A story nearly lost, an entomologist, a child prodigy and more

June-2017

 

Harriet Marble‘s story was nearly lost. She doesn’t get a mention on this historical marker – even though she developed this medical and pharmacy center:

 

Historical-marker

 

In 2009, though, an electrician doing work at her former home found some of her belongings in the attic. The building’s owner, Jim McKeighen, got curious – there was correspondence between Marble and Madame C.J. Walker, the first African-American woman to become a millionaire. I came across a newspaper story of what he found, when I was trying to find any trace of Marble after reading a small biographical entry for her in an old book.

Marble was born in 1885, and she was an early African-American woman pharmacist. She became a very successful businesswoman in Kentucky, and was served as Vice President of the National Medical Association. Check out her Wikipedia page – there’s not much to be found out about her on the internet, but there’s enough to know she led a fascinating life! I couldn’t find a photo – I hope someone does some digging and finds one.

A second new scientist added to Wikipedia this round is a Canadian-born, African-American entomologist, Jessica Ware. I first read about Ware in the terrific, Memoirs of Black Entomologists, and you might have seen her in the media – she was a featured scientist at the D.C. March for Science. She is an expert in dragonflies and has done highly cited work on phylogenomics of insect evolution. People from her lab responded to the request for a photo – thanks, Ware Lab!

In other news, Alma Levant Hayden, likely the first African-American FDA scientist, was featured for a day on the Wikipedia main page (here’s the screenshot). Her Wikipedia page got nearly 12,000 views that day, and nearly 6,000 the day after! Which was enough for her to make the Wikipedia “Did you know?” page view leaders’ list for June 2017.

And there’s more to check out since the last post.

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Hilyard Robinson (1899-1986), architect and engineer, who was influenced by his time in Europe – first as a soldier in World War I, then studying there, including Bauhaus style. Among his notable work is designing the Langston Terrace Dwellings, as part of FDR’s social works projects.

Juanita Merchant is a physiologist and professor at the University of Michigan, who has contributed to understanding the stomach’s response to chronic inflammation.

Jessica Ware – entomologist, discussed above.

Anne-Marie Imafidon (b. 1990), a mathematics, computing, and languages child prodigy,  entered Oxford University at age 15, becoming its youngest-ever master’s degree graduate at 19. She launched, and is CEO of, Stemettes, an English social enterprise encouraging young girls’ interest in STEM careers.

 

Featured scientist needing an image

 

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

 
Some more scientists Wikipedians have added:

Sheila Miyoshi Jager (b. 1963) is an anthropologist and professor of East Asian Studies at Oberlin College.

Malado Kaba (b. 1971) is an economist who is finance minister in Guinea. (Needs a photo.)

Pilai Poonswad (b. 1946) is an ornithologist and biologist, and professor at Mahidol University, Thailand. She recruited poachers to help conserve declining hornbills and their forest habitat. (Her page needs a photo, too.)

Cecilia Lo studies congenital heart defects. She’s a professor and chair of the Developmental Biology Department at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo needed.)

Maria Fernanda Botelho, born in Portugal, is a mathematician and professor at the University of Texas. (Her page needs a photo.)

Bridget Terry Long is an African-American economist and professor at Harvard, and former chair of the National Board of Education Science. (Her page needs a photo, too.)

Sian Proctor is an African-American geologist, science communicator and educator, who almost made it into NASA’s astronaut program.

 

Other faces slideshow

 

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While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added. Lately, they included:

Virginia Randolph (1870-1958), her parents had been enslaved – she was born 9 years after the end of the Civil War. Randolph had an extraordinary career as an innovative educator, “creating a successful formula based on practicality, creativity, and involvement of parents and community”.

Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), was the first African-American graduate at Harvard and dean of its School of Law, who became a diplomat, serving in Russia during the Russo-Japanese war.

Charlotte Louise Bridges Forten Grimké (1837-1914), anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator, from a prominent African-American family. During the Civil War, she was present when the all-Black 54th Regiment stormed Fort Wagner. Grimké participated in her minister husband’s work, and chronicled her life and times.

J. Vance Lewis (?-1925) was enslaved, freed as a result of the Emancipation when he was about 10. He became a lawyer, admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. Lewis wrote an autobiography.

