Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Girls are Good at Science

Posted by Ethan Clow on July 22, 2011

We all knew that, right? Well, now Google knows it too.

Yes, recently Google hosted its first ever Global Science Fair this year and had over 10,000 entries. The event, which presented prizes in three age groups, 13 -14, 15 – 16 and 17 – 18. Each winner in the three categories won a scholarship from Google of $25,000 scholarship, split equally between team members to be used towards the finalists’ further education. In addition they won a second and third choice by random selection of one of the remaining experiences at one of the following partner organizations: CERN, Google, the LEGO Group, or Scientific American. They also won a cool LEGO prize – a personal LEGO color mosaic (one for each team member, to build her/himself) and 1 personal, exclusive LEGO box – specially made for the occasion. And finally, digital access to Scientific American for the finalists’ schools for a year.

Not only that, the top 15 finalists each received:

A LEGO Goodie Bag including:

  • A LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 set
  • 2 – 4 HiTechnic sensors (endorsed 3rd party accessory sensors – totalling 10 different sensors!)
  • 1 Codatex RFID sensor with tags (endorsed 3rd party sensors)
  • 1 LEGO TECHNIC set (highest pricepoint in 2011 1HY assortment)

National Geographic subscription

  • A subscription to National Geographic magazine for 12 months.

A Google Goodie Bag including:

  • A Google Chrome Notebook
  • An Android phone

Scientific American subscription

A subscription to Scientific American magazine for 12 months

The top prize went to Shree Bose, in the 17 – 18 catagory who won for her project on ovarian Cancer.

“For the winning research Ms. Bose looked at a chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, that is commonly taken by women with ovarian cancer. The problem is that the cancer cells tend to grow resistant to cisplatin over time, and Ms. Bose set out to find a way to counteract that.

She found the answer in a cellular energy protein known as AMPK, or adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. She observed that when AMPK was paired with cisplatin at the beginning of treatment the combination diminished the effectiveness of cisplatin. But added later on, when the cancer cells were growing resistant, the AMPK worked to maintain the effectiveness of cisplatin, allowing it to continue killing the malignant cells, at least in cell cultures.” – New York Times.

Ms. Bose won the grand prize of a $50,000 scholarship, a 10 day trip to the Galapagos Islands and a separate trip to the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland!

What is also really great to see is that all three finalists were girls, demonstrating that math, science and critical thinking is not the exclusive domain of dudes. Of course, most of us skeptics knew that already but its important to be reminded of it. Equally important is to make sure that the sciences provide a welcoming and supportive environment for these young scientists.

Like many other skeptics, I recently read a blog post by Linda Henneberg which discussed some of the latent sexism she encounters at CERN,

“…I have noticed displays of subtle sexism and male privilege. There have been a lot of really awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes creepy attempts at flirting. In social settings, I’ve never felt more constantly objectified, hit on, and creeped on than while at CERN.” – Henneberg, Science is Awesome

When I spoke with Jennifer Ouellette at TAM (stay tuned on the podcast as that interview is coming up soon) I asked her about what I was missing by not knowing anything about calculus, see her book The Calculus Diaries, and it turns out – I’m missing out on a lot! I never understood calculus growing up. Heck, I never really understood math growing up. Part of the reason is that in high school, when I was bad at math, somewhere along the way the teachers just sort of gave up on me. “Don’t worry, you’re just not good at math…why don’t you go study some dead civilization instead…” rings a bell.

Science and math has the unfortunate quality of looking extremely difficult, and sometimes it is. But that’s all the more reason to encourage people to learn. With patience and dedication people can come to understand science and thus de-fang their assumptions that its just for brainiacs or even just for boys. But those of us on the inside must do our part. Just like in organized skepticism we must check our ego at the door and seriously ask ourselves “are we doing what we can to make others feel welcome and appreciated? And, what more can we do?” Science institutions like CERN must also ask themselves these questions, these young scientists sound pretty smart, it would be a shame to lose them.

 

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