Women of Science

On February 11th, it was the International Day of Women in Science.

Deborah preparing a sample for analysis (KRW Consulting, Dec 2018)

The notion of women not choosing to enter in a science, math or engineering discipline is the failure to encourage teen girls is pure balderdash. My sis, Ginny, had interests in physics and math ranging back to the 7th grade, in the late 1960s. She was the “go-to” girl if you needed help with math. Yes, she is that good. The male students, who were perceived to be more knowledgeable than Ginny, well, they weren’t. Ginny can explain a complex math concept in easy to understand terms. Having difficulty with a math problem? She shows you how to solve it. As an undergraduate, Ginny was highly sought as a tutor, making a fair bit of money along the way. She has continued as a private tutor to present.

When her daughter was failing to pass the required math proficiency test for placement at university, Ginny sat down worked out every problem in the study guide. She quickly found the problem – the study guide was replete with errors. The math department was selling an error-filled guide. In turn, she showed the department chairman all of her work and the mistakes in the guide.  The problem, as she saw it, was leaving the guide to be constructed by engineering graduate students who overestimated their own math skills and proficiency. But, moreover, they did not care. The department contracted Ginny to rewrite the study guide. And, that led her to pursue her MS degree, specializing in numerical and statistical analysis. When her mentor retired from the University of Colorado, Dr. Blade introduced Ginny as his “best student ever”.

Over the 10+ years of teaching at the university level, she has noticed incoming undergraduates were ill-prepared for university-level mathematics. The students, believing their high school AP coursework made them ready, they were not. They had problems understanding algebra, the basic foundation for calculus.

In my own family, science is part of our life. Andrea, my first wife, her nursing degrees are “science heavy” with chemistry and biology coursework. They are comparable to chemistry and biology degrees layered with nursing. Laurie, my wife, she’s a trauma surgeon. Her undergraduate degree is in biochemistry. Our three daughters, Elizabeth has a chemistry degree while Deborah and Tara both have biology degrees. With the girls in med school, there was no push for them to pursue a medical career or enter the sciences. They studied what interested them. Most surprisingly, though, was how closely aligned their interests are.

Tara pipetting a sample aliquot into a reaction flask (Biochem Lab – University of Colorado, Feb 2017)

Bringing women into science, math and engineering is to stimulate their imagination, “Hey, that’s what I want to do.” It worked for Andrea. It worked for Laurie. Andrea did not want to follow her dad into the restaurant business, which was fine with him. He did not want his personal dream to become the dream of his children. “America is the home of dreams – you can become whatever you want to become.” If not for nursing, Andrea has said it would be a life of having to settle. Laurie had poor grades. It was a field trip to a hospital on career day in high school that seeded the notion she could become a trauma surgeon. If not for that field trip, she might be coaching high school football. Laurie was already running the scout team in high school, and was a better passer than her brother Tom, who was the JV and varsity quarterback in high school. And, it worked for our daughters.

Ginny said programs to encourage girls into science do little for them. Calling the science fields, math and engineering, STEM, does little. The acronym trivializes the individual disciplines. Teaching a young girl how to code a webpage is okay, but it does not take them to the next step – why science matters. Diseases deemed to be incurable have become curable, treatable or immunized against. It has introduced raw computing power into handheld devices (smartphones and tablets) for the purposes of entertainment and convenience. And, much more computing power can be found on the desk. Science can offer solutions to the more daunting problems.

Elizabeth finishes preparing a rack of samples for analysis (KRW Consulting, Aug 2016)

It is about discovery. It is about learning. It makes no distinction about who you are, or where you’re from. It is about human endeavor.

The greatest thing about science, it is stepping into the unknown.


Groundhog Day

Seems we’ve been here before … and before … and before …

The calendar says it’s February 2nd, Groundhog Day. It’s prediction day regarding how much longer winter will be, or how soon spring will arrive. Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous furry prognosticator of winter, predicted spring is just around the corner. For those emerging from the polar vortex, it is a well-received prediction. A few other groundhogs elsewhere saw their shadows, indicating another six weeks of winter. By coincidence, spring arrives in six weeks.