Mary Burnett Talbert (1866-1923) was one of the most famous African-Americans of her time. She was an educator, orator, civil rights and anti-lynching activist, suffragist, and reformer. Talbert graduated from Oberlin College, the only African-American student there at the time. She was one of the founders, along with W.E.B. DuBois, of the Niagara Movement, a pioneering civil rights group.

Edward Elder Cooper (1859-1908), born into slavery, became one of the first African-American publishers, publishing the first illustrated black newspaper in the U.S., the Indianapolis Freeman and later the DC paper, The Colored American.

Inspired? Read and share stories – and check out “How to Help” if you would like to add images and stories to Wikipedia.

Hilda Bastian

Trailblazing African-American STEM women in the ’40s and ’50s, breaking ground today, and back to the 19th century

Alma Levant Hayden and Hattie Scott Peterson

These two extraordinary women both had degrees from Howard University. On the left is Alma Levant Hayden, whose love of chemistry and Master’s degree saw her blaze a trail in government science – and likely the first African-American FDA scientist in the 1950s, after a time at the NIH. Hayden came to national attention when she unmasked a successful and expensive cancer treatment scam.

On the right is Hattie Peterson, the first African-American woman to earn a degree in civil engineering. She graduated from Howard in 1946, and blazed a trial for women engineers in the US Army Corps of Engineers in California. You can read a little bit more here. That extra information was provided by the Sacramento USACE, but because it hasn’t been published anywhere, it can’t be used on the Wikipedia page.

Two of the mathematicians from Missing Scientists’ Faces have each had a spot for a day on the Wikipedia main page: Louise Nixon Sutton and Thyrsa Frazier Svager, both among the first African-American women to gain PhDs in mathematics or mathematics education. You can see the text that appeared here and here. That brought an extra 5,000 visitors to meet these pioneering women.

And there’s more to check out since the last post.

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Alma Levant Hayden, chemist, and Hattie Scott Peterson, civil engineer (more above). (Note: The image for Peterson is the first one in this project that’s under Wikipedia’s “fair use” criteria: although we are pretty sure there is no copyright attached, we can’t be 100% sure.)

Claudia Baquet is a pioneer in the field of health disparities. Her photo is now in Wikimedia, ready for Wikipedia – but she needs a page. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Baquet was responsible for adding race and ethnicity to NCI cancer statistics, enabling the development of intervention trials to reduce barriers to African-Americans quitting smoking and getting screened for cancer. More on Baquet here.

Saadia Zahidi is an economist, who migrated to the US after growing up in Pakistan. She heads Gender Parity and Human Capital at the World Economic Forum, and author of Fifty Million Rising: How a new generation of working women is revolutionizing the Muslim world.

Featured scientist needing an image

Inspired? You could help by emailing the library at University of District of Columbia or Howard University, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

Nita Ahuja is a surgeon and scientist at Johns Hopkins University. She migrated to the US as a child with her parents, from India. (Her page needs a photo.)

Erica Walker is another African-American mathematician. She is Professor of Mathematics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ebonya Washington is the Henry Kohn Professor of Economics at Yale University . She is one of only 13 black economists on the faculty of America’s highest ranking universities. (And her page needs a photo.)

Tan Lei (1963-2016)) was a Chinese mathematician who studied in France, and worked in Germany, England, and France. She contributed to knowledge about complex numbers, including the Mandelbrot set and Julia set.

Other faces slideshow

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While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added.

John Hope (1868-1936) was the first African-American to be president of Morehouse College, the historically black college in Atlanta attended by Martin Luther King Jr. The Science Hall was renamed John Hope Hall in his honor.

John H. Murphy (1840-1922), born into slavery, he was the publisher of one of the oldest operating black newspapers, the Afro-American.

Share some of these pictures and stories, and read about how you can help find missing scientists’ faces. And a big thank you to the USACE and California State Library for helping track down Hattie Peterson and her photo.

Hilda Bastian

Scientists’ photos of their colleagues, an historical picture surfaces, & a mathematician’s legacy

 

Photo of Josephine Silone Yates

This is Josephine Silone Yates in around 1885. She was the first African-American women to head a college science department and the first to become a full professor. Silone Yates was an activist. And that’s why this photo of her surfaced recently. The Library of Congress digitized and released 19th century photos of black women activists – and this photo from a postcard was one of them. (Thanks to @WikiWomenInRed for spreading the word!)

