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Category: Science
  • Dr. Frances Kelsey resisted intense industry pressure to approve thalidomide; the drug was the cause of severe birth defects in over 10,000 infants in other countries.

    When pharmacologist Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey started working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, one of the first files to cross her desk was an approval request for thalidomide. The drug had already been prescribed widely in Europe and other countries as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women, but Kelsey wasn't convinced it was safe. Her refusal to approve the drug, despite intense pressure from its manufacturer, likely saved tens of thousands of babies in America from devastating birth defects. "Representatives for the company thought I was crazy because it was such a popular drug in Europe, and they were losing money by my pigheadedness," asserted Kelsey in a later interview. "I held my ground. I just wouldn't approve it." Continue reading Continue reading

  • The Apollo 11 moon landing nearly ended in failure -- until Margaret Hamilton's flight software saved the day.

    In this iconic photograph, pioneering computer scientist Margaret Hamilton stands next to the computer code that she and her team wrote to guide the Apollo spacecraft to the moon! Hamilton was the lead software designer for NASA’s Apollo program, and her forward thinking saved the 1969 Apollo 11 mission when the flight software she designed prevented a last-minute abort of the famous landing which brought the first humans to the Moon. Over the course of her career, Hamilton developed the concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling, and Human-in-the-loop decision capability, which became the foundation of modern software design. She also fought for programming to be given the respect it deserved, coining the term "software engineering" ; after all, as her work showed, software could make the difference between failure and a groundbreaking success. Continue reading Continue reading

  • Pioneering neuroscientist Brenda Milner, one of the founders of cognitive neuroscience, says that at 106, she's "still nosy."

    If you go to the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, you might catch a glimpse of 106-year-old Dr. Brenda Milner — a pioneering neuroscientist who's still breaking new ground in her 70-year long career as a brain researcher! The eminent British-born scientist revolutionized brain science as a newly minted PhD in the 1950s. Today, she is best known for discovering where memory formation occurs in the brain and is widely recognized as one of the founders of cognitive neuroscience. Her research to better understand the inner workings of the human brain continues today, although she says that people often think she must be emerita because of her advanced age. "Well, not at all," she asserts. "I’m still nosy, you know, curious.” Continue reading Continue reading

  • Among hundreds of men, trailblazing NASA Engineer JoAnn Morgan was the sole woman present in the locked control room.

    A famous photo shows the control room at Kennedy Space Center on the day of the historic Apollo 11 launch packed with hundreds of men in white shirts and skinny black ties — and, among them, a single woman sits at a console. As Apollo 11 began its flight to the moon on July 16, 1969, 28-year-old instrumentation controller JoAnn Hardin Morgan became the first woman ever permitted in the launch firing room, which is locked down in advance of a space flight. Morgan, who was the first female engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, would go on to have a 40-year-long career at NASA. While she encountered challenges along the way, including being "the only woman there for a long time" and spending the first 15 years working "in a building were there wasn't a ladies rest room," Morgan says that "I had such a passion that overrode anything else, the lonely moments, the little bits of negative. They were like a mosquito bite. You just swat it and push on." Continue reading Continue reading

  • A Mighty Girl's top picks of children's biographies and fiction about girls and women in engineering.

    There are few things as satisfying as making something work — which for many girls and women means a love of engineering! Unfortunately, women are still highly underrepresented in the field and progress has been slow with the percentage of engineering bachelors degrees awarded to women in the U.S. increasing only from 17.8% in 2010 to 22.5% in 2019. Even today, many girls consider engineering a 'male' field or they simply don't know what engineers do. International Women in Engineering Day, which is celebrated annually on June 23, provides a perfect opportunity to introduce girls to the many types of engineering careers available and explore how engineers help to solve real-world challenges. Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Helen Taussig envisioned and helped develop a life-saving operation for the nearly always fatal "blue baby syndrome," saving the lives of tens of thousands of babies.

    Dr. Helen Taussig overcame severe dyslexia, partial deafness, and sexism to earn a medical degree and, in the 1940s, she helped develop a life-saving operation for "blue baby syndrome," a birth defect of the heart that had a very high morality rate. Now recognized as the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology, her unique insights on previously incurable babies would go on to change the field of neonatal medicine forever. "To be a leader, you have to recognize where the gaps are," observed Dr. Anne Murphy, a pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "[Dr. Taussig] recognized there was a gap in caring for these patients with heart defects... and she made the effort to work with others to make a difference."

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  • Experts offer tips for parents on building girls' confidence in math.

    “Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math?” laments Petra Bonfert-Taylor, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College. “Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading.” After seeing one too many examples of adults “passing on [mathematical anxiety] like a virus,” Bonfert-Taylor has an important message for math-phobic parents and educators: “We are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics... [and] as a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.” Continue reading Continue reading

  • A Mighty Girl's top picks of books, toys, and clothing for dino-loving girls of all ages!

    All too often, books, toys, and clothing featuring dinosaurs exclusively feature boys — but what about the countless dino-loving girls out there? There are plenty of girls who know a plesiosaur from a pachycephalosaurus, or who can talk for hours about the plant life of the Jurassic versus Triassic periods! And if you've got a dino-crazy Mighty Girl in your house, you may want to stock her bookshelves, toy box, and closet with things that remind her that dinos are definitely for girls. Continue reading Continue reading

  • A Mighty Girl's top picks of kids' books, toys, and clothing for bug-loving girls!

    While the tired, old stereotype may be that girls scream and squeal whenever they see a bug, in reality, plenty of girls are fascinated by these tiny creatures! There are lots of girls (and women!) who love insects, from butterflies and ladybugs to spiders and worms, and want to learn all about the incredibly diverse insect world. To that end, it's important to bust stereotypes and preconceptions, both about bugs themselves and about how girls will react to them. Continue reading Continue reading

  • Eight downloadable posters celebrating women of STEM perfect for displaying in kids' rooms and classrooms!

    The saying, "If she can't see it, she can't be it," speaks to the importance of introducing girls to female role models, especially in areas where women's accomplishments were often overlooked or minimized such as in science, mathematics, and technology. A new poster collection aims to bring more of these women's stories to light — and inspire today's Mighty Girls with the knowledge that she can be whatever she aspires to be! Continue reading Continue reading

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