Calling All Amateur Astronomers!

Last week Seattle hosted the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society. That meant that hundreds of America’s leading astronomers were in town last week! I was lucky enough to catch a few free presentations from some of these researchers at the latest Astronomy on Tap, and learned how I could help astronomers through citizen science initiatives.

Kalyna Durbak
“Rock On!”

Get your science on at GeekGirlCon ’14!

Written by Sarah “SG-1” Grant, Copy Writer

We know you’ve heard a lot about the DIY Science Zone’s return to GeekGirlCon ‘14 after their wildly successful debut at GeekGirlCon ‘13.

DIY Science

One of the DIY Science Zone tables from GeekGirlCon ’13

You may have also heard that all of our programming for GeekGirlCon ‘14 is online and ready for you to plan out your weekend to the minute.

What you haven’t heard about is the panels and programming we have coming to you for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)! One of GeekGirlCon’s goals as an organization is to encourage women and girls in these STEM fields, and we have quite a lineup at GeekGirlCon ‘14 to further our goals–and YOURS.

“Notable Women in Science” starts first thing in the morning on Saturday, October 11, at 10 a.m. in room 301. This panel highlights women in the history of science around the world, as well as discussing the role of women in science now. Adrienne Roehrich, GeekGirlCon’s own Manager of Editorial Services, is hosting this panel, and as a member of the Double X Science blog, she is the perfect person for this informative hour.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, you have a choice to make: “3D Printing 101” in room LL2, or “What’s New In Astronomy” in room 301. In 3D Printing 101, you’ll learn about this technical and creative field, and about 3D printers themselves from hosts Breanna Anderson and Ericka M. Johnson. “What’s New In Astronomy” is hosted by Drs. Nicole Gugliucci and Lisa Will, who have degrees in astronomy, physics, and astrophysics. This is not their first time with us – they guided us through plate tectonics, the making of moon craters, lunar phases (using Oreos!), and a physical model of our solar system at GeekGirlCon ‘13.

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One of the slides from last year’s Edible Astronomy panel

All you coders — and anyone who wants to know more about coding — head up to room 301 at 1 p.m. Saturday for “Lady Code Warriors: The Future is Coming!” This amazing group of female coders will tell you what working in their fields is like, and answer questions you have about joining them there. The FIRST Robotics Team 2930 Sonic Squirrels will also be presenting in room 303 at 1 p.m. Saturday, if you want to take a look at what this amazing team of teeangers is doing with robotics this year and into the future.

“Pathogens for Everyone?”, at 5 p.m. in room LL3, delves into diseases in the human body, and the role that Seattle Biomed, a local non-profit, plays in combating those diseases and more. Panelists Anja Ollodart, Sally Lyons-Abbott, Suzanne McDermott will steer you through these amazing and complex questions and issues.

If that isn’t enough to get your STEM juices flowing, head over to the GeekGirlConnnections room. There are tables representing tech companies from all over Western Washington, including F5 Networks, Amazon, ArenaNet, and Isilon Storage Divison/EMC. Seattle CoderDojo, Girl Scouts of Western Washington, and the Association for Women in Science are a few of the non-profit organizations who may benefit from your help, and show you how to parlay their amazing programs into benefits for your own lives. There are several tables aimed at getting you the education you need to pursue your goals in the Connections Room as well: Northeastern University – Seattle, Cornish College of the Arts, and the University of Washington Information School.

Room 204 is hosting the GeekGirlCon ‘14 Connections Programming, which you’ll see in your Program Book in the same grids as other convention programming. These panels are geared toward making connections in the working world, whether you’re looking for a job, or just looking to make new contacts in your field. There are even two Meetups happening — social time specific for Women in Tech at 5 p.m. Saturday, and Women in Science at 4 p.m. Sunday. Make contacts you need, or meet new friends!

Seriously, folks. Come get your science on!

Sarah Grant
“Rock On!”

Notable Scientists: Historical Astronomers

by Adrienne Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

as·tron·o·mer   [uh-stron-uh-mer] noun: an expert in astronomy; a scientific observer of the celestial bodies. Origin: 1325–75; Middle English.

The women featured in this post gazed at the stars and studied celestial bodies scientifically.

Emma T.R. Williams Vyssotsky (1894-1975) is often overshadowed by her husband. In fact, she is so overshadowed that the link provided links to an article on her husband that mentions her. She received her B.A. in mathematics from Swarthmore College in 1916, and had a career teaching math and as an actuary. She returned to school to receive her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1930. She received the Annie Jump Cannon Medal in 1946.

Her passion for mathematics led her to pursue her undergraduate degree in math. Finding positions for a woman in math was very difficult, and she longed for something more. She married a Russian astronomer, Alexander Vyssotsky, the same year she finished the requirements for her Ph.D. The degree was awarded when she was 35. She relocated to the University of Virginia to follow her husband’s career. Dr. Vyssotsky was hired as an instructor while her husband became an assistant professor. As a team, the Vyssotskys discovered dwarf stars using a special objective prism. Unfortunately, Dr. Vyssotsky suffered a disabling illness, causing her to leave the University in 1944. She was unable to return to work because a cure for her illness was unknown for 13 more years. She capped her astronomical career with a monograph written with her husband, An Investigation of Stellar Motions.

Helen W. Dodson Prince (1905-2002) was a renowned solar flare researcher. Born on the last day of the year in 1905, Helen W. Dodson received her B.A. in mathematics from Goucher College in 1927. She worked briefly as a statistician before taking her M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1932. She secured a position as an assistant professor at Wellesley College for 12 years and earned her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Michigan in 1934. She spent several sabbaticals at Observatories all over the world. She moved to assistant professor at Goucher College and received her Sc.D. there in 1952. Again, she moved universities to the University of Michigan and became a Professor of Astronomy there. She was also the  Associate Director of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory during the same years. She married Edmund Prince a little later in life. She received the Annie Jump Cannon Award and the Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Michigan.

Even though her chosen field requiring mathematics and physics was dominated by men, Dr. Prince made the decision to pursue her talents. Her research delved into 25 Orionis and contributed to the mathematical development of radar. Her work at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory stands out especially since she was one of the few female solar astronomers at the time, her work was cutting-edge, and the observatory originated as a volunteer institution before becoming a part of the university and had low expectations. Even after her tenure as Assistant Director ended, she continued research at the observatory until she retired at age 74.

Maria Mitchell, By H. Dassell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) is considered the first woman astronomer in the U.S.A. Born on Nantucket Island, Maria Mitchell was shaped by her family’s Quaker religion, which instilled the importance of education, sensible living, and eschewing the frivolous. She had no official degrees awarded, but worked as a librarian, a computer, and a professor of astronomy and director of observatory at Vassar College. Her early love of the sky connected her to her father, who was known to captains on Nantucket Island. She would adjust chronometers in her father’s absence. She attended her father’s school, and opened her own school at age 17, using unconventional teaching methods. She studied mathematics and astronomy on her own, and learned to use a sextant, a simple reflecting telescope and a Dollard telescope.

Her love of the sky is noted by her observance of the eclipse of 1831 and her discovery of the Comet Mitchell in 1847.  Her father’s contacts confirmed Maria’s discovery and due to a pronouncement by the King of Denmark to award a gold medal to the first discoverer of a comet by telescope, Mitchell became famous in both the U.S. and Europe. This capstone capitulated to be the first, and only for many many years, woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Using the opportunity as a chaperone to the daughter of a wealthy family, she was able to travel to Europe and meet leading astronomers and visit their observatories. After this, she began to focus on the role of women in science. When Vassar College opened, she was persuaded to take a position there to teach and perform her research. Her experimental teaching style persisted, and gained her an excellent reputation. She promoted the sisterhood of “women studying together.” She was an inspiration to her students, many of whom also became famous for their own work. Maria Mitchell was an amazing woman of science.

