The women scientists profiled here span several centuries and several nationalities. Despite many barriers, women all over the world have participated in unraveling the secrets of nature since the dawn of civilization. As historian of science Naomi Oreskes said recently, "The question is not why there haven't been more women in science; the question is rather why we have not heard more about them." Most of the women whose stories are told here, in fact, were active in recent times, when the sciences had already become professionalized endeavors.
This publication stems from a project undertaken at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) in early 1997, when a new wing was added to the center's building. It featured a classroom designed for workshops in the most advanced computational and visualization techniques. The classroom was furnished with 16 new Silicon Graphics workstations.*
The machines had Internet addresses, which were strings of numbers, but since humans misremember numbers, they all needed memorable names as well. To recognize the several educational programs that SDSC directs at girls and young women interested in careers in the sciences,** we named each machine after a woman who had a career in or made a significant contribution to a scientific discipline. Brief biographies were written for each woman selected, and these were put on the walls of the classroom. They were also gathered in this pamphlet, which we hope to distribute to audiences beyond our computational laboratory.
Many of the women celebrated here were mathematicians, physicists, or astronomers, all fields strongly related to the computational sciences. But there are also two biologists, two biochemists, a geological pioneer, a doctor, and an industrial psychologist, which is also appropriate, as these fields are also developing significant computational components.
The common thread running through their stories is their record of accomplishment. Each was able to make a significant contribution and each achieved recognition in her field. To one degree or another, all of these women faced obstacles to their scientific work that arose simply because they were women. Many were hardly permitted to get an education; some were allowed to work only without the pay or privileges accorded to men doing the same work. Engaging in normal scientific collaborations was an impossibility for some and a great difficulty for others, barred as they were from the milieux in which male scientists met and conversed.
But these women in science were also women specifically situated in time and place. They also struggled in common with their male counterparts against fascism, racism, and discrimination based on class and ethnicity. Some achieved such pinnacles as the Nobel Prize, while others have been nearly lost to history. We find that, in simply naming some computers, we have been privileged to enter a rich historical territory, one little enough explored--and we invite you to share it with us.
Many individuals helped gather the information and pictures presented here. Those whom we are delighted to thank include Bonnie Bird, Executive Secretary, The Royal Astronomical Society; Clare Bunce and the PR staff at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Lynda Claassen, Steve Coy, and Bradley Westerbrook, UCSD Libraries, Mandeville Special Collections; Deborah Day, Archivist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD; Leo Dolenski, Bryn Mawr College; Patrice Donoghue, Assistant Curator, Harvard University Archives; Joyce Hansen, Austin Hansen Collection, Schomburg Center; Leon and Cynthia Pitts Harkleroad, Cornell University Department of Mathematics and Cornell Theory Center; Dorothy Kaupe, San Diego Historical Society; Cathy Norton, Library Director, Marine Biological Laboratory; Purdue University Technical Information Service; Ruth Sime, Sacramento City College; Hugh Torrens, Keele University; Agnes Túska, Mathematics Department, California State University, Fresno; and Tom Zinnen, Pam Peters, and Vivian Lee Ward, Access Excellence Web Site. We also wish to acknowledge our colleague Anke Kamrath, who asked for help in naming the machines, and our leader, Ann Redelfs, Director of External Relations at SDSC, for her steady encouragement. --Merry Maisel and Laura Smart
* Specifically, these were Indigo 2 "Killer Impact" workstations with R10000 processors, 128 Mbytes of memory apiece, fast Ethernet cards, and videoconferencing hardware. A significant discount obtained from Silicon Graphics, Inc., enabled SDSC to inaugurate the new classroom.
** These include a Girl Scout Science Interest Group and an ongoing program directed at young and minority high-school level women; see the SDSC Web site for more information.