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28 Feb 2022

Open discussion among the institute's staff to name female scientists and make their contributions to science more visible

On the occasion of February 11, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Equality Committee held the day "Anomena la teva científica", an occasion to share the names of female references in science, whether in the form of teachers, mentors or great figures in history.

Dones Anomena la teva científica


Pictured (top to bottom, left to right): Dorothy Vaughan, Creu Casas i Sicart, María Wonenburger and Emilie du Chatelet.

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 to inspire and promote the participation of women and girls in science. It is an initiative to ensure equal access and participation in science and technology for women and girls of all ages.

Anomena la teva científica was an open conversation among the institute's staff organized by the newly created Equality Committee. A total of eleven people participated, belonging to the predoctoral, technical, administrative and research groups, who (virtually) raised their hands to share a name. There were four women and seven men who mentioned former female science professors, forgotten historical figures or referents who are beginning to have more visibility.

The mentioned names were the following:

Maria Wonenburger

María Josefa Wonenburger Planells was a mathematician born in Oleiros, A Coruña, in 1927 and developed her career mainly in the United States and Canada. She was the first Spanish woman to receive a Fulbright scholarship. She is an expert in classical group theory and Clifford algebras. She was an honorary member of the Spanish Royal Mathematical Society.

Dorothy Vaughan

She taught mathematics at a Virginia high school until she joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA. In 1949 she took over the direction of the West Area Computers, a work team composed exclusively of African-American women with a mathematical background: Katherine Johnson was assigned to this group. Her figure has been revalued after the film Hidden Figures.

Carme Torras

Carme Torras is a researcher at the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI-UPC-CSIC), specialized in artificial intelligence and robotics. She received the National Research Award in 2020 and is also a writer of literary stories with scientific inspiration and themes.

Creu Casas i Sicart

Creu Casas i Sicart was a Spanish pharmacist, professor, and bryologist, the most important of the 20th century. Bryology is a branch of botany devoted to the study of bryophytes. She was a botanist specializing in "lower plants", i.e., mosses and liverworts.

Rosalind Franklin

Just over 60 years ago, Watson and Crick published the article in Nature with their proposed structure for DNA. In the last paragraph and among others, they quoted Rosalind Franklin and thanked her for her unpublished experimental results and ideas. Years later, in the book The Double Helix, a very personal chronicle of the discovery of the structure of DNA, James Watson wrote about her that the best place for a feminist was in someone else's laboratory. And still a few years later, Francis Crick wrote that, at King's College London, where Rosalind Franklin worked, there were very irritating restrictions - she could not have coffee in the faculty lounge because it was reserved for men - but they were only trivialities, or so it seemed to me at the time. You see, if I may summarize, Watson and Crick referred to Rosalind Franklin as a "feminist who complained about trivia". And yet, their proposal for the structure of DNA was based on images of this molecule taken with the X-ray diffraction technique and obtained by Rosalind Franklin, perhaps, at that time, the only person in the world capable of obtaining them with such extraordinary quality. And, again, years later, both Watson, with reluctance and many doubts, and Crick, I believe more sincere and elegant, recognized the extraordinary quality of Rosalind Franklin as a scientist and her essential and irreplaceable participation in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Emilie du Chatelet

Gabrielle Émilie de Breteuil, Marquise de Châtelet was a French lady who translated Newton's Principia and disseminated the concepts of differential and integral calculus in her book The Institutions of Physics, a three-volume work published in 1740.

Marie Sophie Germaine

His early work in number theory is known through his correspondence with C. F. Gauss, with whom he kept his identity hidden under the pseudonym of Monsieur Le Blanc. The theorem that bears his name was the most important result, from 1753 to 1840, to prove Fermat's last theorem, and also allowed to prove the conjecture for n equal to 5. Later his research was oriented to the theory of elasticity and, in 1816, he won the Extraordinary Prize of Mathematical Sciences that the Academy of Sciences of Paris awarded to the best study that explained by a mathematical theory the behavior of elastic surfaces, and published several books on this subject. In the last years of his short life, in addition to two mathematical works, one on the curvature of surfaces and the other on number theory, he wrote an essay on the philosophy of science, which Auguste Comte quoted and praised in his work.

Lise Meitner

The physicist responsible for nuclear fission. The Jewish mother of the atomic bomb and, at the same time, the only scientist who did not want to collaborate in the Manhattan Project. Lise Meitner was a celebrity after World War II. And yet she is hardly known today. In the general literature, her pioneering work in nuclear fission is hardly mentioned and, when her name appears, her contribution to nuclear physics is only marginally mentioned. Like other women in science, it seems that her name is about to fade away.

Marilyn vos Savant

Vos Savant was mentioned as a woman who could not devote herself to science, although she became a celebrity for being the person with the highest IQ in the world. In 1990 Savant published in her column the solution of the Monty Hall problem proposed and solved in 1975 by the statistician Steve Selvin, a problem that belongs to probability theory. Although the vast majority of readers who wrote to Savant concluded that his reasoning was false, Selvin's original solution was finally proved to be correct.

Professors, teachers and scientists

Some people also did the exercise of thinking about how many women science teachers they had had throughout their education and what influence they had had on their formation. Full names and first names of women who had been instrumental in that intellectual maturity were mentioned, a review of women teachers and scientific figures whose impact was later noted.