December 2017    
         
         
 
     
     
  Immortalized in plastic  
     
     
  Nancy Grace Roman, PhD'49, is one of Lego's Women of NASA.  
     
     
   
 
     
  The Women of NASA prototype included Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Nancy Roman, and Mae Jemison. (Photo courtesy Maia Weinstock)  
     
 
     
     
  Lego's Women of NASA set--which pays tribute to pioneering women in space exploration--debuted November 2. By November 3 it was Amazon's best-selling toy and completely sold out. The demand for toys depicting accomplished and adventurous women is strong, as made plain in a 2014 letter to Lego.  
     
     
  When MIT News deputy editor Maia Weinstock first proposed the Women of NASA Lego set, she included a minifigure of astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, PhD'49; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; mathematician Katherine Johnson; astronaut Sally Ride; and astronaut Mae Jemison. (Lego couldn't get permission to include Johnson--of Hidden Figures fame--so her figurine isn't in the final set.)  
     
     
  Roman was included in part because Weinstock, who is generally well versed in the history of women in science, had never heard about her until a mutual friend introduced them.  
     
     
   
 
     
  Nancy Grace Roman holds a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory in 1962. (Photo courtesy NASA)  
     
 
     
     
  The first woman on UChicago's astronomy faculty, Roman made discoveries about the structure and evolution of the Milky Way. But she had a difficult road, in part because she had no cohort of female colleagues. (The gender gap in science still exists, and UChicago's Physical Sciences Division is actively trying to remedy that.) Underpaid and convinced she would never receive tenure, Roman made her way to the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  
     
     
  There she became NASA's first chief of astronomy--her handpicked successor liked to call himself the first male chief of astronomy. Roman spearheaded the agency's most enduring mission--the Hubble Space Telescope--garnering the name "mother of Hubble" and changing the course of astronomy.  
     
 
 
 
     
  Seven more trailblazers you should know  
     
     
 
     
  1  
     
 
Marine biologist Cornelia Clapp, PhD 1896, earned the first and second biology doctorates ever awarded to a woman in the United States.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  2  
     
 
Physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer conducted her Nobel-winning research on nuclear shells as a "voluntary" professor at UChicago from 1946 to 1959.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  3  
     
 
Physicist Leona Woods Marshall Libby, SB'38, PhD'43, the sole woman present for the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, worked with the neutron detectors, vital for determining the experiment's success.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  4  
     
 
Geneticist Janet Rowley, LAB'42, PhB'45, SB'46, MD'48, a pioneer in connecting cancer with genetic abnormalities, made her first big discovery at her dining room table.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  5  
     
 
Thermochemist and philanthropist Reatha Clark King, PhD'63, did breakthrough work in rocket fuel chemistry and technology, helping to make space exploration possible.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  6  
     
 
Experimental particle physicist Young-Kee Kim--physics department chair and former Fermilab deputy director--grew up on an apple farm where her mother encouraged her to forgo chores (metered paywall) to focus on her studies. She now builds support systems for women in physics.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
  7  
     
 
Astronomer Wendy Freedman measured the Hubble constant, and thereby the age of the universe, in 2001. Now, with new techniques calling that calculation into question, she seeks to defend her influential work with new observations of the universe.
 
     
 
     
 
         
         
    Spotlight    
         
         
 
     
     
  The royal treatment  
     
     
   
     
     
  Mildred S. Dresselhaus, PhD'59, the "queen of carbon research," died last February.  
     
     
  But she lived long enough to see her life and career honored with numerous awards--and as the star of a General Electric commercial. Even if you never met Millie, as she was known to many, you might want to grab some tissues while you watch.  
     
 
 
 
 
 
     
  In case you missed it  
     
 
 
Manhattan's moment: Scientists achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction 75 years ago.
 
 
Three's a crowd: A marine love triangle offers a glimpse into cephalopod mating and intelligence.
 
     
 
     
  Support physical sciences at UChicago.  
     
 
     
 
     
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