First Annual WCS Lecture, featuring Maria Klawe, Thursday 12/4 at 5:30 in BAG 154

Women in Chemical Sciences will be holding its first annual lecture this Thursday, December 4 (tomorrow!) from 5:30-6:30 pm in BAG 154. This will be the first in an annual series that goes beyond chemistry at UW to highlight inspirational women in STEM and their achievements. For our inaugural lecture of this series, we are excited to be hosting Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College and board member of Microsoft. Maria is an accomplished computer scientist and advocate for women in STEM. She will be sharing her story as well as thoughts on the world today.

We hope to see you tomorrow!

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Social Justice in Action: Small Steps Leading to Change

Yesterday, WCS hosted a workshop entitled “Social Justice in Action: Small Steps Leading to Change” and led by Dr. Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting. Dr. Hollins is a very engaging speaker, and she made a point of introducing herself to everyone in the room and remembering all of our names. She began by telling us about her family and background, helping to set a context for our discussion and providing frequent examples of how she recognizes and applies these ideas in her own life.

One topic we discussed was how developing self-awareness can be a starting point for improving your interactions with people from other cultures and groups. If I start by considering my own story and motivations, I can better understand how I react to other people, interpret situations, and make assumptions. I can also acknowledge the contexts where I have privilege as a member of a dominant culture, and admit when I have biases about people of other cultures. Although most people want to believe that they’re fair and unbiased, we’re still all susceptible to unconscious bias (remember the study where male and female professors rated male applicants more highly than female ones?). And I can’t do anything about my own biases if I don’t admit that they exist.

Dr. Hollins also mentioned the importance of admitting how your assumptions about others affect your interactions with them. As an example, she told us about a time when she approached someone and realized he was in a wheelchair; she felt self-conscious and tried to act like she hadn’t noticed, which just made the conversation awkward. Trying to ignore others’ differences (in race, ability, or any other area) can make them feel like their experiences are invalid. These differences can have a huge impact on someone’s life, and acknowledging that is necessary for engaging with them – even if it also forces you to acknowledge your assumptions, which makes you uncomfortable.

Another point we discussed was the difference between equality and equity. While equality is giving everyone the same resources or treating everyone the same, equity is leveling the playing field and helping everyone have a positive outcome. Dr. Hollins used this image to sum up the difference:

The difference between equality and equity (source unknown)

Finally, someone asked for advice on what to do when you’re on the other side of the conversation – when you feel offended or discriminated against. Dr. Hollins outlined two common types of responses, which many of us could identify with: predatory listening (finding points to argue and being confrontational) and avoidance (waiting and venting to someone else rather than addressing the problem directly – I definitely do this one). She then advised us to get good at asking questions. It can be challenging to find real, curious, non-snarky questions that actually open up dialogue and engagement, but it is a worthwhile strategy to practice. Instead of treating someone as an enemy, I can help them learn, grow, and change.

Overall, Dr. Hollins led a really interesting discussion and gave us all a lot to think about. I’ll definitely be more aware of my own biases and their effects. on myself and on others, from now on.

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Thoughts on the Gender Diversity Workshop

As we were planning the Gender Diversity Workshop this summer, I remember feeling a little bit of anxiety about attending. Mostly, I just did not know what to expect about the types of conversations we would have at this event. I was nervous I would sound ignorant, or worse, offensive in trying to discuss this important topic in identity politics. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person. I think most people do! But to be honest, this was a subject where I felt very in the dark, especially about language use and how to even approach the subject. How can I be a good ally and also not put my foot in my mouth?

All my fears were for naught as Jen Self from the Q center gave an amazing presentation that was both educational and also felt very safe. The group that came out for this event was ready to listen and offer ideas. We started with going around the room and asking everyone what they hoped to learn. I think one person’s comment summed it up best, “Gender is confounding!” Jen did a great job of giving us the basic break down of sex vs gender and the power dyanimcs of why such a paradigm exists. Then we started to think about what other options are out there. It really is incredible how quickly the binary breaks down upon just a little bit of scrutiny! Observing how, from such an early age, we are placed somewhere in this rather false binary of male v female really helps explain the awkwardness of trying to think about it in a different way. But what is even more amazing is how from just a relatively short amount of time, the hour and a half of this event, I was able to learn how to bring complexity and reality to this paradigm that has been ingrained in me since birth. I was introduced to an amazing breadth of identity that, honestly, had not even occured to me. As a straight, white, female that identifies with “she/her” pronouns I rarely have to be put in a situation where I feel like I am obscuring some aspect of my identity. Thinking about the daily conflicts that arise for someone who identifies outside of the binary really hit home for me during this event.

We also discussed the push on campus to help address issues of gender accessbility, especially with regards to gender neutral bathrooms. It was great to find out that the University is conducting a survey of these issues and that there is really great advocacy work on the part of the Q Center and folks like Jen to get these changes instituted. Additionally, we discussed the on going issue of healthcare coverage for transgender students that is currently a huge topic that the union, UAW, is taking on. I highly encourage anyone that is interested in these issues to get in touch with the leadership at the UAW to find out how to can get involved.

I am very appreciative to Jen and everyone that took the time to attend this workshop and share their ideas. It can be very unsure footing when you are trying to better understand something as complex and personal as identity politics. Having a room full of curious and open minds is a great way start to what needs to be an ongoing conversation.