As well as adding this newly available photo to Silone Yates’ Wikipedia page, I added this one that was published with her obituary in 1912. That’s in the new images slide show below.

This week also showed the value of asking senior scientists if they have photos they took of noted and groundbreaking scientists. Raymond L. Johnson went from a segregated two-room school in Texas in the 1940s to a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2015. Along the way, he broke the color barrier after a lawsuit to attend Rice University, and was the first African-American mathematics professor at the University of Maryland. He put me in touch with Lenore Blum, computer scientist professor at Carnegie Mellon, who had taken photos at a 1995 gathering of African-American mathematicians. The first two photos from this treasure trove are below: Raymond Johnson and Fern Hunt. Know a senior scientist who’s always taking photos at conferences? Ask them who they have in their collection!

And another Twitter lucky break: hunting for a photo of one of the first African-American women to get a PhD in mathematics, professor and provost Thyrsa Frazier Svager (1930-1999), turned up a little tribute to her on Twitter by the Dayton Federation. Take a few moments to watch it – she’s amazing! She and her physics professor husband, Aleksandar Svager, lived on one of their salaries so they could invest the other to build a legacy for  a scholarship fund for African-Americans and other minorities to study mathematics or physics.

 

 

They replied to a tweet, got permission from her husband to put the photo in the public domain, and I wrote a Wikipedia page about her amazing life.

More to check out since the last post:

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Josephine Silone Yates, Raymond L. Johnson, and Thyrsa Frazier-Svager are all discussed above. The two others in the slideshow:

Fern Hunt (b. 1948) is a mathematician who has worked on problems at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as her own research and teaching.

Nicole King (b. 1970) is a biologist, MacArthur Fellow, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. She has a lab at University of California, Berkeley – and she developed and maintains a list of resources for people who want to increase diversity at science conferences: let her know if you have resources to add.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the library or media office at any of the institutions they were associated with, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

 

 

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

Ritu Karidhal had one of the new pages on Wikipedia. Some other new pages since the last post – all but the first have no photos.

Núria López-Bigas is a Spanish biologist who leads the Biomedical Genomics Research Group in Barcelona, investigating cancer genomes using computation.

Ampar Acker-Palmer (b. 1968) is a cell biologist and neuroscientist, who has worked on the similarities in nerve and blood vessel development. She is from Spain, working in Germany.

Rebecca Bace (1955-2017) was a Japanese-American computer scientist and pioneer in intrusion detection who worked at the NSA and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as industry and academia.

Mónica Tarducci is an anthropologist and feminist activist in Buenos Aires, who has described herself as a “secular missionary, spreading knowledge through different contexts”.

Other faces slideshow

While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added. This time, it led to a new Wikipedia page for an African-American suffragist and anti-lynching activist.

 

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An amazing couple: Nellie Griswold Francis (1874-1969) was an African-American suffragist, who not only helped achieve women’s right to vote in Minnesota, but initiated, drafted, and lobbied for an anti-lynching bill that was signed into law in 1921. Later, she and her husband were the target of a Ku Klux Klan campaign when they bought a house in a white neighborhood – with death threats and crosses burned on the front lawn. She was an amateur singer and actor, too, including writing at least one play.

Her husband, William T. Francis (1870-1929), was a successful lawyer who also won several racial discrimination battles, was active politically – and helped with the anti-lynching bill. He was Minnesota’s first black diplomat, appointed Consul-General in Liberia in 1927. He died there of yellow fever in 1929 – but an investigation he did into forced labor and slavery set off a chain of events that brought down the Liberian president and vice-president.

William Sidney Pittman (1875-1958) was an African-American architect, the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, and later published a weekly newspaper.

And Jennie Dean was born into slavery in 1848: she became a suffragist, and founded churches, Sunday schools, and the only higher education institution open to African-Americans at the time.

Inspired? Share some of these pictures and stories, and read about how you can help find missing scientists’ faces. And a big thank you to Raymond Johnson, Lenore Blum, Wiki Women in Red, the Dayton Foundation, and Alexsandar Svager for their help!

