Women in Science
American Institute of Physics, Emilio Segrè Visual Archives
While there are still some areas of science that employ few women, there were far fewer female scientists 100 years ago. And, despite significant contributions by women scientists, the scientific community back then was often dismissive of their work. One example is Henrietta Leavitt Swan, who in 1912 discovered a special characteristic of Cepheid variables: that their periodicity was directly related to their brightness. This provided a way to measure the universe, and without her contributions, Edwin Hubble would not have been able to show that galaxies existed outside the Milky Way, or that the universe is expanding. Swan was not an astronomer, but a "computer" at the Harvard Observatory, where she made 25 cents an hour counting stars on photographic plates. Although gender equality continues to be a contentious issue in many areas of scientific study (just ask Lawrence Summers), Swan and women like her would have a far better chance at recognition now.