STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

First off, please don’t ask me to attempt to pronounce this one.  But don’t let my complete lack of French ability keep you from reading about this Nobel Prize-winning virologist!

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a native of Paris, earned her PhD at the University of Paris in 1974.  Beginning in her early childhood days, she always displayed a passion for science.  It was both her favorite and best subject in school.  This, combined with her love of research discovered as an undergraduate, drove her to a scientific research career that has been primarily with the Pasteur Institute (yes, that Pasteur, the guy who gave us long-lasting dairy foods) but also included the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute in the U.S.

In the late 1970s she joined Luc Montagnier’s group at the Pasteur Institute to work on retroviruses.  In 1982, a virologist at a hospital in Paris asked their group to look into the possibility of a retrovirus being the problem causing an epidemic disease that was on the rise and beginning to make headlines: the disease that would eventually be named AIDS.

1983 was the first year she worked full time on AIDS research.  That was the year her group was able to isolate, describe, and even photograph the HIV virus.  She was first author on the paper that reported the discovery of the virus behind the AIDS epidemic.  In 1992 she moved up to head of the Biology of Retroviruses unit at the Pasteur Institute.

A great lover of nature, she ventured from the laboratory whenever possible.  She frequently traveled to the places where AIDS was widespread or having the most devastating effects, including the Central African Republic and Vietnam.  She visited patients dying of the disease in hospitals from Paris to San Francisco.  She did not let the disease remain just a thing to be studied in a laboratory, but saw its very real and devastating impacts in person.  It is very unusual for disease researchers to actually interact with patients.

In 2008 she and Luc Montagnier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that initial discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  The discovery and isolation of the virus was a tremendous first step in the ongoing fight against AIDS, and she is currently still working to achieve both things that could defeat AIDS: a vaccine, and a functional cure.  She wouldn’t be satisfied with that, though – she also insists on continuing searching for a total cure once those first two are achieved.

She was often discouraged on her path to her chosen career by men who thought such scientific research was not the place for a woman.  Thirty years later, the world is incredibly fortunate that such a driven person followed her passion and is still, in her late 60s, working to combat one of the most frightening and devastating diseases of our lifetimes.


Leave a comment

Filed under Role Models

Shameless Plug for SeaPerch

This program is run/sponsored by the Navy (Office of Naval Research, to be exact), which makes this post just a little bit of a shameless plug.  Just sayin’ that up front.

I am extremely bummed out that, due to wrist surgery, I can’t participate in the local program this year.  Since, you know, unmanned-underwater-vehicle-building with kids tends to take both hands and a mind clear of painkillers.  There’s always next year, though!

Now onto the good part – it’s a really, really awesome STEM outreach program.  I’ve participated in the program in various capacities before, and both the kids and their adult advisors loved it.  Or at least they did as far as I could tell.

The fifth graders were unabashedly enthusiastic about it, whereas the high schoolers were a bit more subdued, in that “I think this is cool, but I can’t let anyone know I think this is cool, so I’m gonna shrug a lot and doodle circles on the ground with my big toe” kind of way.

The idea is that each team builds a remote-controlled mini-submarine from a kit.  There is some leeway allowed in the design, so they can experiment a little to see what works best.  Then they can take their creation to a competition, where they are judged on how well it performs on an underwater obstacle course (usually in a local swimming pool).

Teams can be individuals or up to a whole class in size, but generally it works best with around four kids per kit.  Kits can be purchased for under $200 and a toolkit is recommended but can be shared among groups.  There is often grant money available.

A portion of the competition is also an interview segment, where judges ask questions to see how well the kids understand what they’ve built (how does the motor work, why did you place that piece there, etc.).  Points are also given for teamwork, team spirit, and how they present a record of their work – usually a log of some sort describing their efforts, and maybe a science fair type poster, depending on the team.

The competition part goes all the way up to the national level.  Teams can come from schools, church youth groups, Boys & Girls clubs, scouting organizations, JROTC units, a couple of kids from the neighborhood, you name it.

The SeaPerch challenge is adaptable to age ranges from 5th grade through college freshmen, and various size groups.  It helps develop fundamental skills in areas including physics, electronics, mechanics, engineering, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, fluid dynamics, buoyancy, robotics, and – most importantly – how to glue PVC pipe together.  Seriously, it really is both fun and educational.

For more information or to find a competition near you, check out the SeaPerch Website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, STEM outreach

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Really, really rough week at work. Lots of people problems, and lots of big projects leading to very long hours. Today I just barely managed to make myself go work my aggression out at the gym for a bit instead of through a bottle of wine and a bunch of chocolate.

The wrist injury is putting a real damper on my workout style. My favorite workouts are swimming, kettlebells, yoga, going for a bike ride, and lifting weights. All of which are things I can’t do with a wrist injury.  Well, I can do kickboard work in the pool (boring) and limited yoga (also pretty boring and not terribly effective).

