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"Space for Women Day" at the Center for Astrophysics


by Julie Corliss

January 1996


Nearly 40 young women, teachers, and parents attended the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' fourth "Space for Women" day, on Saturday, October 14th, 1995. Designed to encourage high-school-age women to pursue careers in the physical sciences and related fields, the daylong symposium was held on the 20th anniversary of the original conference, entitled "Earth in the Cosmos: Space for Women." Similar conferences were held in 1992 and 1993.

The conferences were sponsored by the CfA's Women's Program Committee, which provides programming for the recruitment, retention, and professional development of women at the CfA. At its inception in 1974, the committee was headed by geologist Ursula Marvin and astronomer Martha (Liller) Hazen, who both helped organize the first conference. Held in 1975 in celebration of the International Women's Year, it drew more than 300 young women and featured women speakers and panelists working in a variety of capacities, including research scientists from several parts of the country, editors, computer programmers, administrators, and engineers. A popular booklet, entitled"Space for Women: Perspectives on Careers in Science" grew out of the conference. In addition to suggestions on how to prepare for scientific or science-related careers, it detailed several of the major issues raised at the conference, juxtaposed with thoughts expressed by different participants.

An updated version of the booklet with the same name was published in March 1995. The new, 20-page, color booklet features full-page profiles of women who work at the CfA, ranging from scientists to administrators, describing their backgrounds and training, and highlighting their accomplishments as well as their everyday duties. Like its predecessor, the booklet also has practical information about how to prepare for a scientific career, such as advice on coursework, choosing a college, finding mentors, and more. An appendix lists materials, organizations, internships, and other resources of assistance to aspiring scientists. To date, nearly 12,000 copies of the booklet have been distributed (mostly by individual request), and a
second printing is underway.

Participants in this year's conference received a copy of the booklet, along with reading lists and information on astronomy resources (clubs, museums, etc.) in the New England area. Following a welcome by current WPC coordinator and solar physicist Shadia Habbal, the conference began with an introduction by Marvin, who shared her experience and insight both as a scientist and as the organizer of the original conference.

Astrophysicist Rosanne Di Stefano gave the keynote address, detailing her research endeavors on super-soft x-ray sources, gravitational lensing, and the search for dark matter. Science historian Barbara Welther presented a brief history of women astronomers at the Harvard College Observatory in the early 1900's, and astronomer Tania Ruiz talked about"Backyard Astronomy--or how to get involved in astronomy NOW."

The morning also included a panel discussion on career opportunities in astronomy, moderated by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell and featuring planetary scientist Jane Luu, science education specialist Nancy Finkelstein, radio astronomer Suzanne Huettemeister, computer programmer Sumitra Chary, and Harvard undergraduate Rachel Osten, who works in the CfA's High Energy Astrophysics division.
Before breaking for lunch, the participants split into small groups led by participating scientists, during which the students were encouraged to discuss and ask questions about topics in astronomy.

Following a catered pizza lunch, participants signed up for two of the following tours: "The Great Comet Crash," featuring a slide show and talk about comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's crash into Jupiter last summer by Jane Luu; "The Sun," including "live" solar observing on computers with Tania Ruiz and astrophysicist Han Uitenbroek; "The Stuff Between the Stars," with a tour of the CfA's radio telescope by Susanne Heuttemeister; and "Building a Space Satellite," featuring a tour of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics
Facility's mirror-testing lab with physicist Suzanne Romaine.

Conference organizers included Julie Corliss, Kim Dow, Nancy Finkelstein, Shadia Habbal, Susanne Huettemeister, and Donna Thompson. Additional support was provided by Jim Cornell, Amoreena Gonzalez, Jiahong Juda, Amy Mossman, and Andrea Prestwich.

Julie Corliss is a public affairs specialist at the Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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