Ian Mulvany

March 8, 2021

Four inspirational women

#science #international-womens-day 

Today is international women's day. Here are four women that I find inspirational.

Emilie du Chatelet (1706 - 1749) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émilie_du_Châtelet) was a Frech noble, and mathematician. I am sad that I only found out about her recently through this amazing episode of in our time (https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/explorer/m000rvnj). She translated Newton's Pricipia into French, but more than this, provided commentary on it, and bridged the gap between Newton's formulation of the calculus and that of Leibnitz. (In this way she played a role very similar to that done by Freeman Dyson when he bridged Feynman and Schwinger's for mutations of quantum electro dynamics.). She also pioneered the idea of introducing a testable hypothesis into the process of doing science. I have no doubt that had she been a man she would have been recognised as a giant of physics, but I was inspired by her story, and happy that her legacy is being raised.


Emmy Noether (1882 -- 1935) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmy_Noether). was a physicist and mathematician. There is a great In our Time episode about her (https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/explorer/p07jtl5g). I was introduced to her work though my physics studies. Her theorem is simple to state and has profound and deep implications for our understanding of the structure of reality. Any time we find a symmetry in the universe, there is a associated law of conservation. So for example, if we do an experiment on this table in front of me, and I we expect that we should get the same result by doing the experiment on an adjacent table, then where we do the experiment is irrelevant. This leads directly to conservation of momentum. Likewise if I expect that I can rotate my setup and get the same result, that leads to conservation of angular moment. Finally, if we say that we could do the experiment either today, yesterday or tomorrow, then that leads to conservation on energy. The proof of this is elegant, powerful, and surprising. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of physics and mathematics ever developed. In listening to the In our Time piece what comes across is how hard she had to fight to even be allowed to work on these things. Her fist love was mathematics, and when she was able to, she moved to work on pure maths, making even deeper contributions to that field.


Alondra Nelson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alondra_Nelson) is a US social scientist whose contributions to social science, and our view on technology, are wide ranging and impressive. I had been largely unawares of the debates on the topic of reparations. Before working in social sciences I'd not stopped to think about the sheer volume of people who had been transported in slavery (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/animated_interactive_of_the_history_of_the_atlantic_slave_trade.html?via=gdpr-consent) to the new world. Amongst the very many achievements that Alondra has worked on, her work on how genetics testing is transforming these debates is fascinating. It shows just how deeply the work that science developed in inseparable from the social context that this work emerges into.


Lastly I want to write a little about my wife Gioia Mosler https://twitter.com/GioiaMosler. She did her PhD in epidemiology at Imperial. Seeing her work through her PhD while we had our first child, and while the system provided almost no support for a period of months, was one of the most impressive things I have seen. When choosing to follow a career track looking at the outreach and community aspect of science projects her PhD supervisor casually remarked "well Gioia, I like to think that what we do here is breed horses, some are bred to the thoroughbreds, and some are bred to pull carts". She led on the development of the https://myhealthinschool.org/my-asthma-in-school/ which led to a much better understanding on how to create effective interventions amongst school children, and she now leads on The Acacia project https://www.acacia-asthma.org/resources looking at asthma in children across seven countries in Arica.