Log tables: an essential tool for scientists in the era before cheap calculators and computers.
It was Robyn Arianrhod’s book, Seduced by Logic, that prompted me to write this series of posts about my mother’s working life and her education in maths and science. Arianrhod’s book is about two female mathematicians, one from the eighteenth century and the other who lived in the nineteenth century. These women made significant contributions to the scientific revolution that swept Europe (read my review here).
I had given my father a biography of Newton for the last birthday he had before he died so I was thinking of him while reading the book. I had not expected this book to trigger thoughts about my mother, yet there it was – a discussion of spectroscopy on pages 181-2.
Through spectroscopy scientists can understand more about an object by analysing the light it emits or absorbs. My mother worked as a technical assistant in a spectroscopy laboratory while she was studying maths and physics at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). Continue reading
This photo of Hamilton High School in Victoria was taken when my mother was in Form 1 (year 7) in 1953.
This week came the disappointing news that the participation in Maths by girls in their final year of school in New South Wales is declining significantly. In 2001, the first year when students were no longer required to study a Maths or science subject in year twelve in order to qualify for university entrance, 90.5% of girls studied Maths whereas 96.9% of boys did.
The disparity between the genders in participation in Maths was already noticeable in 2001. Ten years later this disparity has worsened. By 2011 girls participation in year twelve Maths had dropped to 78.2%. The participation of boys had also decreased but not to such a degree. In 2011 90.2% of boys studied year twelve Maths.
Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at University of Sydney noted that this problem is partly due to the attitude about girls and women being bad at Maths.
There are many, many examples of girls and women excelling in Maths. Jane Gleeson-White has highlighted the stories of three Australian women who are clearly brilliant at Maths. She could have listed many more.
Unfortunately some dismiss these women as being ‘unusual’ (which is often code for ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’). Yet the story about Clio Cresswell, senior lecturer in mathematics and statistics at University of Sydney, caught my eye. It is not the tale of success in maths one would expect. Cresswell told Jane Gleeson-White that she struggled with maths at school. What led Clio Cresswell to ultimately succeed in maths at a high level? Read Jane Gleeson-White’s post to find out!
In this post I want to highlight a story of an ordinary woman and her quiet determination to participate in science and to study Maths. She was not brilliant at Maths but she enjoyed it and wanted to pursue it. Her story demonstrates some of the subtle and not so subtle barriers that dissuade many women from studying Maths and Science.
This woman is my mother. Continue reading
Edmund de Waal’s book, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance is a family history that has become a best-seller. It is a biography that follows the trail of small Japanese carvings as they were passed from owner to owner within the family while the family were entangled in the broader travails of nineteenth and twentieth century history.
Edmund de Waal received an unusual inheritance – over two hundred small Japanese carvings called netsuke (click here to see some of them). In this book De Waal retraces the lives of the previous generations of his family who had owned the netsuke. Thus the book is not a birth to death biography of the owners; rather taking up the story of the owners of the netsuke from the point when they first received them to when they passed them on to the next owner. I liked this approach. Continue reading
The upper portion of the building where the Báb declared His mission on 23 May 1844 in Shiraz, Iran, before its destruction in 1979. Reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community.
I sat on the edge of my seat with my cup of tea in suburban Sydney listening to the elderly man recount a scene in the city of Shiraz in Iran. It was 1955 when he saw the mob tearing down a house with their bare hands. Fearing that another historically significant building (pictured above) would be torn down, Mr Noorgostar guarded it for three months.
Why were these buildings targets of such fury? They were of great significance to the history of Iran because they marked the birth of what has become the largest non-Islamic religion in Iran today – the Baha’i Faith. Since the emergence of the Baha’i Faith in mid-nineteenth century Iran, Baha’is have faced recurrent waves of persecution.
The dawning place of the Baha’i Faith can be traced to the building which Mr Noorgostar helped to protect. It was here in 1844 that a young man called the Báb first announced that the long-awaited Messenger of God would appear very soon. The windows of the room in which this event occurred are pictured above. During 1955 when Mr Noorgostar was guarding this building he slept outside in front of these windows. Continue reading