Hilda Bastian

 

 

 

 

A rare picture from one of the earliest groundbreakers, mathematicians, and other un-missable faces

Ruth_Ella_Moore

This is a rare picture of Ruth Ella Moore, who was born in 1903. Dr Moore was the first African-American woman to gain a PhD in a natural science, when Ohio State University awarded her a PhD in bacteriology for her work on TB in 1933. She was professor and head of the department of bacteriology at Howard University.

This photo was in an article on a meeting, in the American Society of Microbiology’s (ASM) magazine. A very big thank you to the team at ASM, who leapt into action in response to a @MissingSciFaces tweet: soon her Wikipedia page had this pic.

More to check out since the last post:

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Wesley Anthony Brown (1927-2012) was the first African-American graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, in 1949.

Ruth Ella Moore (1903-1994) (featured above).

Cynthia Margaret Pine (b. 1953 in Guyana), dentistry researcher and educator, and the first woman dean of a dentistry school in the UK.

Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969), the first African-American to gain a PhD in mathematics, from Cornell University in 1925.

Abdulalim A. Shabazz (1927-2014), earned the second PhD by an African-American in mathematics from Cornell University – in 1955.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the libraries at any of the institutions they were associated with, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

First new page in the project this month was Mary Elliott Hill (1907-1969), likely the first African-American woman to be gain a master’s degree in chemistry, Virginia State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Kentucky.

This month is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. So expect to see plenty of new pages and photos for African-American mathematicians this month. Two new pages for African-American women in mathematic:

George Caldwell Smith (1909-1961) was one of the first African-American women to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (in Kansas), going on to add a master’s from the University of Chicago and teach in several universities, become head of the Spelman College department of mathematics. Later in life, she studied for her PhD: but she died soon after defending her dissertation. (Her PhD was conferred posthumously in 1961.)

Louise Nixon Sutton (1925-2006) was the first African-American woman to be awarded a PhD in mathematics from New York University – in 1962.

Other new pages on Wikipedia that appeared since the last post:

Diane Powell Murray is an African-American software engineer and program manager, with a bachelor’s in mathematics from Spelman College and a master’s from Cornell (in 1976). (No photo.)

Talithia Williams is a mathematician and statistician, and the first tenured African-American woman at Mudd College. She got her bachelor’s from Spelman College, and master’s and PhD (2008) from Rice University. (No photo.)

Shihoko Ishii is professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo. She gained her PhD from Tokyo Metropolitan University in 1983. (No photo.)

Mei-Chu Chang is a mathematician who got a bachelor’s degree National Taiwan University, and her PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1982. (No photo.)

Minerva Cordero is Puerto Rican, and a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas Arlington. She gained a PhD at the University of Iowa in 1989. (No photo.)

Other faces slideshow

While looking for scientists’ faces, some other faces come up that are hard to leave behind. The line has to be drawn somewhere, with so many scientists still waiting – sometimes it’s hard to know where the line is, though. And some categories are emerging that need to be picked up when serendipity puts them in my path: notable people in civil rights, indigenous people, and African-American women academics. Here’s a batch from the last week or so.

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Mary Ellen Britton (1855-1925), African-American physician, educator, suffragist, journalist, and civil rights activist.

James Nabrit (1932-2013), African-American civil rights lawyer – his Wikipedia page had no photo. Here he is seen (far right) on the Supreme Court steps with George Hayes and Thurgood Marshall after the win in Brown v. Board of Education: the ruling that segregation in education violates the U.S. Constitution.

C. Virginia Fields (b. 1945), African-American woman who studied sociology, social worker and civil rights activist-turned-politician, who now leads the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

Katherine Gottlieb, indigenous woman, president and CEO of an Alaskan Native Healthcare Organization, and a MacArthur Fellow.

Pilar Thomas, tribal affairs lawyer and member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona. She served in various government agencies, participating in the U.S. adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, tribal land leasing reforms, and water rights.

