Category Archives: STEM

Mother of Inventions – Mother of Twelve Balancing Home and Work

International Women’s Day is 8 Mar 2021. A month ago we also had the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 Feb 2021. When I was researching for my article Women-in-STEM, I came across a name I had never heard of : Lillian Gilbreth, psychologist and industrial engineer.

young woman surfing laptop in kitchen

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

She was focussed on making work more efficient. For example, her own kitchen was enormous. It was designed for a household with three or four servants working in the kitchen. The sink, pantry, stove, dishes and refrigerator were all 6-12 metres apart. Even when her husband was alive, when her family was relatively affluent, they only had one cook. The sink was so low it hurt your back to do the washing up. She redesigned the kitchen layout that we now take for granted, where we don’t have to take more than a few steps to get to everything we need for food preparation. She also worked on the ergonomics for wheelchair users. The US government used her motions of the disabled to help rehabilitate amputees.

She died in 1972, but her legacy lives on in many things in our homes, eg foot-pedal on bins, egg-holders and shelves on refrigerators and electric food-mixers. You may have heard of Cheaper by the Dozen, the movie. She is, in fact, the mother of the twelve children. The movie is based on the book by the same name. The book, sadly, does not tell us very much about the mother. It was more about life in the household with their larger-than-life father, Frank Gilbreth. Lillian Gilbreth was mentioned from time to time, in a one-dimensional way. This befitted the era where women were seen and not heard. The sequel to the book, Belles on their Toes, gave us more of an insight into her role in the family. She was a widowed mother with children all under the age of nineteen. She was determined to realise her late-husband’s wish to put all eleven children through college.  She was the bread-winner in a time when career women were almost unheard of. Even from the book covers alone, you can see the bias. Cheaper by the Dozen was about living their father while he was alive. Belles on their Toes was about living with their mother after he died. The first book had all pictures of all twelve children. The authors and title were clearly printed. The second book, however, was  forgettable. The title and authors’ name was stuck on the spine. As for the cover, they could have used a generic gift-wrapping paper.

Despite the head-winds, through perseverance, resourcefulness and creativity, Lillian Gilbreth succeeded in seeing all her children through education, and earned herself several distinguished honours.

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She is a real-life version of Mrs Dabble and Dr Patsy Gerlaxy in The Magic Mixer. Mrs Dabble’s three children are a handful, and like Lillian Gilbreth, she is determined to solve the problem. Failures are simply ways not to do them. The Magic Mixer is not just about a machine. It is a book about two women in STEM, a scientist and an engineer, two women who worked together and created a machine that leaves a legacy in this world.

May it make a small contribution to inspiring the next generation of women trail-blazers.

Review : Queen of Physics by Teresa Robeson

Book review on Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the AtomMy Thoughts after Reading

In school we are taught many science concepts which are invariably associated with men from Europe and America, even though China has  existed much longer as a civilisation. As such I am always interested in books about women-in-Science, and this one stands out for me because she is from China.

The illustrations are great. It portrays the lives in China very well. I also enjoyed reading about her background. This is perfect to introduce diversity and culture in picture books. When it came to the science and her achievement, I am not sure what I feel about it. I am not a physicist and the concepts are not familiar to me. Despite it being a picture book, they are still too abstract for me. For this reason, I wonder if this is suitable to be classed as a picture book. It seems more apt for tween readers, who have might have some knowledge of the atomic structure and would be ready to learn more about it.

Nevertheless she is someone we should know about, especially when she has been over-looked for the Nobel Prize, which is yet another example of the Matilda Effect. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Meet Wu Chien Shiung, famous physicist who overcame prejudice to prove that she could be anything she wanted.

When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, most girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. But her parents felt differently. Giving her a name meaning “Courageous Hero,” they encouraged her love of learning and science. This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism and racism to become what Newsweek magazine called the “Queen of Physics” for her work on beta decay. Along the way, she earned the admiration of famous scientists like Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer and became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honors.

Why are Salamanders like Birds (and other creatures) ?

In my chapter book, The Magic Mixer, Mrs Dabble uses the salamander to help her gets some extra hands when she needs them. If you’ve been following my previous articles about Mrs Dabble, you’ll see that she’s trying to be like other animals. She’s wanted to be like an owl and an octopus and in this article, a salamander. Salamanders, like Mrs Dabble, have something like other animals. Here are some fun facts about who they are like.

