Female Nobel winner a long time coming, and a drop in the ocean

October 2, 2018
Arthur Ashkin of the US split the 2018 Nobel Physics Prize with Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada

When Canadian scientist Donna Strickland got the early morning call informing her she just won the Nobel Physics Prize, she could barely hide her amazement.

Not just that she had clinched one of science's most prestigious honours—her pioneering work on laser pulses had earned her renown among the community—but also that she was one of only three women to win the award in its more than 100-year history.

"Is that all, really?!" she asked the audience assembled in the ornate, wood-panelled hall at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Tuesday morning.

"Well, OK. I thought there might have been more but I couldn't think."

In becoming the first women Nobel physics laureate in 55 years, Strickland won acclaim from her peers, who were keen to point out the boundary-pushing work done by female scientists across the world.

"There are women doing excellent research in all kinds of fields," Roisin Owens, biochemical engineer at University of Cambridge, told AFP.

She said that while historically it was true that far fewer women than men worked in research, the scientific community needed to wake up the field's changing demographics.

"Sometimes people are looking in their own echo chamber, but the excuse of 'oh, we couldn't find any women (to reward)' doesn't wash anymore."

Of the 112 physics prizes the Nobel committee has awarded since 1901, the only women winners before Strickland were Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

Marie Curie won the Nobel Physics Prize in 1903, only two women have followed her
'Change is happening'

Jessica Wade, a researcher at Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London, was so fed up with women in the field being overlooked that she spent the last year adding 270 Wikipedia entries on .

She admits the has made some progress on the gender gap—"schemes to support women in their return from maternity leave, shared parental leave, policies to prevent sexual harassment and bullying"—but the playing field is still far from even.

"There is also a growing, and concerning, area of society, who contemporary politicians and social media are allowing to propagate old-fashioned and sexist views," she said.

Europe's particle physics lab CERN suspended a scientist this week after he suggested that physics was "built by men" and accused women of demanding specialist jobs without suitable qualifications.

Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University shocked the audience at the Geneva lab during a workshop on high energy theory and gender.

For Patricia Rankin, professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Strumia's suspension was an example that "change is happening" in efforts to battle outright sexism in science.

But, she added: "I think there is a large list of barriers that women have to overcome including unconscious bias, different expectations and demands on their time."

New Nobel laureate Donna Strickland
Physics 'built by men'?

The Swedish academy said Tuesday it was encouraging more people to nominate women for their science awards, "because we don't want to miss anyone."

According to Jennifer Curtis, associate professor of physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, "awards beget awards... one important way to promote female physicists is to make sure to nominate them."

She said it was "fantastic" that Strickland had finally received recognition.

'Celebrate women scientists'

Wade pointed to the work of Dawn Shaughnessy, the American radiochemist who discovered five elements in the periodic table, who has yet to be formally honoured with a Nobel.

In addition, according to Andrea Welsh, a Ph.D. student in physics at Georgia Tech, women scientists were far less likely to seek nominations than male peers.

"Nominating (yourself) for an award that gives you credit for work you have already done is very different than nominating yourself to do more work, especially in a field where your work is typically undervalued, where you are spoken over frequently, where there is no one else saying that you deserve something more," she told AFP.

For Owens, the fact that the Nobels are awarded for individual rather than team efforts could be another reason why there are so few women winners.

"My sense is that women often work towards the collective good and often may sacrifice their individual career for advancing the community," she said.

Last month, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of the world's leading astrophysicists who helped discovered pulsars, said she was donating her $3 million winnings from a prestigious science prize to help underrepresented groups get into physics.

"There are so many fantastic women scientists and engineers and we need to spend more time celebrating them," said Wade.

"Support the professional development of young , give them opportunities to talk and network, mentor them and nominate them for prizes, Nobel or otherwise."

