Posts Tagged ‘Maths’

Women and Space

“Science” is the term encompassing the study of our natural and physical world; its structures and behaviours.  A “scientist” is an intellectual with expert knowledge of a particular branch of science.  From the intense study of the human body we gain knowledge of disease and are then able to construct medicines.  By observing the nature of the stars in the sky we are able to assemble a broader perception of the universe in which we live.   Science is the foundation of our society; the knowledge, health, sources of entertainment and standard of living we have today has been built upon centuries of scientific study and discovery.  It is for this reason, I find it incredibly perplexing that science and scientists have not been immune to discrimination.   

In school, we discuss Newton, Einstein and Pythagoras.  At university, I have considered Fermat, Euler and Euclid.  With this education, it wouldn’t be outrageous to believe that female scientists accomplished very little.  However, this is definitely not the case.  The list of influential women within science is, actually, a rather extensive one; but I would like to focus on one in particular. 

Katherine Johnson, an African American physicist and mathematician, made substantial contributions to the US’ aeronautics and space programmes at NASA in the 1950s and 60s.  From a young age, Katherine was a gifted mathematician with a passion to succeed.  Her early career consisted of teaching jobs; as work within mathematics for an African American woman were few and far between.  In 1953, Katherine was offered a job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which she accepted and so started her career within the early NASA team. 

For five years, Katherine worked in an office labelled “Coloured Computers”.   The women who worked within that office were required to do all of their daily activities completely segregated from the white men.  Regardless of how important their work was, these women were unable to put their names on reports they had contributed to.  Katherine herself said that women needed to be “assertive and aggressive” in order to be recognised; which, she was.

When NASA disbanded the “computing pool” in 1958, Katherine worked as an Aerospace Technologist until her retirement.  A women, who was once unable to use the same bathroom as her scientist colleagues, was now a vital part of an important team.  She calculated the trajectory for the first American man in space, she calculated the launch window for the 1961 Mercury Mission, she plotted back up navigational charts and was asked personally to verify the numbers for John Glen’s orbit around the Earth.  Katherine helped calculate trajectories for the 1969 Apollo mission; as well as helping to establish confidence in new technologies with her work with digital computers.

Katherine Johnson is just one example of many under-appreciated women working in NASA at the time; and is just one of thousands of under-appreciated women contributors to science.  Despite increasing rates of women studying mathematics and science at universities; the percentage of women within STEM careers is still extremely low.  It is vital to celebrate and learn about women who were not only major contributors to science; but had to overcome all kinds of social barriers to do so.  

Sunsets, Science and Sunflowers

Exploring London is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable elements of living in this city.  From scouting out hidden treasures; obscure coffee shops and underground bars; to being able to weave through the crowds of tourists and relax with a book on parliament square with Big Ben in view, the quote “When a man is tired of London; he is tired of life” has never felt more true.  Here are 3 of my best-loved outings at the moment:

 

Columbia Road Flower Market
Between the hours of 8:00 and 15:00 every Sunday, Columbia Road transforms into a vibrant floral paradise.  After popping to The Hackney Coffee Company for my early Sunday morning caffeine fix, a stroll through the bustling flower market is the ideal way to begin my day.  The incredible aroma of the plants intertwined with hint of coffee coming from one of the many independent shops along the street, as well as the hundreds of people socialising whilst boasting their large bunches of sunflowers and attempting to balance their over-sized orchids on under-sized coffee tables makes Columbia Road Flower Market my happiest place in the city.

columbiaroad

The Science Museum
London boasts an impressive range of Museums and Galleries, however the most significant one for me is, of course, the Science Museum.  I could spend hours meandering through the Space section, gawking at the rockets suspended from the ceiling.  Every so often the museum opens its doors after hours and hosts a range of unique workshops and interactive experiences, as well as a silent disco.  An evening spent talking to astronaut impersonators and dancing to Beyoncé below a suspended United States Scout was undoubtedly one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had.