Why are salamanders like birds C

Image by Vicki Lynn from Pixabay 

1. Frogs

Like frogs, salamanders are amphibians. This means they can breathe on land or in water. Salamanders look like tadpoles when they are young. Like tadpoles, they started with gills and later develop lungs. There are some that don’t have gills or lungs. These salamanders breathe through their skin. There are also some keep their gills and never ventured out of water. Like frogs, their front and back legs develop with time.

Why are salamanders like birds Frog

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

2. Lizards

With their long and slim bodies, salamanders look like lizards. When they encounter danger, lizards drop a limb or tail to distract a predator. The missing limb grows back within a couple of weeks. Salamanders can do the same, as we have learnt in The Magic Mixer. Scientists hope one day we can be like salamanders; to regenerate limbs on injured humans. Researchers have recently identified the salamander’s biological pathway responsible for this and they have also found the genes that provide the clue to how they do this.

Why are Salamanders like birds Lizard

Image by Jinali Parikh from Pixabay

3. Birds

Specifically, a canary. Canaries are traditionally taken into coal mines as they are more sensitive to toxic gases underground. If the canary dies, it was a sign that there something toxic is in the air. Salamanders in the wild are like canaries in the mines. This is because their smooth, glossy skins are poor barriers. They let environmental toxins through easily, which poison them. Hence the more salamanders you can find in a place, the cleaner the environment.

Are there any quirky similarities you know of between totally different creatures? Drop it in the comments below. If you want to know more about Mrs Dabble and her adventures with the owl, octopus and salamander, you can check out The Magic Mixer here. It’s free on Amazon this weekend 14-15 Mar to mark the end of British Science Week.

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What do you know about Owls?

Here are nine fun facts about owls.

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In my chapter book, The Magic Mixer, Mrs Dabble uses an owl to see what’s happening behind her. We all know about owls being wise creatures, but here are a few more fun facts about them.

1. Owls have forward-facing eyes like humans. Unlike humans, their eyes are fixed. In other words, they can’t rotate their eyes. They are also long-sighted, which helps them hunt for preys. The flip side means they cannot see clearly close up, and rely on their beaks and feet to feel their food. Owls have 3 eyelids, one for blinking, one for sleeping and one for keeping the eye clean and healthy.

Owl fun facts fixed eyes 640

2. A side note leading from this point about their eyes, there is a type of butterflies called the owl butterflies. They got their name from the spots on their wings that look like the eyes of an owl.Owl fun facts owl butterfly_640

3. In the book The Magic Mixer, Mrs Dabble wants to see what her children are up to behind her back. She uses the owl’s head-turning feature in the Magic Mixer. In reality owls cannot turn their way all the way round. Because owls’ eyes are fixed, they compensate by rotating their heads. They can rotate 135o each way ie 270o in total.

Owl fun facts looking back_640

4. Owls swallow up their entire prey, and then regurgitate hard pellets of the undigested parts, ie bones, fur, teeth, feathers all compressed into a little ball. Some schools teach this and even offer owl pellet dissection in class. You can buy owl pellets in many places, such as owl sanctuaries, owl charities or even school science suppliers.

5. Owls are found in legends and folklore. Eg.

(i)  Good omens such as The Little Owl in Greek Mythology is a symbol of wisdom and victory in battle in ancient Greece because it was the companion of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and War

(ii) Bad omens to Romans including Julius Caeser, and some American Indian Tribes eg The Burrowing Owl is the God of the Dead. Owl Fun Facts Burrowing owl 640

6. If you want to refer to a group of owls, it’s called a parliament of owls. Not surprising really, as we all know owls as wise creatures.

Owl fun facts Parliament of owls4_640

7. Following from the previous point, I found an article on the intelligence of animal species. The owl is at the bottom of that list. If you’ve followed my previous article on the octopus, you might be intrigued to know that it is even more intelligent that the owl. My middle-grade book Secrets of the Great Fire Tree stars a little black pig. According to this list, pigs are even more intelligent than owls and octopuses. secretsofthegreatfiretree

8. While on the topics of books, there are several books about owls, here’s one called Hoot. It’s about saving burrowing owls from a development.

