Picture A Scientist

Picture a Scientist was inspired by a compelling documentary of the same name (https://www.pictureascientist.com/) in which three women scientists share their stories, highlighting gender inequality, barriers and harassment they faced in their own scientific careers. It is heartbreaking to see that to this day, women and other minority communities are subject to various acts of micro and macro-aggressions.

 

As one of the scientists aptly says in the movie: “There is a playbook, it is written by men and I always felt I didn’t have the playbook”.

With the aim to create a picturebook, we came together to highlight the enormous contributions and accomplishments of women scientists from different disciplines, one weekly post at a time. We have a wonderful team of three brilliant young academics: Akanksha Singh, Simranjeet Kaur and Tejasi Bhatnagar.

Meet Our Team

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Akanksha Singh is currently pursuing an Integrated MS degree at IISER Mohali. She immensely enjoys taking a closer look at the ever-changing, ever-interacting living systems. She loves reading fiction, singing, and occasionally expressing herself on paper in colors too, besides ink.

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Simranjeet Kaur is pursuing a Master's degree in Physics at IISER Mohali. She is interested in Astronomy and Astrophysics. She loves to write and is passionate about sharing exciting ideas on science to the world.

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Tejasi Bhatnagar is a Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She loves to sing, read, and listen to classical and Sufi music.

Katherine Johnson

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Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 in West Virginia and always had a passion for math. As a little girl, she loved numbers and would count everything she could find. Johnson excelled in school and joined West Virginia state college when she was only fifteen. She majored in Mathematics and French there.

 

Katherine assumed she would become a math teacher or a nurse, like other women she knew, until she got to college and met her professor, the famous mathematician W.W.Schieffelin Claytor. He inspired Katherine to become a research mathematician and helped her pick out the classes she would need to achieve this goal. He even designed a course on ‘the geometry of space’ for her!

 

Johnson graduated college at the age of 18. It was the height of the great depression, and jobs were scarce, so she fell back on teaching in high school. In the 1950s, NASA began to have more openings for African-American women. Without the high-powered computers that we have today, the agency hired a team of women “computers” to do the complex math for low wages. Johnson was interested, but the first time she applied for the job, there were no positions left for her. She applied a second time the following year and made it in.

 

Johnson wanted to know the ins and outs of what she was working on. She was not allowed in meetings, so she asked if it was against the law for a woman to be in one. Her boldness and curiosity paid off, and she was included. Calculating flight paths involved complicated geometry equations, and Johnson was extremely good at these. So, she was pulled into working on the 1961 crewed Mercury mission, and she successfully calculated the launch window.

 

Her skill in mathematics was exceptional: she quickly became a leader in calculating trajectory, making her an essential part of the team that calculated the path for the first manned mission to the moon in 1969. She did most of the calculations on this project and was also in charge of checking the math of the brand-new mechanical computers at NASA. The math had to be perfect if the Apollo team was to return to earth safely. The moon and the Apollo shuttle move at different speeds - her calculations ensured that they would meet. The Apollo mission was a success, and her crucial contributions made it possible!

 

Katherine later worked on many important NASA projects, including the space shuttle program and plans for the missions to Mars. She contributed to writing the first textbooks on space travel. Her work has helped astronauts visit the stars and come safely back to earth. She retired after 33 years of service in 1986.

 

Johnson was the 1997’s mathematician of the year. She co-authored 26 scientific papers. In 2015, She won the presidential medal of freedom at the age of 97. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her pioneering work in STEM. This medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive. She was also portrayed as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Johnson passed away on February 24, 2020, at the age of 101.