When I say the word Scientist, what do you picture in your mind?

The science department here at My Virtual Academy posed this question to our online high school students. We asked our students to draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like. Not surprisingly, most students drew a white male, with crazy hair and wearing a lab coat. Basically, a drawing of Albert Einstein.  Most people, not just our virtual high school students, tend to assume that all scientists are white and male. Few people cannot name a famous woman scientist. That is because we, as a society, fail to tell stories about women in science.  We reinforce the impression that few women have patented inventions, derived important mathematical equations, or contributed to scientific discoveries in any way. This lack of recognizing visible female role models can discourage young women from pursuing a career in science.

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This month, the Science department at My Virtual Academy has decided to spotlight women in science. We believe it is important to show our students, especially our female students, that a career in science is an option for them after they receive their high school diploma. By spotlighting women in science, we hope to peak the interest of our female students and inspire them to think about a career in science.

 ~Mrs. Goodman (Chemistry, Biology & Physical Science Teacher) would like to recognize:

Mae Carol Jemison : Chemical Engineer, Physician, Astronaut

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Mae Carol Jemison received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University in 1977 and a doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. She has a background in both engineering and medical research.

Dr. Jemison joined NASA’s astronaut training program in 1986 and was the first African American woman to travel to space in the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. During her eight days in space, she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. In all, she spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992.

After leaving the astronaut corps in March 1993, Dr. Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth.

~Mrs. McCoy (Biology, Marine Biology MVA Teacher) would like to recognize:

Hedy Lamarr: Co-Inventor of Spread Spectrum Technology

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could live without my cell phone!  If you feel the same way, take a moment and say “THANK YOU, HEDY LAMARR!”.   Back in the 1940’s, Hedy and co-inventor George Antheil received the patent for a “Secret Communications System”.  It was an anti-jamming device used in radio-controlled torpedoes by using something called frequency hopping.  In the most basic way to explain it, if someone had encoded a message in frequency waves, only someone with a receiver could decode it because the message would be “hopping” all over the place.  But what also happen is that it could be buried in multiple messages much like we use cell phones, etc.

While her invention was not used during WWII, it was used on blockade ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  When the rest of the world caught up to Hedy’s invention, it was used everywhere from military communications, GPS, faxes, any and all wireless communications including cell phones and so much more.  Because of the importance of her invention of “Spread Spectrum Technology”, she finally received recognition for the “beauty” of her invention in 1997 when she and George Antheil were awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award.  Later in 1997, Hedy Lamarr was the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award (the equivalent of winning an “Oscar” for inventing).

While Hedy Lamarr has since passed at the age of 86, her life is now celebrated and the history of technology is giving her the much earned recognition that she deserved.  It is with a sigh of relief that we can all enjoy the fact that this great inventor was able to live long enough to see her hard work be utilized as she envisioned AND receive the accolades that she so deserved.

~Mrs. Premcevic (Biology and Earth Space Science MVA Teacher) would like to recognize:

Sara Volz, 20 (MIT Chemistry Major, co-author of two papers on CRISPR)

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At the young age of just 17, Sara Volz invented a process that increases the amount of biofuel produced by algae to win the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search. Sara claimed the $100,000 grand prize with her project, which uses artificial selection to pinpoint which organisms are churning out the most fuel. This new method not only helps to bring down the overall cost of algae biofuel, but it was developed primarily in her bedroom under a lofted bed! In 2014, Sara along with her professor and a PhD student, discovered how to turn one specific protein on and off in a cell which in turn, can one day help cure diseases. Sara is currently at MIT researching genome editing using a tool called CRISPR. CRISPR is like scissors for DNA that cut out bad genes and replace with good ones. Sara’s work demonstrates how a young woman who is fascinated by science can have a real impact on society.

~Mr. Hardy (Chemistry and Math MVA Teacher) would like to recognize:

Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski- Currently earning her PhD at Harvard in Physics)

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She’s been called “the next Einstein” by her professor at Harvard University, but her name is Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski. Born June 3, 1993, she is a former MIT graduate, and current PhD candidate at Harvard University.

At the early age of 5, Sabrina Pasterski made the decision that she would like to one day build spacecraft. At age 9, she began learning how to fly airplanes, flew her first solo flight in Canada in 2007. By age 12, she had begun building her own airplane in her garage at home in Chicago, IL. Sabrina Pasterski graduated from the Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy at age 17. She completed her undergraduate degree at MIT in just 3 short years with the highest GPA possible. Today, Sabrina Pasterski is in her final year at Harvard, where she will earn a PhD in Physics. Her work in Physics involves mass and radiation of particles, and using quantum fields to advance the current understanding of black holes and gravity. Her work has been cited by Stephen Hawking. At age 22, Sabrina Pasterski has job offers from the likes of aerospace company Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com), and NASA. Her career will be an intriguing one to follow, as she may very well be the one whose life work eventually takes mankind beyond our solar system out to the far reaches of the universe. Sabrina Pasterski has her own website (PhysicsGirl.com) where she posts information about her interests and her work.

~Mr. Fouladbash (Chemistry and IPC MVA Teacher) would like to recognize:

Dr. Jennifer Dounda: Professor of Chemistry and Cell Biology

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Jennifer Dounda is an American Scientist and a renowned professor of chemistry and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.  Since the early 90’s, Jennifer Dounda has been making progress in trying to technologically manipulate human DNA in order to remove disease from the human genome.  Within her work, she created CRISPR – way of performing a so called ‘Genome Surgery’ – in order to perfect the DNA of an organism.  This method was recently used in a set of subject animals (female macaque monkey twins) and have proved successful in gene manipulation.  This work by Jennifer Dounda and her CRISPR technique shows great promise for the future, for if we can change the code by which we are built, we can program the human body for perfection!