Will it be more winter?

In Colorado, March is the snowiest month with record snowfalls. The past few years, not so much, mostly due to a drought cycle in the west.

Or, will it be an early spring?

The American Robin, the first indicator of spring will begin arriving in the days ahead. The earliest of arrivals are those who winter over. The larger group of robins, arriving in March, will be those who have migrated from southern New Mexico or northern Mexico.

Traditionally, if the weather on February 2nd is bright and sunny, winter’s snow and frost would continue until the hiring of laborers six weeks later (vernal equinox) to prepare and plant the fields. If the weather is dark and cloudy, warmth and early rains will lead to an early thaw of the fields.

Today is sunny and bright, and warm, in Colorado. Will winter continue? The omen says it will. So does the private weather forecast.

Living in Colorado requires always being ready for snow. The snow shovel will continue to stand ready. And, the front-end shovel on the Kubota.

Winter Highway

Leaving North Ranch shortly after 6:30 am, only a few stray snow flakes danced in the headlight beams. A steady snow, occasionally heavy, was spreading southward. On the board, a scheduled appointment on the eastern plains of Colorado.

Having made this kind of drive, in this kind of weather, before, it can be challenging. Winter driving conditions can be poor across open land. A straight road with few grades and curves matter little. The highway, when closed, usually occurs when the conditions are past poor, and the likelihood of becoming stranded are high.

The last status board read, “Winter driving conditions. Poor visibility. Drive with care.”

into the storm: I-70 eastbound from Limon (9:15 am, Jan 28 2019)

Fog and snow blowing across the interstate added to the poor visibility. After a while, other cars and trucks become fewer in these type of conditions.

Driving home wasn’t so bad. The snow had ended in the early afternoon; the roads were clear.

Once home, a light fog was settling over North Ranch. For a change, it was Laurie and Andrea who kept a dinner plate warm for me.

Warning: Blizzard Ahead

On their drive in to work, early this morning, Laurie and Andrea saw the blizzard warning on the status board. Kind of hard to turn around and come home when they were only two blocks from work. Yes, they did think about it.

The blizzard began last night. First, it started as rain before 11:00 pm. With a strong north wind blowing, the temperature dropped rapidly from 40°F/4°C to 28°F/-2°C in less than 10 minutes. The rain turned to snow, and anything wet likely flash froze into ice. The snow began falling heavily.

overhead security light (North Ranch, Jan 21 2019)

barn security light (North Ranch, Jan 21 2019)

For about an hour, it had every appearance of a very dangerous blizzard. The visibility from the wind-driven snowfall was reduced to a few feet.

Just before midnight, the heavy snowfall eased. The wind, though, continued into this morning and early afternoon. Our total snowfall from this storm, about two inches.

Two nights, two displays of nature. Tonight’s feature, cold temperatures around 5-10°F/-15 to -12°C.

One Night Only

Tonight: the super wolf moon, fully eclipsed.

The duration of the eclipse, from beginning to end, will be fully visible in the America’s. In Europe, the eclipse will occur in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, Jan 21. The eclipse will not be visible in Australia and Asia since it will be daytime. How much of the eclipse will be observed, of course, will depend upon the weather. Ideally, clear skies offer the best viewing opportunity. Not so good, those still experiencing the coast-to-coast winter storm.

maximum: total lunar eclipse (Sep 27 2015)

This eclipse promises to be one of the best, with its duration in totality lasting for 62 minutes. While no aid is required to watch tonight’s eclipse, a pair of binoculars will greatly aid the process and heighten its enjoyment. A telescope is okay too, especially if your viewing also includes planets and stars.

For more information and times on tonight’s eclipse, please consult Sky and Telescope’s guide here.

Happy viewing!

Happy Birthday Egypt!

Our tabby girl, Miss Egypt, would have been 14 today. She remains much loved.

Miss Egypt was very sociable and friendly. Any visitor to the house had to be ready to play with her. Before bedtime, Egypt would always bring a toy with her. She would play with her toy, in bed, before falling asleep.

We were glad and much privileged to have been her forever family.

Happy Birthday, Egypt!