“Physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation”.
-Professor Alessandro Strumia
On the 1st of October 2018, a senior scientist at Pisa University, while delivering a lecture on diversity, made the aforementioned statement at a workshop by the European organization for nuclear research, known as CERN. This statement raised not a few highbrows at the event while the speaker attempted to justify his backward view by referring to graphs and statistics which showed women were favoured in employment, compared to men. Not only is this statement ignorant, it also attempts to invalidate the decades of work of reputable female scientists all over the world. In a true slap in the face style, the Nobel Prize for Physics winners was announced just a day after, with a female scientist winning and co-sharing the prize with two others.
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The Nobel Prize is the most prestigious academic award in existence. It is an international prize awarded annually for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics, and the promotion of peace. Awardees are selected, after a thorough vetting process, for their pioneering work in their respective fields. This year, women emerged winners in two out of three science categories which are physics and chemistry. The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Donna Strickland, co-sharing with Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou. The prize was awarded, “for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics” with one half jointly to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou “for their method of generating high-intensity, ultrashort optical pulses” and the other half to Arthur Ashkin “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”. The application of her technique has aided the advancement of laser micro-machining, laser surgery and even medicine as it has enabled doctors to perform millions of corrective laser eye surgeries.
Women have always played a significant role in science with contributions that have aided the civilisation of man and the development of various technical aspects of life. For decades, women have been credited with scientific discoveries that have revolutionised different scientific fields. One of such includes the pioneering work of Marie Curie, a renowned physicist. She not only discovered the element Radium but her work on the uses and application of radium in x-ray machines ensured the development of stronger, more accurate and portable x-ray machines which saved many lives during World War 1 and has continued to save lives till date. She was not only influential in the medical field but also in physics and chemistry as her research on radioactivity and the discovery of another element, Polonium led to her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. She therefore became the first person in history to win two Nobel Prizes and in two different fields.
Over the years, other women have followed in her footsteps by pioneering and advancing research in scientific fields. One of such women is American born Frances Arnold, who conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that speed up chemical reactions. This incredible feat earned her this years’ Nobel Prize for Chemistry, co-winning with Professor George Smith and Professor Gregory Winter for their work on using viruses to evolve new proteins and antibodies. These three scientists utilised the principle of evolution to produce new chemical compounds through genetic selection and change. The application of these techniques resulted in development of new cancer fighting drugs and greener methods of production; for the benefit of mankind.
Another notable female scientist to watchout for is NIgerian born Jessica O.Matthews,who is the co-founder of Uncharted Power, which made ‘Soccket’, a soccer ball that can be used as a power generator as it stores kinetic energy while being used. She joins the league of many women who have refused to let sexist comments weigh them down; but forge ahead in scientific research for the growth of mankind. As no bad deed goes unpunished, Professor Alessandro Strumia has been chastised for his ignorant comments as he was suspended by CERN, which described his presentation as ‘highly offensive’.
Article written by Ajibade Adebanke
(Content developer at Edufirst.ng)