News & Press: Press Release

The Nobel Committee Missed the Opportunity for a Big Bang

Tuesday, October 7, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Allison Kimble
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Today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for having invented LEDs, the super-efficient and longer lasting lighting.

It has now been 51 years since the last woman received the award.  In 1963, Maria Goeppert Mayer was honored "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure."  The only other woman to receive the  Nobel Prize in Physics was Marie Curie in 1903

In a time when much is being written about the dearth of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), today’s announcement was a missed opportunity to excite and engage a whole new generation of women.  And, it’s not because there are no deserving female physicists to be found.

In fact, several AWIS Fellows and members could certainly rise to the top of the “short list” including Drs Vera Rubin (Class of 1996) and Margaret Murnane (Class of 2007).  One of Vera Rubin's important contributions to astrophysics is the collection of conclusive data pointing to the presence of dark matter in galaxies. So, her impact on the The Big Bang Theory has been a lot greater than Sheldon’s.  Also unlike Sheldon, Vera really cared about getting more women into STEM and keeping them there. 

In a 1986 interview for the AWIS Newsletter, the author met up with her at a NOW March for Women's Lives in Washington, DC.  In addition to talking about her career and her family, Vera talked about her passion for women’s issues by relating the following story:

“It began about 10 or 15 years ago at the start of an American Physical Society meeting.  A Nobel laureate showed a slide of a nude woman, as part of a talk on induced emission. I was incensed. Earlier in the day I had read an article in Science magazine on women's education in medicine, written by an eminent woman physician using a pseudonym because she feared reprisal if she used her own name. So I got up and suggested to the eminent professor that the first thing he should do is read this article in Science magazine, and the second thing he should do is destroy his slide. The rest of the time at the meeting, many people thanked me, but I also felt slightly like a freak. But that was also the point in my career when I decided I was not just going to be quiet.  When it's important, I just yell out from the audience now.”

We’re still yelling out with you, Vera.

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