9. If you want to know more about owls, you can get up close and personal with these creatures. Here are a couple of organisations that do owl education visits and display owls at carnivals along with other birds of prey. Children enjoy them and will sit quietly with an owl perched on their little arms. Have you ever tried it?Owl fun facts Child holding owl_640

Drop a comment below and let me know your experiences with owls or any other fun facts you know. Until my next article, here’s a cute pair to melt your heart.

Owl fun facts cute_640

Eight Fun Facts about the Octopus

In my chapter book, The Magic Mixer, Mrs Dabble used the eight arms of an octopus to help her. We all know about their eight arms, but here are a few fun facts you might not know about.

  1. The plural of octopus can be octopuses, octopi or octopodes. So I’m going to use all three in this article.
  2. The Magic Mixer octopus heart COctopuses have 3 hearts
  3. They have blue blood, because they use copper to carry oxygen. This is because copper is more efficient in carrying oxygen in low temperatures and when there is little oxygen about. We humans use iron in our blood to carry oxygen.
  4. Like lizards discarding tails to distract predators, octopodes can discard their tentacles, and regenerate them again.
  5. They have 9 brains, 1 in the head and the others in their tentacles.
  6. The Magic Mixer Octopus camouflage COctopuses camouflage themselves to look like plants or rocks to look like part of the underwater ground. They have very good eyesight that can calculate the amount of light and colour of their surroundings. Their skins have special cells that reflect and manipulate light and create colour patterns to mimic their surroundings. Scientists have been inspired by this to create our own camouflage kit.
  7. Octopi can still kill after they are eaten. Their suckers cling onto the dolphins and can suffocate them from the inside. Dolphins know this. If  you are fortunate enough to watch one in action, do not think they are only playing with the octopus. They are in fact tossing the octopus to weaken their suckers, before eating them.
  8. Octopi can edit their own genes so they can adapt to their environment eg the surrounding temperature. Read more about them in  I hope you enjoyed the fun facts. To end this article, let me tell you an octopus joke.

Question : Why did the octopus blush?

Blog 105 Octopus CAny ideas?

Keep thinking.

Hint: There’s a pun in the answer.

Any ideas?

Want another clue?

Hint #2 : Something to do with where it lives.

Any ideas?

 

Answer : Because it saw the bottom of the ocean.

 

If you  know of any more fun facts or you have any octopus stories to tell, drop it in the comment below.

Four Great Women Recognised by Four Men

Following from my article yesterday about Inspiring the next Generation of Women-in-STEM, here are a further four women you need to know about.

There is this saying Behind every successful man is a great woman. Or vice versa. In our current movement to bring awareness to their achievements, we know of many overlooked STEM women. In a male dominated world of STEM, breaking this mould itself is an achievement. Here I acknowledge the men who played a key role in helping these remarkable women to reach their full potential.

1. Mary Jackson 1921-2005 Black Aerospace Engineer

Mary Jackson had been working at Langley for two years. One day, she was sent to from her usual work location in the West side to give computing support to the East Side. There she suffered a humiliating experience of not being able to find the bathroom, which were segregated in those days. On her way back, she bumped into Kaz Czarnecki, an assistant section head in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. She vented her frustration on him. He offered her a position in his department and became her boss at Langley Research Center. He encouraged her to take and engineering degree. She had to take evening classes to qualify for university and then get special permission to attend university. Qualifications lead to promotion and produced valuable research. Later became Federal Women’s Program Manager to promote lives and careers of female employees at Langley.

2. Gerty Cori 1896-1957 Biochemist

Carl and Gerti were classmates at Medical School in German University of Prague and married upon graduation. They looked for work overseas. In Carl’s first job in USA with Roswell Park Memorial Institute they were discouraged from working together. Ignoring this, together, they published fifty papers jointly while at Roswell, Gerty Cori also published eleven articles as single author. Together they discovered the Cori cycle, the biochemical process linking sugar to energy. When they left Rowsell, Carl Cori was offered several senior positions, while Gerty received none. He insisted on working alongside Gerty and refused any jobs that did not meet his condition. At Washington University School of Medicine Carl finally accepted a position of the Chair of Pharmacology. Gerti was offered, albeit, a junior role in the department. It was only sixteen years later, after he was promoted to Chair of the Biochemistry department, that he made Gerti a full professor. The following year, they won their joint Nobel Prize in 1947 for their work in the Cori Cycle.