scimuseum

Primrose Hill
After 15 minutes attempting to navigate the streets encompassing Regents Park in what felt like arctic conditions following a rather temperamental phone which occasionally told me to “make a legal U-turn”, I finally noticed a rather large hill poking out from behind some houses.   Honestly, the difficult journey and slight dizziness just made the view from the top even more satisfying.  Roughly 65 metres tall, Primrose Hill offers panoramic views of the entire city and on a wintery evening at sunset, it is one of the most spectacular things I have ever laid eyes on.  At the top very top is a stone with a William Blake inscription, reading “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.”

primhill

I have an ever-growing list of favourite places; and an ever-growing list of places I want to visit.  I am so thrilled that I have another 2 and a half years in this city; although I highly doubt that this is an adequate amount of time experience everything London has to offer.

 

Breathing the London Air

Hal: Palace of Westminster Moving in to London, a bustling metropolitan city saturated with cultural differences and varied social backgrounds is to me an exciting challenge. During the first few weeks I moved in, I was busy with opening my student bank account, sorting out all the books that I need to purchase and decorating my room. Mingling with people here at first is difficult, especially when the kind of humour is different from where I come from – Indonesia! (If any of you wonder what and where on earth Indonesia is, it’s a tropical country home to Bali located in the Maritime of Southeast Asia.) The weather to me is a shock, perhaps more shocking than the cultural differences as the chilling wind stung my skin and made me shiver constantly. I underestimated the cold…I really did.

As a slightly socially awkward person, making friends and breaking the ice was tough. It took me time to find people I became comfortable with, and eventually spend time studying and playing around with.img_5232 Transitioning from school to university isn’t too rough if you keep this in mind – be open-minded! I’m glad to say, some first year modules supported the process of this transition, simultaneously refreshing your knowledge of the course that you are taking. Moreover, studies isn’t everything – you need your fun. I have joined the rowing club amongst the other hundreds of societies that the institution offer and I have been enjoying it to its fullest extent. Overall, eventually things get better over time and as the days and nights go by, Queen Mary and London feels more and more like home. Now I wonder what will London surprise me with next!

Awkward Hugs and Problematic Ovens

After pacing up and down the corridor a few more times, I looked down at my trembling hand to check my watch. I had been stood outside my flat mate’s door for roughly 4 and a half minutes. I lifted my arm once again, hoping that this time, I would have the courage to knock. Just before I could finally tap the door, it opened. I was now eye to eye with a stranger that I was going to have to live with for an entire year. Standing in his doorway, slightly perplexed as to why I was loitering directly outside his room, he introduced himself. Not thinking, I went straight for a hug. We’re now good friends.

The first week of university was a complete whirlwind of excitement intertwined with a little anxiety and a dash of homesickness. Moving from a small town in South Wales to the capital city was a shock to the system to say the least. Leaving a home with a supportive family and wonderful friends is always going to be difficult; especially when you realize after 3 days of living in halls that you have absolutely no idea how to work your own oven or iron your clothes. However, I’m so happy to be able to say that after 3 months I am well and truly settled and completely content with every aspect of my new life; and, after an hour on Facetime with my mother, I was able to resolve all my oven related issues.

After the craziness that was Freshers Week, I came face to face with an overwhelming realization. I know absolutely nothing. Or at least, very little.. As a Maths student I attend roughly 15 to 17 hours of lectures and tutorials a week, and in each of those hours, I would learn completely new concepts that I couldn’t have even imagined existed whilst sitting my A-levels. The jump is big, but I learnt to view it as an exciting challenge, rather than an impossible task. From learning the exam content to being introduced to some of Maths’ greatest problems; The Goldbach Conjecture, Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Riemann Hypothesis; I am more engrossed in Mathematics now than I have ever been.

Now that first semester is almost over, I am thrilled to be taking a well-earned break. As enjoyable and fascinating as it is, university can be difficult. Sometimes I think it’s important to remind myself that not long ago I was in a small school close to my house, which contained teachers who knew me well, friends who had known me my whole life and I was learning material that I was very comfortable with. I am very ready to unwind somewhere homely and familiar over the Christmas break but am happy to say I am thoroughly enjoying my first taste of the university experience.

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