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The Book of the Week is “Portrait of the Scientist As A Young Woman” by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, published in 2022. This memoir described the arduous but ultimately successful career journey of a scientist who is female; arduous because as is well known, science is still a male-dominated field in which there is discrimination against females. But despite all the indignities she suffered, she reached the pinnacle of academic leadership in subjects related to her field.
Elkins-Tanton studied geology in college in the mid-1980’s. Over a number of years, in 2008 and later, with other scientists (which included a geochronologist, a geophysicist, and igneous petrologists), she made several trips to Siberia to collect and test volcanic rocks to determine whether they “sent climate-changing gases high enough into the atmosphere to affect the whole globe.”
According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, Bibliography and an index), that event happened at the end of the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, about 300 million years ago. Around that time, there were mass extinctions. Such research was relevant to the argument that humans’ release of similar, toxic substances accounts for climate change.
The author related various anecdotes of childish behavior in her academic working-life in science. It is common sense that more and better scientific knowledge can be acquired through cooperation and information-sharing, but unfortunately, in the United States: vicious political goings-on in schools and the government, and competition for funding of projects and research, hinder progress.
In recent decades, space exploration around Mars has become the new “Space Race” for hegemonic nations with egotistical leaders (i.e., China, Russia and the United States). That last nation approved funding for its space-exploration agency, NASA, during president Trump’s tenure. Trump was anti-science all the way– except for rocket science– because it is about national pride, and of course, it’s a distraction from domestic troubles.
Over years of blood, sweat and tears, in a competition against other groups, the author led a team of multi-disciplinary experts in producing a proposal for a spacecraft that would travel around Mars and Jupiter and provide data about the Big Bang. In another leadership role, the author helped plan an unconventional curriculum for a college class.
Read the book to learn whose proposal won the competition, and much more about how the author dealt with professional and personal challenges.