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3. Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) Physicist

Katharine met Irving Langmuir when she was job-hunting at the Schenectady General Electric plant. He could see her aptitude and encouraged her to further her scientific education. As a result, she pursued a Master’s degree in Science and a doctorate in Physics from Cambridge University. She was the first woman get this award. After this, she became the first woman to be employed by General Electric as a scientist. Under Langmuir, she studied surface chemistry and invented low-reflectance invisible glass, where the non-reflective coating is called a Langmuir–Blodgett film. This invention has had a wide ranging use from optic lenses to picture frames. The Institute of Physics (IOP) has named an award after her in recognition of her achievements.

In 1932 Langmuir won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for ‘his discoveries and investigations in surface chemistry. Even though Katharine was not part of this award, she was the sole inventor in six out of eight US patents during her career for the Langmuir–Blodgett film.

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4. Katherine Johnson (Katherine Goble, 1918- present) Black Aerospace Mathematician

Katherine’s career began as a human computer in the all-black West Area Computing section of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory. Her self-confidence and mathematical ability stood her in good stead. Her enthusiasm and incessant questions impressed her engineer colleagues and her temporary position was made permanent by Branch Chief Henry Pearson, even though he did not believe women should be out there in the work force. Six years later in 1959, as the math aide to Ted Skopinski, she suggested that she be the one to make some complicated calculations on orbital flights that returned a capsule within distance of the navy’s waiting platform. Although Skopinski was in charge, other responsibilities took him away from the project. He recommended to Pearson that Katherine should complete the report , being the person who had done most of the work. This became the first publication by a female author from Langley’s Flight Research Division.

rocket nasa liftoff royalty free

Are there any other women and their men who deserve a mention? Drop their names in the comments below.

The Magic Mixer ebook c

 

This article was written for the ebook publication of The Magic Mixer, a chapter book about two women-in-STEM, where Mrs Dabble tackles the arduous challenge of parenting with the help of an owl, octopus and a salamander.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Women-in-STEM

It’s been over a hundred years since the landmark moment of women’s rights to vote. We are still striving for equality and diversity. There is a lot of effort to encourage girls to study the STEM. When Egmont announced the publication of Little Miss Inventor, social media when wild with support for the book, hailed as a positive role model for girls.

Books about great women throughout history have ballooned since. Here are a few:

Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli

Women in Science : 50 fearless pioneers by Rachel Ignotofsky

Queen of Physics by Teresa Robeson

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez

A Galaxy of Her Own by Libby Jackson  The author herself is an inspiring woman who instrumental in making Tim Peake a household name.

Blog 108 Women in stem books

When you read the books, you quickly realise these women faced prejudice in education and employment. Most of them resorted to working with no pay in dark, dank, dusty basements and garages. Many, though never awarded, were key players to the men who were awarded the Nobel Prize. I have to admit I have never heard of many of them prior to reading these books. Nevertheless, the more their names are floated around, the more we can bring awareness to these amazing scientists. Here are twenty-five of the women highlighted in the non-fiction books. This list of women is by no means exhaustive.

