and has generated a vast literature consisting of both technical and mainstream articles and books. Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (2013), exemplifies this perspective, speculating about the ‘algorithms’ of the brain, how the brain ‘processes data’, and even how it superficially resembles integrated circuits in its structure.
The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.
But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor – a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point – either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

National DNA Day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953. This year's DNA Day is on Monday, April 25, 2016.

4 hours ago
would not be possible without women like Rosalind Franklin, Henrietta.Lacks, or Barbara McClintock.