Super Women in Science

August 11, 2010

Super Women in Science

By Kelly Di Domenico

Second Story Press, 2004 (second printing)

ISBN #1-896764-66-5

Grades 4-8


      “Imagine trying to be a scientist during the 19th century, when men were even trying to use science to prove that women were inferior. They said that because a woman’s brain is shaped differently than a man’s, she must be less intelligent. Well, Marie Curie was a scientist at that time and her work with radioactivity earned her two Nobel prizes!

       The attitude that women were not smart enough to be scientists prevailed for a long time, but many women simply ignored it. They were curious about the world around them and wanted to play a part in discovering and understanding all its wonders.”

Any girl interested in science, or in pursuing her own dreams, even if they aren’t science, should read this book. It made me proud to be a woman who studied science, although my career led to teaching it. These fascinating stories of women who made their own way while overcoming great odds in the interest of science shows their struggles, the discrimination they faced, and the dedication they had to persevere and leave their mark on the scientific community.

Super Women in Science relates the path each woman took in developing her interest in science and her contribution to the body of science we have today. I first learned of Rosalind Franklin when I was working on my science book, You Can’t Wear These Genes. Franklin’s work in radiography was shown to Watson and Crick without her knowledge by her so-called colleague, leading them to realize the double helix shape of DNA. As a biology major, I knew of the two men. But I’d never heard of Rosalind Franklin, her work, or her struggle to be taken seriously by the men with whom she worked. It took an interview with a friend’s daughter in molecular biology to point this out.

The book begins with Hypatia–yes, that far back—to 355-415! It continues with Mary Anning, Harriet Brooks Pitcher, Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin, Birute Galdikas, and Mae Jemison, among others. Most of their discoveries were familiar; it was the names that were unknown to me. The writing is clear and concise, with science terms or vocabulary relating to the different fields of science explained within the text. After an introductory paragraph, each chapter is filled with the woman’s story set in the context of that time and how she overcame the resistance to being in her particular field of science. Small sidebars add short facts to the text.

This exciting book should be in every elementary and middle school library. Not just filled with facts, it’s an inspiring and hope-filled book with every chapter and woman scientist portrayed. I very often like the books I blog about a great deal, but I loved this book. I wish it had been around when I was young.

Activity 1

Categorize the discoveries by the fields of science in which the women from the book worked. See if there was any sort of correlation you can find. Which areas of science seem most interesting to you?

Activity 2

Use this site to look up some less familiar women scientists. Choose one and research further about her contributions to science.

Visit Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds to see more great posts.

National science standards: science as a human endeavor; history of science

Book provided by publisher

Planet Hunter–Out of this World!

March 31, 2010

Planet Hunter

Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths

By Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

Boyds Mills Press, 2010

ISBN# 978-1590785928

Grades 5-8


“As the sun sets on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, golden light bathes the huge domes anchoring each end of a narrow white building. A halo of orange, pink, and magenta swirls overhead, while below, waves of clouds form a blanket so thick and wide that it looks like an ocean.”

At the first glance, this book’s lyrical text draws in the reader, curious to see what it might be about. From the first sentence, however, it grips the reader’s attention and before long, the information-dense text envelopes and carries you away into the far reaches of the universe.

Based on the work of astronomer Dr. Geoff Marcy and others in his field, the book explains how Dr. Marcy has discovered 180 out of the 400 planets found outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. Dr. Marcy’s work led him to a method for positively identifying exoplanets, in particular the smaller sized ones, and his goal is to identify an exoplanet that has similar characteristics to our Earth in the hopes of finding other living, intelligent life. The book begins with an explanation of the process in action, continues with Dr. Marcy’s developing interest and how he finally settled on a direction, and ends with a discussion of the facts and future of exoplanet study and the possibility of alien worlds.

Wittensteins’s text is filled with fascinating information that thoroughly explains complex scientific principles in an easy to understand way. I’ve never read a better explanation of the Doppler Effect (p. 20) for children and was amazed at the way Dr. Marcy came up with it to locate and track exoplanets. Diagrams and captions supplement the text and photos show more details, along with the activities of Dr. Marcy and his co-workers. A few illustrations are artist renderings, but stay true to the known facts.

The back matter holds an extensive list of more reading, web sites, a glossary, and index. Boyds Mills Press produces beautiful books that enlighten and inform the reader in a delightful way with a freedom that allows the books to reach readers in depth. This is my second Boyds Mills Press book in as many weeks and they are excellent.

 This book is reminiscent of The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner, an award winner last year. Wittenstein follows this astronomer and his research in a manner similar to Turner’s book.

Curious readers of any age can enjoy the information and budding astrophysicists in particular may be inspired. I look for this to win awards of some sort. This is Wittenstein’s first book and it’s a winner.

Activity 1

Look up more information about the 55 Cancri family of planets and on the requirements of life. Explain why the location of the planet in the habitable zone might be able to support life. Use pages 26, 27, and 34 to guide your search.

Information and animation link

more information

video rendering

Geoff Marcy’s home page has more information

videos of Dr. Marcy and his explanations

Check out Roberta’s blog and her fantastic ideas for science activities.

Read an interview with Vicki at Through the Tollbooth

For younger readers, try Kids Can Press’ Out of This World by Jacob Berkowitz.

National Science Standard: Earth in the solar system

Book donated by author.

Not Weird Science

April 22, 2009

When I Grow Up

A young person’s guide to interesting and unusual occupations

By Jessica Loy

Henry Holt and Company, 2008

ISBN #978-0-8050-7717-9


Grades 3-6











Entomologist, alpaca farmer, kite designer, or chocolatier: what do you want to be when you grow up? Fourteen occupations that grew from a passion make up this book of real people, their jobs, and images illustrating a variety of aspects of each one. Readers can use the jobs as a jumping off point to explore their own passions as they begin to examine career choices for their futures. The breadth and scope of these choices lets the readers see there are jobs that will take them in an off-the-beaten path direction and encourage them to look beyond more familiar jobs.



Activity 1

After reading the book, examine some of the careers in more detail. Look up further information and identify how science might play a part in each of these careers.


Activity 2

Look up these science careers and see what you’d be doing in animal behavior, astrobiology, or pyrotechnics, and what a virus hunter and volcanologist might do. Would these careers interest anyone you know?


National Science Standards: understanding about science and technology; science as a human endeavor; nature of scientific knowledge


Look for more about unusual science careers with this set of books:

Weird Careers In Science by Kay Frydenborg, Mary Firestone, and Richard Emmer



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers