3-1-20 Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin revealed stars’ composition and broke gender barriers
‘What Stars Are Made Of’ celebrates the life of a pioneering astronomer. It was 1924, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was on the verge of a breakthrough. Faint rainbows of starlight, recorded on photographic glass, held secrets to how the universe was put together. If only she could read the starlight’s story. As with every other challenge in her life, Payne-Gaposchkin would not stop. She once went without sleep for 72 hours, struggling to understand what the stars were telling her. “It was an impatience with the ordinary — with sleep, meals, even friendships and family — that had driven her as far back as she could remember,” journalist Donovan Moore writes in his book celebrating the life of Payne-Gaposchkin (who added “Gaposchkin” to her name upon marriage in 1934). After her death in 1979, other scientists would go on to remember her as “the most eminent woman astronomer of all time.” During a time when science was largely a men’s club, she had figured out the chemical makeup of the stars. In What Stars Are Made Of, Moore takes readers on a meticulously researched tour of Payne-Gaposchkin’s remarkable life, drawn from family interviews, contemporary accounts and Payne-Gaposchkin’s own writings. It’s a riveting tale of a woman who knocked down every wall put before her to get the answers she desired about the cosmos. Growing up in England, her love of science started before she could read. But English society in the early 1900s didn’t know what to do with such a determined girl. Days before her 17th birthday, she was told to leave school after administrators found they couldn’t meet her insatiable need to learn math and science. During physics lectures at the University of Cambridge, she, like all women, had to sit at the front, forced to parade past male students stomping in time with her steps.
2-28-20 Teen girl beats boys to 'make history' as state champion
Girls-only wrestling is not recognised in North Carolina. As is the case in many states across the US, there are not enough girls wrestling in secondary schools for a division to be formed. So when Heaven Fitch set her sights on becoming a wrestling champion, it was always going to mean facing a field made up of mostly boys. On 22 February, she became the first girl to win a North Carolina High School Wrestling State Championship. Heaven follows in the footsteps of Michaela Hutchison, who became the first girl to ever win a state-wide secondary school title in 2006. In an Instagram post about the victory, Heaven proudly said: "I did it again, I made history." But when she spoke to the BBC, the 16-year-old struggled to show anything other than modesty when discussing her success. "I'm just like any other person," she said, before clarifying, "outside of wrestling". "Last year I was the first girl to reach second place in North Carolina, but I never expected to win it. Just to place last year was crazy in itself - all I wanted was to place higher. "I'm proud of how far I've come." If her words leave you in any doubt of her talents, you need only speak to Chris Waddell, who has been her coach for the past two years. "There hasn't been anyone like her in North Carolina," he told the BBC. "I've never coached anyone like her. "Heaven's an exceptional wrestler and she's making history. It's an outstanding achievement - she's just that good." In the days since her victory, a video of Heaven's win has been viewed more than 250,000 times on social media, and she has made headlines across the country for "making history". It will perhaps not surprise you to learn that the teenager was down-to-earth when reflecting on the amount of press coverage her success has received. "It's been really surreal," she said. "I didn't expect it to go this far, it's become this big thing."
2-10-20 Remarkable journey from refugee to Rhodes scholar
Growing up as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, bloodshed was never far from Summia Tora's life. From her home - a single bedroom in a house shared by four families - she could hear the sound of drones landing not far from Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan, where her family had fled in the 1990s to escape the Taliban's rise. "I was just living in this violence, but it was a given, so I couldn't do anything about it," Summia says. Sometimes there were bombings once or twice a week. "At some point, people stopped talking about it. It would happen, and everyone would move on." But life there was a privilege compared to Afghanistan, she tells the BBC. At least she got to go to school. On a visit to Kabul in 2002, just after the US invasion, a girl not much older described only being able to attend school by pretending to be a boy. Summia was six, but she remembers it clearly. She vowed then that she would to take learning seriously. It would be hard to dispute that she has. In October, Summia, now 22, will become the first Rhodes Scholar to hail from Afghanistan, one of 102 students to earn a place in the 2020 class of the world's oldest postgraduate scholarship. Now finishing her last term at Earlham College, a liberal arts university in the US state of Indiana, her outlook is bright and she laughs with ease, the fluent torrent of her words belying the traumas of the journey that has taken her from refugee to Rhodes Scholar. To be called an educated Afghan woman is in itself a rarity. Female literacy in Afghanistan today stands at 17%, according to Unesco. Though figures in neighbouring Pakistan are still poor - around 45% of women can read - access to schooling is possible. In contrast, in her home country "even the people who could afford to go to school were not able to go… because there weren't any", Summia says. So it was her unlikely fortune to grow up in Pakistan, she says - an irony given the region's privations and dangers. Thousands of US drone operations have flown over Northwest Pakistan since 2004, as part of the so-called war on terror. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province containing Peshawar, has been a major theatre for the decades-long Pakistani fight against insurgency.
2-6-20 Seven female scientists you may not have heard of - but should know about
Not a single woman's name features in the national curriculum for science, an education charity says - prompting calls for the government to act over a "lack of visible role models for girls". Teach First has launched the STEMinism camapign, calling to close gender gaps in science and maths careers. It says no female scientists were mentioned in the GCSE science curriculum, while just two - DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin and paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey - were referred to in three double science GCSE specifications from the major exam boards. In comparison, more than 40 male scientists or their discoveries were mentioned. Meanwhile, a separate poll conducted by the charity revealed half of people are unable to name a single female scientist, alive or dead. But it is not just Britain's men who have made pioneering scientific discoveries. Here are some of the overlooked British women whose research changed the world.
- Mary Somerville: Somerville was named the 19th Century's "queen of science" after her death. Her popular books linked up and explained different areas of scientific study, and her detailed work on the solar system was influential in the discovery of Neptune.
- Mary Anning: A self-taught pioneer, Anning discovered Jurassic remains in her hometown of Lyme Regis. She came across her first find - an ancient reptile later named an Ichthyosaurus - at the age of 12.
- Ada Lovelace: Ada Lovelace was a leading 19th century mathematician credited with creating early computer programs.She worked with her friend Charles Babbage, an inventor and mechanical engineer, on his proposals for an "Analytical Engine".
- Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify in the UK as a doctor - but it wasn't easy to get there. In her mid-20s, she enrolled as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital in London.
- Elsie Widdowson: Widdowson devoted her life to improving people's diets in Britain and overseas. In 1940, when food was being rationed during World War Two, she published a book called The Chemical Composition of Foods that contained details of the nutritional values of many foods.
- Dorothy Hodgkin: Hodgkin was born in Cairo to a British couple who were working in the north African country during a period when it was under British control. But she herself largely spent her childhood in Norfolk and was educated at a state school in Beccles, Suffolk, where she fought to be allowed to study chemistry along with the boys.
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is credited with one of the most important discoveries of the last century: the discovery of radio pulsars. Pulsars are the by-products of supernova explosions that make all life possible.
1-27-20 The Fighter and the Pimp: Fighting for Congo's most vulnerable girls in Kinshasa
In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city, wrestling has helped an extraordinary woman to escape the violent streets on which she grew up. As a fighter, Shaki is an inspiration for dozens of street children, and her home has become a refuge for girls trying to escape the thugs, rapists, and pimps of Kinshasa’s slums. BBC Africa Eye follows Shaki as she steps into the wrestling ring, fights to give her daughter a chance in life, and takes on other women who have very different ideas about how to raise teenage girls.
1-15-20 Liang Jun: China's first female tractor driver, and national icon, dies
A woman who became China's first female tractor driver, and eventually a national icon, has died at the age of 90. In 1948, Liang Jun became the only female in China to take up the job, when she enrolled in a training class for tractor drivers. More than a decade later, an image of her proudly driving a tractor was featured on China's one-yuan banknote. "No-one could drive as well as me," she had said in an earlier interview. "I have no regrets in this life." Liang Jun was born in 1930 to a poor family in China's remote Heilongjiang province. She spent most of her early years helping out at a farm as well as studying in a rural school. In 1948, when a local school opened up a course to train tractor drivers, she seized her chance. According to local media, there were 70 students in the class - with Liang Jun being the only woman. She eventually completed her training and became the country's first female tractor driver. A year later, communist leader Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People's Republic of China. In previous eras in China, nobles, poets and military leaders were the ones to admire. But when the communists took power in 1949, a new kind of hero was born - the model worker, a concept already in use in the Soviet Union. The Chinese state promoted poor, hard-working individuals whose dedication to building a socialist country was held up for others to follow. Liang Jun was one of the first, and one of the best known, model workers. Her smiling face as she drives her tractor on the one yuan banknote was supposed to inspire others to similar heights of achievement. It was not just class barriers she broke down either. Liang Jun became a symbol for all Chinese women, and the possibilities that now opened up for them. She herself made full use of those opportunities. She became an engineer and a politician; a long journey from an impoverished childhood.