  1. Ada Lovelace – If not for her, Alan Turing would not have built the programmable computer
  2. Ada Yonath – X-ray Crytallographer, Chemist. She won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her studies in ribosomes, the component in cells responsible for reading DNA codes.
  3. Barbara McClintock – Geneticist. Winner in 1983 for her observations of gene movement on a chromosomes
  4. Carol Grieder – Jointly awarded with Elizabeth Blackburn the Nobel Prize in 2009 for their DNA work, identifying the enzyme responsible for keeping our chromosomes healthy, which in turn delay the effects of aging.
  5. Chien-Shiung Wu – Physicist.  Known expert in beta decay, Wu was approached by theoretical physicists Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang to design an experiment proving that identical nuclear particles do not always act alike. This resulted in their 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for the theory that the law of conservation of parity did not hold true during beta decay, but Wu’s work was not acknowledged
  6. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard – Biologist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995 for her work on the key stages of embryonic development.
  7. Dorothy Hodgkin – Chemist. She won the 1964 award for her x-ray crystallography work, determining the structures of penicillin and vitamin B12.
  8. Esther Lederberg – microbiologist, who worked alongside her husband in the study of bacteria genetics, which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1958.
  9. Elizabeth Blackburn – Jointly awarded with Carol Grieder the Nobel Prize in 2009 for their DNA work, identifying the enzyme responsible for keeping our chromosomes healthy, which in turn delay the effects of aging.
  10. Irene Joliot-Curie- Marie Curie’s daughter. She won the Nobel Prize in 1935 for creating synthetic radioactive elements
  11. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi – Virologiest. She won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for the discovery of HIV.
  12. Gertrude Elion – Chemist. She won it in 1988 for her systematic approach to drug discovery using knowledge of the disease and its biochemistry.
  13. Gerty Theresa – Biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1947 for her work that showed how cells converted food to energy in a biochemical cycle.
  14. Jocelyn Bell Burnell – Astrophysicist. Her observations on naturally-occurring radio waves in space earned her adviser Antony Hewish a Nobel Prize.
  15. Linda Buck – Biologist. She won Nobel Prize in 2004 for work on how we use our olfactory nerves.
  16. Lise Meitner – discovered nuclear fission with Otto Hahn, but being Jewish unable to return to Germany and Nobel prize 1944 awarded to her colleague only Otto Hahn.
  17. Maria Mayer – Physicist, winner in 1963 for our understanding of the nuclear shell structure
  18. Marie Curie – Physicist and Chemist. She was awarded two Nobel Prizes, one for the discovery of Polonium and Radium in 1903 and the other for Radiation in 1911.
  19. Mary Sherman Morgan – She is the chemist whose rocket fuel invention launched America’s first satellite
  20. May-Britt Moser – Psychologist and Neurologist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014 for her work in the science behind location memory through her discovery of grid cells.
  21. Nettie Stevens – Geneticist who discovered X and Y chromosomes and their role in determining the gender of babies, but the Nobel Prize went to her former advisor Edmund Wilson, who made the discovery simultaneously and independently.
  22. Rita Levi-Montalcini – Biochemist. She was awarded the Nobel prize in 1986 for discovering growth factors, which are key to several medical aspects such as tumour growth and wound healing.
  23. Rosalind Franklin – chemist and x-ray chrystallographer who captured an x-ray photo that proved the DNA is a double helix. Four years after her death from ovarian cancer, Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize.
  24. Rosalyn Yalow – Medical physicist who created a method to measure hormones in the body, leading to the understanding of insulin and diabetes. She won the Nobel Prize in 1977
  25. Tu Youyou – Physician. She won the award in 2015 for her work in isolating Artemisinin, which has served as the starting point for the discovery of malaria drugs

Look up the Nobel Prize Laureate Website for names of women who had won this prestigious prize. In an environment where women faced obstacles at every turn, whether education or employment, to have gained the recognition is no mean feat. They had to work and fight so much harder just to be awarded the same prize.

The first Nobel prizes began in 1901, we have now in the twelfth decade. Scanning through the list of women Nobel prize STEM winners, there were two decades (1920s and 1950s) where none of the winners were women. Six of the decades only had one woman winner. The naughties (2000-2009) saw the most winners: five winners, over 3 years. As we near this decade, we currently stand at only four female winners in 2014, 2015 and two in 2018. I cannot help but feel surprised at this statistic. Nevertheless, we are now even more aware of diversity and equality. For example, The Royal Society of Chemistry launched “The Diversity landscape of the Chemical Sciences” in Feb 2018 to look at the current state and set out future directions to address barriers that affect STEM women’s progression and retention. The Institute of Physics has a similar initiative. The landscape is changing. With continual commitment, I am confident that the number of female Nobel Prize winners will increase in future decades.

To nurture girls for the future generations, exposure during their formative years is essential. For example, reading the books about women-in-STEM opens their worlds to these possibilities. They have real examples of role models. I have only listed a small handful of non-fiction books; there are many more out there. However, not everyone enjoys reading non-fiction. If you believe in the theory that boys prefer non-fiction and girls don’t, then the plethora of non-fiction books on women-in-STEM might not be the correct move to inspire girls. In my search for women-in-STEM books, I became aware that the fiction book equivalents are few and far between. If you are looking for them, they are listed in my previous post on Twelve Books about Women-in-STEM. If you are a children’s author, I encourage you to write about them in your next book.

The Magic Mixer ebook cI started writing The Magic Mixer in 2007. It’s a machine that gives you the special feature of any animal, invented by a harried mum and her friend. The print book was published in 2013 but only available in Singapore. Fast forward five years. 2018. The announcement of Little Miss Inventor made me realise something about The Magic Mixer. It’s not just about a machine. It is a book about two women in STEM, a scientist and an engineer, two women who worked together and created a machine that leaves a legacy in this world. The ebook will be published on 11 Feb 2020, to coincide with International Day of Women and Girls in STEM Day and hence be available to the international market. May it make a small contribution to inspiring the next generation of women in STEM.

