Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Feynman and my "Beautiful Stars" quote….

My blog name was inspired by a quote from Feynman.
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? - Feynman
From this it is perhaps obvious that I own his Lectures in Physics. I also own (and memorably read during a summer I spent working at the Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore) "The Please of Finding things Out", by Feynman.

I recall reading about his "adventures" with women - definitely not my favourite part of that book. I actually have a strong  (and hopefully accurate!) memory of sitting on a wall in the Inner Harbour in Baltimore reading about him choosing to study Portguese because the class had more pretty women than the Spanish class. When I think about it now it's obvious he wouldn't have seen me (as a then 19 year old reading his book) as a physicist, and that does make me uncomfortable.

Honestly, I don't have a lot to add to the recent online controversy over Feyman as a sexual predator. Other people have written much more thoughtful and eloquent posts than I could, and I have not looked into this personally. You might like to read these two blogs:

Richard Feynman, sexism and changing perceptions of a scientific icon - originally on Scientific American Blogs, now reposted by the author on their personal blog. 

The Problem with Feynman, Galileo's Pendulum

However it's made me sufficiently uncomfortable to want to change the quote on my personal blog. Funny thing is I was recently reading Dava Sobel's book on Copernicus: "A more perfect heaven", and noticed that Copernicus has been recorded as having a similar sentiment. I took the book back to the library already, so don't have the exact version in that text, but I found the below (from here) which is similar in sentiment:
The strongest affection and utmost zeal should, I think, promote the studies concerned with the most beautiful objects. This is the discipline that deals with the universe's divine revolutions, the stars' motions, sizes, distances, risings and settings . . . for what is more beautiful than heaven? - Nicolas Copernicus

So I have a new quote.  I like it better.

Factors which affect the physical science career interest of female students.

 I recently read this paper about the interest level of girls in physical sciences and was fascinated by the conclusion. They tested the impact of five different experiences on the level of interest (US) high school girls expressed in physical sciences careers. 

 The experiences were: 

* Single-sex class
* Women scientist guest speaker
* Female teacher
* Discussion of the work of women scientists
* Discussion of the underrepresentation of women in STEM

 They found that by quite a margin the biggest impact was found by girls having had the last experience (with a mild effect from the second to last). The first three were found to have no significant impact (although female teachers were found to be more likely to run the last two experiences). 

 Anyway I thought it was neat to see this kind of evidence based analysis of the effect of different experiences, so I wanted to share. 

(Full disclose I knew Zahra Hazari when we were both working at CfA in Boston and attended science education group meetings there)