This post was written by S. Vorpahl

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Happy 100th Birthday to Hedy Lamarr

November 9th would have been Hedy Lamarr’s 100th birthday. If you weren’t aware, in addition to her acting career, Lamarr also helped invent frequency-hopping spread-spectrum signalling to prevent frequency jams of communications between submarines and torpedoes.

Lamarr was born in Austria in 1914. Her first husband, a munitions manufacturer, would take her to business lectures, where she learned the applied science of weapons and communications technology. After moving to the US and becoming an actress, Lamarr met George Antheil, an avant garde composer. During WWII, the two developed frequency hopping as a method of preventing communication jams by opposing forces. A piano roll, based on the 88 keys of a piano, was used to seemingly randomly jump the frequency of a message. Only the sender and receiver, who knew the sequence of hops in advance, could translate the message. Opposing forces couldn’t just attempt to jam every signal either, since there were too many possible hops.

Although the patent was filed in 1942, the US armed forces did not use the technology until 1962, after the patent expired. Nowadays, we can see the evolution of the Lamarr-Antheil invention in bluetooth devices and some types of wireless internet routers, which use communication technology based on Lamarr’s ideas. So if you ever you ever watch one of her movies on Netflix, remember that she helped to get that film to your computer in more ways than one.

Article written by R. Eaton. Information sourced from Wikipedia.

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Female Scientist Birthday Announcements: Radiation Edition

Happy birthday to Lise Meitner (136) and Marie Curie (147)!

Lise Meitner was born in Vienna in 1878. She obtained her doctoral degree in physics from the University of Vienna in 1905 (she had to attend a private institution, since public institutes did not admit women at the time). In 1909, she began research with Otto Hahn at the Kaiser Wilhelm institute, and by 1926 she was a full professor at the University of Berlin. It was while working with Hahn that she and another scientist first articulate the theory of nuclear fission to explain how uranium would break apart into smaller elements after being bombarded with neutrons. In 1938, she fled from Nazi Germany into Sweden, eventually taking a position at the University of Stockholm. She worked in Sweden until 1960, when she retired to the United Kingdom. Lise Meitner died in 1968.

Marie Curie was born in Poland in 1867. When Russia outlawed lab instruction in schools, Marie’s father, a teacher, brought home lab equipment for his children to learn with. From a family that had become destitute after supporting Polish independence, Marie worked as a tutor and governess for many years before saving enough money to join her sister in Paris. There, she attended the University of Paris, where she gained two degrees in physics and chemistry, the first in 1893 and the second in 1894. In 1894 she also began working with Pierre Curie, whom she would eventually marry.Her work with uranium lead her to the discovery of radium and polonium; she also coined the term radioactivity.In 1906 he became the first female professor at the University of Paris, following the death of her husband. In 1903, she and her husband won the Nobel Prize in Physics; her second Nobel Prize, this one for Chemistry, was awarded in 1911. Sadly, after years of exposure to radiation, she died in 1934 of aplastic anemia. Although Dr. Curie never acknowledged the potential health risks of radiation, her papers are now considered too radioactive to handle without protection.

Though both these women were pioneers in radiation chemistry and nuclear physics, only one (Curie) was ever honored by the Nobel committee. Meitner was later honored when element 109 (meitnerium) was named after her. Both of these women had long and fascinated careers that I’ve barely scratched the surface of, and I encourage everyone to read up on them today.

Want to see your favorite female pioneering scientist acknowledged? Give me her name and birthday in the comments, and we’ll make it happen!

This post written by R. Eaton. Information sourced from Wikipedia.

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Meeting recap 11/6/2014

Thanks to everyone who attended yesterday’s member meeting! We have two major events coming up: the workshop “Social Justice in Action: Small Steps Leading to Change” with Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting (Tuesday, November 18th from 12 to 1:30 in CHB 102) and our inaugural WCS-UW lecture featuring Maria Klawe, an awesome computer scientist and the president of Harvey Mudd College (Thursday, December 4th in the evening).

A few more quick notes and contacts:

  • Contact Stephanie ( to get involved with planning the Puget Sound Women Chemists’ Retreat.
  • Contact Rae ( if you’re interested in being interviewed by some design students for a class project on women in STEM.
  • Contact Scott ( if you want to help plan the logistics of Maria Klawe’s visit, including dinner and advertising.
  • Add your ideas for outreach activities for an elementary school science fair to this Google doc.
  • Add your contacts and ideas for other UW student groups and possible collaborations to this Google doc.

Keep reading for more details about all of these topics, and a few others:

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Talking While Female

You may remember a piece WCS-UW posted a while ago about uptalk and how men and women use it differently (link here).

To further that conversation, I’d like to introduce you to a piece that NPR recently published about which types of voices and speaking styles are perceived as more competent.  In addition to uptalk, the article talks about higher registers, vocal fry, and other factors that can make a woman sound less authoritative.  You can find the full article here.

What do you guys think?  Would you try to change the sound of your voice to make colleagues take you more seriously?


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Year Two Recap

Yesterday marks two years since the day of our very first meeting! Thanks to everyone who’s been involved, whether you were here from the beginning or you’ve just started. Here’s a timeline of some of the events and projects we’ve worked on during our second year as a student group.

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Meeting recap 10/8/2014

Thanks to everyone who attended Wednesday’s member meeting! Here’s a recap of the events and projects we discussed.

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Fall Kick-Off Member Meeting

FallOur first meeting of Fall 2014 will be Wed., October 8th at 5:30pm in CHB 439. Come find out about all of the activities we have planned for October and how you can get involved!

Email if you have any questions.

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