Monday, 6 October 2008

What feminists did for a physicist

Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, interviewed on Woman’s Hour this morning, praised the feminist movement for its on-going efforts to raise awareness of her ground-breaking non-Nobel-laureate-winning work.

Bell Burnell has recently been appointed as the first female President of the Institute of Physics; and from what I heard on WH this morning, it sounds like she’ll do a fantastic job.

I already know several women who’ve studied physics because of her influence; now she’s in a position to encourage many, many more. The great thing about her comments today was that, instead of going down the “physics is exciting, it’s all about the stars and outer-space” hackneyed route, she pointed out that the great thing about physics is “there’s less to learn” – less, that is, than learning all the names of the bones in the body, or parts of a plant. There are a number of fundamental concepts and equations to grasp; the rest is about applying them.

I hadn’t ever thought of it like that; very clever way to turn children on to the subject, I reckon. After all, people so often get put off school science because it is, fundamentally, boring. The trick is to find a way to help them through the dull but necessary senior-school stuff so that they stick with it to a higher level where they really will get to learn about the fundamental principles of the universe.

It sounds like JBB has some ideas for doing just that; and it was great to hear a cheer for the feminists too. JBB might have been overlooked for the Nobel, which was given to her (male) supervisor, but the outrage of the feminist movement has probably done more to raise JBB's profile, to the extent that she reckons she’s probably better off without it!

1 comment:

The Slow Smoulder said...

Hearing JBB talk with such enthusiasm about how her not getting the Nobel prize stimulated her own PR was heartening.