My knees don’t handle running too well anymore, but I’ve walked up to half marathon distance. Unfortunately, my little geekling has outgrown the stroller. We still go on our walks together, but at a more… leisurely pace with her walking.  It’s a pace that involves an obsessive need to try sitting on every bench we pass, and collecting every leaf and a water break every quarter mile.

So with all that in mind, does anyone have suggestions for good workouts that don’t need a healthy wrist and/or knees?  Especially looking for things that I can do with a small child along (or just watching and laughing, which is what she usually does during yoga).

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, Uncategorized

What’s the best geek-parent-mobile?

Our old car is nearing the end of its life – that awful point where the cost of maintaining it is more than the car is worth.  Especially when you bought a bit of a lemon off the used lot to begin with.  Naturally, this happens right after it’s paid off.  Sigh.

So we have embarked on one of my husband’s favorite rituals: car shopping.  He pretty much makes a hobby of car shopping anyway, but when we are actually considering buying one, he goes to town.  The process involves spreadsheets, with rankings for all the must-haves and nice-to-have’s, and disqualifying factors.  He has minimums for acceleration, combined MPG, storage space, leg room, etc.  He has criteria for grading comfort of seats, ‘fun to drive’ level, quality of the interior, you name it.

He test drives.  He does that some more.  Then he has to go drive a bunch in the same day on the same course to ‘get a feel for comparing them.’  Did I mention he’s a little OCD about cars?  Hours are spent on Edmunds, Car & Driver, Consumer Reports, CNET, you name it.  My criteria?  I like it to have four wheels and run.  The cheaper the better.  My nice-to-have’s are good mileage, a hatchback with flat area for changing squirmy children when necessary, and butt warmers.  Oh, and I don’t particularly want a minivan.

The one big splurge I’ll usually go for on a car is leather/leatherette, because… well, kids.  Kids with juice boxes and goldfish crumbs and melting crayons.  Leather is soooo much easier to clean up.  And it’s usually part of the trim level that gets me my butt warmers – which I actually use more as a heating pad for my old lower back injury, but also because I am a sissy in winter.

When he has narrowed it down to the top 3, I’ll grudgingly let him drag me along for test drives.  I get excited about a lot of machines and electronics, but cars are just not among them.  Unfortunately, all his front-runners so far are well above the budget I gave him. Now I am appealing to my fellow parents of geeklings: can you give me the selling points of your best, most affordable geek-parent-mobiles?  Preferably ones with fancy electronics systems and enough shiny bells and whistles to satisfy a big techie, without totally breaking the bank.

So far only one test drive has successfully ended with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face, and it was one so far out of our budget range it was supposed to be a ‘just looking’ moment.  Yikes.  So I’m looking for good recommendations that will still let us make our mortgage payment and have the occasional steak.

And at least he hasn’t driven a Tesla yet…

1 Comment

Filed under Geeking out

STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke was born on a farm in rural Maryland in 1883.  After earning her undergraduate degrees in math and astronomy from Vassar (Phi Beta Kappa), she went on to teach math and physics at a girls’ school for a few years.

She also worked as a computor – literally a human who performed mathematical calculations before our modern-day computers and calculators were invented.  During WWI, she managed a group of women computors who performed calculations for the Transmission and Protection Engineering Department.

In 1918 she became the first woman to graduate from MIT with a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, and went on the next year to work for General Electric (GE) until 1945.  During this time she patented a ‘graphical calculator’ and several other devices.  She became the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE, now the IEEE), as well as first to become a voting member and fellow of that group.

Working primarily as a computor at GE because they would not employ a woman engineer, she also pursued other interests.  She wrote or co-authored 19 technical papers over several decades, and won a tennis championship.

She took a leave of absence from GE to travel around Europe and teach at a women’s university in Turkey for a year.  Upon her return, she was finally assigned to work as an engineer for GE at their Central Station Engineering Department, which made her the first U.S. woman to be professionally employed as an electrical engineer.

Two years after retiring from GE, she took a teaching position at the University of Texas, Austin, and was their first female professor of engineering.  She was one of those rare, talented people who could break down complicated mathematics into simpler forms and teach it as well as work with it.

In 1954 she earned the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Achievement Award, and retired in 1956.  She died a few years later, at the age of 76.  Her other awards include a spot in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Edith Clarke paved the way for many female engineers to follow in her footsteps, and showed great tenacity in her pursuit of full-time engineering work instead of the ‘usual’ jobs allowed women of her time.


Leave a comment

Filed under Role Models, Uncategorized

Altered Schedule

Since it’s official that I’m getting wrist surgery sometime in the next month and work is extra crazy, I’m going to shift to twice a week posts (Sat and Wed) for a while, instead of daily.  See you in a few days!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Earthquake Swarm!