If you know of any fiction books with women-in-STEM, drop the name of the book in the comments below.

Twelve Books about Women-in-STEM

UNESCO has designated 11 Feb to be the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here are some fiction and non-fiction books about women and girls in STEM.

Chapter Books/Early Readers

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede

by Ali Sparkes

This is a first in the series. Mrs Potts is a very clever and inventive scientist.

My Explosive DiaryMy Explosive Diary

by Emily Gale

This is a book that showcases girls can do anything.

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer

by Justine Laismith

Mrs Dabble tackles the arduous challenge of parenting with the help of an owl, octopus and a salamander. Invented by two women, a scientist and an engineer, it’s a machine that gives you the special feature of any animal.

Middle Grade Books

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A home-schooled math genius finds her way in middle school and uses her math skills to help an charity house find new homes for animals in their care.

BrightstormBrightstorm

by Vashti Hardy

Captain Scott-like antarctic adventure. Designed, built and led by Harriet, twins set out in her sky-ship to find their missing explorer father.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #1)The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A girl develops her interest as a naturalist in an era where STEM doors are closed to the females.

The Matilda EffectThe Matilda Effect

by Ellie Irving

A girl sets out to right the wrong done to her grandmother-in-STEM.

 

The Dog Who Saved the WorldThe Dog Who Saved the World

by Ross Welford

A canine-origin pandemic breaks out shortly after a talented programmer convinces Georgie to visit her house.

Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles #1)Beetle Boy

by M.G. Leonard

Beetle version of 101 Dalmations. The woman-in-STEM in this story is the antagonist.

Non-fiction Books

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the WorldWomen in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am partial to this one because of its beautiful illustrations.

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful WomenBrilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Children’s book review about the everyday items and women who invented them

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-fiction book review on Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It follows the lives of black women

There are several non-fiction books highlighting women’s contributions to STEM. However fictions books with women in STEM, especially those as mentors, are few and far between. I want to make this a longer list. If you know of any more books, please leave the book title and if you know it, the author’s name in the comments below. Thank you!

First published 11 Feb 2019. Updated 1 Feb 2020.

Review : Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Book review on Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden FiguresMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prior to reading this book I was not aware that there were professions known as computers, like mathematicians and physicists. This book follows the lives of black women who began their working careers as computers in the Aerospace industry during and after the war era. This is not just a book about diversity and women in STEM. I gained insight into American history during that era, from the segregation conflict to the space race.

I cannot but feel admiration for the women mentioned in the books. Not just for their intelligence, but also their resilience, professionalism and impact on society. For example, Dorothy Vaughan was a steady rock in the department. Amongst her many achievements, she influenced the promotion of both black and white females.

I must confess I found it confusing at times. There were several names and I struggled to remember them. The flow not always continuous. Just as I was getting used to one person, the narration moves on to someone else, without any obvious connections. By the time that first person comes back in, I’d already forgotten the facts surrounding them.

A question I’ve had to answer many times is how we can apply mathematics to the real world and what mathematician jobs there are. The author has carried out a tremendous amount of research and goes through in details the projects that went on in the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. From wind tunnels to jet propulsion, this gives a good feel to the world in aeronautics. It is a good book for those who want to know what a career with maths and physics could entail. Whilst I enjoy solving mathematical problems at school, I don’t think I could have stomached pages and pages of calculations, with the numerous variables surrounding gravity and the Earth’s shape, every day in my working life, as these women do. But if you know of someone who loves numbers and symbols and variables, this book would show where their interest could take them.

I liked how the book ended. It sheds light on the title of the book. Christine Darden had spotted the imbalance to where men and women were allocated. “-a white male engineer who had started at the same time, with similar quality performance reviews, had already hit the GS-15 level”, which was the glass ceiling for computing women. Christine created bar charts to demonstrate it to a very senior member, who was shocked at the disparity. “Langley just needed someone who could help it see the hidden figures.”

Hidden Figures is a book on history, space and STEM. Naturally, about the amazing people too.

Goodreads Blurb

The #1 New York Times Bestseller. Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.