Hilda Bastian

A forgotten pioneering African-American physicist & correcting the record

Carolyn Beatrice Parker

This is Carolyn Beatrice Parker (b 1917). Up to now, people said the first African-American woman physicist who reached PhD level was in the 70s. But Carolyn Beatrice Parker researched plutonium on the Dayton Project, part of WWII’s Manhattan project. She completed her physics PhD at MIT in the early 50s, but leukemia, likely plutonium-induced, stopped her being able to defend it. She died at 47. Read more about her in her new Wikipedia page.

Her story highlighted another error in the record: she was related to marine biologist Joan Murrell Owens, another pioneering African-American woman scientist. She was credited with being the first to get a PhD in geology, in 1984: but that was likely Marguerite Thomas Williams in 1941.

The biggest shock, though: the widely credited first African-American woman to get a PhD in botany, Jesse Jarue Mark, turned out not to be a woman. Bryan Clark found this out when he tracked down a photo of JJ Mark. (Many years ago, Jesse’s name became Jessie, and the error spread for decades.) Thanks, Bryan!

A different Jessie, Jessie Isabelle Price, was the subject of a new set of errors – this time started by Buzzfeed. Got it corrected when Danielle Lee weighed in on Twitter – thanks Danielle!

More to check out since the last post:

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Yvonne Young Clark (b 1929) was the first African-American woman to get a degree in mechanical engineering, in 1951. She helped design the containers that Neil Armstrong used to bring the first moon rocks to earth!

Cheryl Hayashi is a Hawaii-born biologist and MacArthur Fellow, who specialized in the genetic structure of spider silk. She is now professor and director of comparative biology research at the American Museum of Natural History.

Carolyn Beatrice Parker (1917 – 1966) – physicist from above.

Deborah Shiu-Ian Jin (b 1968) is another physicist who died young – at 47 from cancer. She was another MacArthur Fellow and a pioneer in a type of quantum chemistry.

Janie L. Miles (b 1958) was the first African-American woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. She earned a B.S. in general engineering in 1980: she was the only African-American in the first class of women after the prohibition against women students was lifted.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the libraries at any of the institutions they were associated with, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia? (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

More about Betty Harris (b 1940) on Wikipedia.

 

A. Oveta Fuller (b 1955) on Wikipedia.

 

Lonnie Standifer (1926 – 1996) on Wikipedia.

 

New pages on Wikipedia

Wikipedia pages for Carolyn Parker, Lonnie Standifer, and Janie L. Mines were all new. Some highlights from other new Wikipedia pages for scientists from under-represented groups:

  • Vera Mae Green (1928 – 1982) – African-American anthropologist who worked on methods for studying African-American communities. (She needs a photo, too!)
  • Olabisi Ugbebor (b 1951) is the first female professor of mathematics in Nigeria – her page is just a mention though. Any takers for expanding and tracking down a photo?
  • Harriette Pipes McAdoo (1940 – 2009) – another pioneering African-American anthropologist.

 

Hilda Bastian

Welcome to the Missing Scientists’ Faces Blog!

 

If you want to see pictures of notable scientists you’ve never seen before, you’re in the right place! The goal here is to put faces to names you may know, but most often won’t.

Groups that are under-represented in science fields end up even more under-represented in our image of the professions. That’s why “Missing Scientists’ Faces” leans heavily in the opposite direction. And it’s centered around Wikipedia, making it globally accessible, and a great way to crowdsource science’s historic record. You can catch up on the backstory here.

This first big post covers the first few weeks of March. Expect to see a post about once a week, even if it’s a short one. You can keep up with how this project develops, with no more than one email a week. In this first post, you can check out:

New images

The first batch of new recent images comes from a mix of crowdsourcing, targeted searching, and serendipity. The people were born between 1856 and 1963:

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  • Evelyn Boyd Granville (b 1924) – the second African-American woman to get a PhD in mathematics (1949), moving into computer programming with IBM in the 1950s, then to NASA in the 1960s to work on Apollo missions, then to being Professor of Mathematics at California State University.
  • Lydia Villa-Komaroff (b 1947) – a molecular and cellular biologist, who is the third Mexican-American woman to receive a PhD in this field (1975). She is known for co-discovering how bacterial cells can generate insulin, and is a co-founding member of The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).
    • Mónica Feliú-Mójer shared a link to videos of Villa-Komaroff talking about why she became a scientist, why people should study science and more – the link is  now on Villa-Komaroff’s Wikipedia page, too.
  • Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946) was the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, studied in London as well, and helped found, then lead, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in Philadelphia. This adds an image when he was older to his Wikipedia page.
  • Aprille Ericsson (1963-) – aerospace engineer at NASA. First woman to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering at Howard University, first African-American woman to earn a PhD in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She has been working on the Mars mission. Sourced by: Nature, in its story about MissingSciFaces.