Just got back from a work trip to San Diego.  Last night in my hotel room I found out that a 5.2 earthquake is a lot more noticeable from the 9th floor.  It was enough to shake the bed, make the whole building sway, set the shower doors rattling, and slosh the water in the toilet bowl.  I felt several of the aftershocks, too.  The local news reported it as a ‘swarm’ of earthquakes.

That term sounded a little weird, so I did some digging and found out that yes, that is the accepted term for a group of earthquakes in the same area.  There is some argument over how close together in time they have to be to constitute a swarm, but mostly it caught my attention because “swarm of earthquakes” struck me as strange.  The mental image I get is of a bunch of tectonic plates buzzing around each other like angry wasps.

So today I’m recovering from an exhausting week, complete with earthquakes and travel irritations and very long days.  To tide you over until I have time to do more real writing again, here’s a cool video on how earthquakes work.  There’s no sound, but the animations are good and it’s by far the best of the videos I found – not too cheesy, and not too dumbed-down.



Leave a comment

Filed under Geeking out


Out and about for work this week with no laptop. Be back on Saturday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Product Review: Ice Sabers Star Wars Cookbook

I have way too many cookbooks and kitchen gadgets, but when I saw this item in the clearance section at Barnes & Noble, I couldn’t resist.  Who doesn’t want to eat a lightsaber popsicle?

The problem is, you don’t get much for the money here.  The mold makes four very tiny popsicles – all four of them together might add up to one regular-sized popsicle.  It’s also a tall, skinny mold so you have to prop it up somewhere in the freezer to keep it from tipping.  And then… there’s the challenge of getting them out.  Long, skinny, small popsicles with too short of a stick in a little plastic mold means that no matter what I did, the end of the lightsaber would break off and stay stuck in the mold.

download (2)

I tried the warm water to loosen them thing, tried it some more, tried being extra gentle, tried the molds with different recipes.  Always ended up with sadly broken-off lightsabers and using a chopstick to fish the other end of it out of the mold.  When my daughter tried to eat one off the stick, the remaining portion would fall off very easily as well, really upping the mess factor.

I was surprised to see this had a 3.6-star average on Amazon.  The general idea of their 20 reviews was about the same, though.  Cool idea, poor execution.

The cookbook that comes with the molds could easily have just been a little booklet.  There are few recipes for the main lightsaber colors (I started with red and then green) that are pretty basic and involve food coloring.  The rest are just everyday average popsicle recipes.  All of this you could find for free with a quick Google search and save the shelf space.

Overall, I can’t recommend these.  I’ll stick with our rocket pop molds, which work better and cost me I think two or three dollars.  I really wanted them to work, but after six batches of disappointment I threw in the towel and evicted them from my kitchen collection along with that stupid donut maker that never worked right.

Have you had better luck with these?  Any cool geeky popsicle or candy molds you can recommend?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek crafts, Product Review

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Lots of people warned me about the song, so I sort of knew what I was getting into with The Lego Movie.  I was not prepared, though, for multiple kids to be shouting, “Everything is awesome!” at the tops of their little lungs in the parking lot as we all walked back to our cars, and their horrified parents tried to shush them.   It’s really that much of an earworm.  And yes, it is certainly still running through my head as I write this.

Crazy addictive song aside, it was a good movie.  I think I enjoyed it more than my daughter did, because most of the fun one-liners and cultural references sailed right over her head.  As usual, the things in the movie that scared her dumbfounded me.  She sat through a solid ten minutes of heroes-being-chased-by-bad-guys-with-lots-of-shooting with no problem, but freaked out when they discovered a tracking device on the hero, wailing “What’s wrong with him?”

I love that the 1980s space lego guy got to be an important character.  I love anything voiced by Morgan Freeman.  And I love Legos.  So this movie was something I went into expecting to like, at least a little.  The ‘life lessons’ and ‘good triumphing over evil’ portions that are obligatory in an PG-or-less rated movie were presented with a little too much saccharine for my taste, but it definitely could have been worse.   The love story subplot was particularly sickly sweet, but at least had the comic relief of Batman.

This is a very visually stimulating movie, something that always gets bonus points in my book.  The various Lego worlds and the things the master builders put together are, to quote the song, awesome.  The voice actors are great, and you will hear many familiar voices.  The Star Wars actors actually voicing their Star Wars characters (Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Anthony Daniels as C3PO) was an especially nice touch.  The standout by far was Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop.  Such a great character and really well voiced.

The plot was fairly predictable, but with enough little twists and comedic asides to make it stiff fun to watch.  For the parents who grew up loving and playing with Legos, the movie has a lot of nice nostalgia moments.  This is also a movie I could certainly watch again, which is a lot more than I can say about the last two movies we saw together (The Nut Job and Walking With Dinosaurs).  Overall, PG movies don’t get much better than this.

But seriously, you will never, ever, ever get that song out of your head.  Don’t say no one warned you.

What did you think of it?

1 Comment

Filed under Geeking out, Movie & TV Reviews