Explore further: CERN suspends scientist over 'offensive' address on women and science

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12 comments

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aksdad
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2018
Sexist Swedes...
Thorium Boy
2 / 5 (8) Oct 03, 2018
It wouldn't matter how restricted (if at all) the field was. If women were remotely interested or capable, we'd have seen many more than we have involved in it. We don't. She is the rare exception that proves the rule that physics is a man's field. What we do not need is progressivism infiltrating and dilluting the talent-pool in such an important field. Let them ruin anthropology or sociology instead.
mqr
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 03, 2018
I understand that in the past women had been a minority in physics. But why that past of others needs to restrict the chances of a person applying for a research/teaching/technology position? Meritocracy emphasizes the role of individual accomplishments to obtain a reward. It should not matter what a person looks like, only their performance. Filling a quota of minorities is not fair either. Based on merit, not based on race, on sex, or anything else.

Can you do it? yes, then come in.
poksnee
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2018
Awards in science should be strictly on merit not affirmative action, social justice or quotas.
Therefore I agree with Thorium Boy and mqr.
zz5555
4 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2018
Meritocracy emphasizes the role of individual accomplishments to obtain a reward. It should not matter what a person looks like, only their performance.

Can you do it? yes, then come in.

The problem is, there is no such thing as a meritocracy. Never has and, I suspect, there never will. Women still endure tremendous mental and physical abuse, as CERN so recently showed. So what do you do to reverse that? Claiming that if they had the ability they would be able to succeed is a logical fallacy used, I suspect, by those either unwilling or unable to compete. Whining about letting women take advantage of the same system that men continue to use isn't going to solve the problem.
Spacebaby2001
5 / 5 (6) Oct 03, 2018
She is the rare exception that proves the rule that physics is a man's field.


Oh imagine what we might have achieved and will achieve once we fully unchain the cognitive power of over 50% of our global population.

Before I thought you were a grumpy idiot, now we can all see you're an evil little sh1t as well.

I'm not going to waste my time trying to explain to you what I mean by evil. You've already shown you lack the neuroplasticity and perspective, that any decent person has, to grasp such concepts in a secular manner. Though I hope you come around someday.
poksnee
1 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2018
zz5555

"The problem is, there is no such thing as a meritocracy. Never has and, I suspect, there never will. Women still endure tremendous mental and physical abuse, as CERN so recently showed. So what do you do to reverse that? Claiming that if they had the ability they would be able to succeed is a logical fallacy used, I suspect, by those either unwilling or unable to compete. Whining about letting women take advantage of the same system that men continue to use isn't going to solve the problem."

This is just whinny liberal clap trap. Give examples of brilliant women who were denied recognition for discoveries.
jonesdave
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 04, 2018
This is just whinny liberal clap trap. Give examples of brilliant women who were denied recognition for discoveries.


Rosalind Franklin
https://en.wikipe...Franklin

https://www.huffi...382.html
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2018
Give examples of brilliant women who were denied recognition for discoveries.

As pointed out, it's not hard to find examples. I find that a few seconds with google often helps to avoid public embarrassment.

More importantly, your comment is a complete non sequitor in relation to mine, so why did you think you were responding to me? Even if you could find no competent women scientists (and anyone in science knows that's not the case), that still wouldn't mean that women can't be brilliant scientists. I see no reason to believe that the ability to perform a task should correlate with a willingness to put up with the abuse. Claiming that it does suggests an inability to think on your part and indicates that you may be one of those unable to compete with women, at least intellectually.
jonesdave
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 04, 2018
It wouldn't matter how restricted (if at all) the field was. If women were remotely interested or capable, we'd have seen many more than we have involved in it. We don't. She is the rare exception that proves the rule that physics is a man's field. What we do not need is progressivism infiltrating and dilluting the talent-pool in such an important field. Let them ruin anthropology or sociology instead.


Actually, I've just watched a video of the Rosetta mission on Youtube;

https://www.youtu...youtu.be

You'd be surprised how many of the leading scientists are female.
rrwillsj
5 / 5 (4) Oct 04, 2018
If there was an honest, level, meritorious-rewarding playing field? thorium_boy would be known as bag_boy.
barakn
5 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2018
Jocelyn Bell discovers pulsars, Nobel Prize in Physics given to a man for the discovery.

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