Adrienne Roehrich
“Rock On!”

GeekGirlCon ’13 Programming Round-Up: Edible Astronomy

Written by Sarah Grant, Copy Writer

I worked quite a bit on the program book for GeekGirlCon ‘13, especially in beefing up or cutting down panel descriptions. One of the most intriguing–and the one that most often made me giggle a little bit–was titled Edible Astronomy. The thing that came to mind most often was something about Earth’s moon and Swiss cheese; I was really hoping that wasn’t going to happen.

 

Image from GeekGirlCon Flickr Account

Image from GeekGirlCon Flickr Account

Presenters Nicole Gugliucci, Nancy Graziano, and Amy DaviS Roth started the panel with several packages of Oreo cookies in front of them, along with what looked like fruit, nuts, a bag of rice, and a beach ball. Amy’s first job was to distribute the Oreos to the audience members, who were expected to *gasp* do science! All of the experiments done can be found right here.

The first experiment was called Oreo Moon Phases, which is accompanied with the Moon Phases song in the PDF version of the experiment. Everyone carefully twisted apart an Oreo, trying to make sure all the vanilla filling stuck to one side. Nicole proceeded to demonstrate how, using a fork, spoon, or popsicle stick you can remove the cream to simulate different moon phases. Since she was traveling from the east coast and couldn’t bring a bunch of silverware with us, she showed us how to use our teeth instead. The vanilla cream represented the moon at full; nibbling just part of one side of the cream corresponded to a waning gibbous moon, which means the moon is starting to shrink as the shadow of the earth began to block the sun’s light. Half of the cream left is a quarter moon, and just a curve left on one side is the waning gibbous.

The second demonstration wasn’t so much astronomy per se: Plate Tectonics! This also used Oreos, which meant that Amy ate more Oreos as she distributed them.

Amy Davis Roth. Courtesy of Amy Davis Roth.

Amy Davis Roth. Courtesy of Amy Davis Roth.

Using cracked Oreos, we ground the “plates” together as though they were different tectonic plates throughout the world. Some of these produced “lava”–vanilla cream squirting up between the two shifting plates–while others produced a multitude of crumbs. The crumbs represented the land at the top of the plates moving and shifting and making a general mess–kind of like a real earthquake.

There was much munching of Oreos, of course, and many giggles throughout the room.

Beach Ball

Beach Ball. Photo credit.

The final experiment was the most interesting to me personally: the Edible Solar System. Nicole had a volunteer hold an inflatable beach ball above her head at the very front of the room. Generally Nicole uses a pumpkin for the sun, but she said she hadn’t wanted to attempt to get a pumpkin through airport security.

The first distance measured from the sun was Mercury; a grit–as in the dry material used in making the southern dish grits–was roughly the size of Mercury as compared to the sun, and it was about 3 feet from the sun. The second distance–Venus–was represented by a Strawberry Nerd–the candy!

Nerds

Nerds. Photo Credit.

Not as small as a grit, but still fairly dinky next to the sun, which was about 5.5 feet from the sun. Earth was the third distance at about 7.6 feet from the sun, and it was represented by a Grape Nerd! Mars–also known as a candy sprinkle often found on cupcakes–was 11.6 feet from the sun.

Sprinkles on a cupcake. Photo credit.

Sprinkles on a cupcake. Photo credit.

The next measurement would have been Jupiter, represented by a small apple. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that measurement; the room was too short by about 4 feet! This was a simple and yummy way to demonstrate relative distances between our sun and its various orbiting planets.

This panel was a bunch of fun, and thankfully there was no Swiss cheese in evidence. I can’t wait to see if these presenters, or others like them, come up with more tasty scientific experiments for us at GeekGirlCon ‘14. Subscribe to our newsletter to find out when YOU can submit ideas like this for GeekGirlCon ‘14!

Have you ever seen or done a scientific experiment with food? Tell us; we want to know!

Sarah Grant
“Rock On!”

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