Quick! Name two famous female scientists.
Is it possible you came up with Marie Curie and … what was that famous teacher’s name that died on the spaceship Challenger? Oh, yeah, Christa McAuliffe?
How about two famous female mathematicians? Is that pushing it?
Supporters of National Women’s History Month would have you take a closer look at what women are accomplishing in these fields … in this century. If you know more about Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette Wolowitz than you do about Mary G. Ross and Flossie Wong-Staal, you might want to have a look at the organization’s website and take their quiz on who you know in women’s history.
Ross and Wong-Staal are among 18 women honored by the 2013 celebration of National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Mary G. Ross, 1908 - 2008, was five years old before women were granted the right to vote in America. She was the first woman to work as an engineer at Lockheed’s Missiles Systems Division in 1952. She also was the first known Native American woman to be an engineer. Ross designed missiles and rockets, and developed systems for human space flight and interplanetary missions to Mars and Venus. After retiring, she began a second career as an advocate for women and Native Americans in engineering and mathematics.
Flossie Wong-Staal, born in 1946, is a virologist and molecular biologist. She is still working to develop first-in-class therapeutics to conquer the Hepatitis C virus. Her research helped decipher the structure of the HIV virus as the cause of AIDS. Wong-Staal was the first to clone and complete the genetic mapping of HIV making it possible to develop HIV tests.
The accomplishments of two women on the 2013 list of Honorees continue to help people see on a daily basis. Patricia Era Bath, born in 1942, is an ophthalmologist and inventor, responsible for the advent of laser cataract surgery. Katharine Burr Blodgett, 1898–1979, was awarded eight U.S. patents for low-reflectance “invisible” glass. Her work is still seen in camera lenses, computer screens, eyeglasses, and more.
Susan Solomon, born in 1956, has been recognized for her research on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole. Her work brought about the international treaty that has effectively regulated damaging chemicals. She is also a leader in climate science, and is best known for seminal work showing that climate changes due to human increases in carbon dioxide will last for more than a thousand years.
Locally, perhaps, one of the community’s most famous, and well loved female mathematicians is Gladys Sweeney. Sweeney taught math at Cheraw High School for nearly 30 years. Her theories on mathematics may not win her a Nobel Prize, but the knowledge she imparted, and the love for learning she gave to several generations of Chesterfield County’s students would be difficult to calculate. She retired in the spring of 2011. Her husband, James Sweeney currently serves as Chairman of the Chesterfield County School Board.
Sweeney, who took “no comments from the Peanut Gallery” in her classroom, will be honored as the Grand Marshal for the first annual Easter Hat Parade in Cheraw this Sunday afternoon in downtown Cheraw. The parade has nothing to do with National Women’s History Month, except that it will be led by a female mathematician who is also a strong, community leader and woman of faith.
Sweeney has been battling cancer in recent months and is hoping to be well enough to participate in the parade. “She is the Grand Marshal whether she’s able to attend Sunday or not,” said parade organizer Mary Lynn Godwin.
Celebrate the women in your life, and the Easter Hat Parade!
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.