This second batch are all MacArthur Fellows – scientists awarded “the genius grant”. Jennifer Richeson was the one I was looking for: she pointed me to her MacArthur program portraits. All those photos are in the public domain – but not in Wikipedia. Here is a small subset:

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  • Jennifer Richeson (1972-) – social psychologist and Professor at Northwestern University, MacArthur Fellowship (the genius grant). She researches interracial relations, including using brain imaging studies. Sourced by: Jennifer Richeson responded to a direct request on Twitter.
  • Lisa Cooper (b 1963) – a public health physician and epidemiologist born in Liberia, who is a Professor at Johns Hopkins University. She is known for her research on the impact of race, ethnicity, and gender on the doctor-patient relationship and health disparities.
  • Mercedes Doretti (b 1959) – an Argentinian forensic anthropologist who founded the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, working on finding evidence of crimes against humanity.
  • Wafaa  El-Sadr (b 1950) – an infectious disease and public health physician, who studies HIV and tuberculosis and is a global activist. She is a Professor at Columbia University, and Egyptian-American.
  • Yoky Matsuoka (b 1972) – now at Apple, her research combined neuroscience and robotics to design prosthetics. She is Japanese-American.
  • Olufunmilayo Olopade (b 1957) – a hematology oncologist, she studied breast cancer genes in women of African heritage. She is Nigerian-American, and a Professor at the University of Chicago.
  • Nergis Mavalvala (b 1968) – a Pakistani-American astrophysicist, who participated in the first observation of gravitational waves and more. She is a Professor at MIT.
  • Ana Maria Rey (b 1976 or 1977) – a theoretical physicist known for her work on ultra-cold atoms. Born in Colombia, she is a Professor at the University of Colorado.

Featured scientists needing images

Tweeted out two amazing women scientists this week, including tweeting at the institutions they are associated with. Any takers for more direct contact? The copyright status of these wonderful photos is not clear, so we don’t know if they are in the public domain and can be used on Wikipedia. Zelma Maine-Jackson and Gloria Chisum are both important and inspiring scientists who need a lot more visibility:

 

Sophie Lutterlough (1910-2009)entomologist

Wikipedia bio page – this picture uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution to Wikimedia Commons needed to have a story shared:

Photo of Sophie Lutterlough
Sophie Lutterlough, entomologist

 

The photo is of Sophie Lutterlough, showing her with the microscope, tweezers, and chemicals she spent countless hours poring over as she restored, identified, and classified insects at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The NMNH reports that she restored hundreds of thousands of insects over the years, and co-identified 40 type specimens – that’s an insect that stands as the representative of its species. In 1979, a large mite was named in her honor: pygemephorus lutterloughae.

Lutterlough liked biology, and became fascinated by the NMNH and the work that went on inside. But when she applied to work there in 1943, racial barriers meant a job on the curation and science side was impossible. Lutterlough got a job as the first woman elevator operator, studying the exhibits in her lunch hours and becoming a font of expertise for visitors. After 12 years of that, she asked an insect curator if there could be a place for her in his department – and she was on her way to becoming an entomologist.

It wasn’t unusual at the Museum for people without zoological qualifications to become scientists by training and experience there. It might be unique for an African-American of her generation, though. For years at least, she was the only African-American employed full-time on the Museum’s science side. I hope to find out from the NMNH if she was the first. Margaret Collins, a zoology Professor at Howard University, was a research associate at NMNH, apparently from the late 1970s.

With big thanks to the social media and entomology teams at the NMNH who tracked down the article in a paywalled zoological article describing the mite named after Luttlerlough – and to NMNH for blogging about Lutterlough and releasing the photo in Wikimedia Commons that introduced me to Lutterlough.

 

Hilda Bastian