Scientists love their toys. Monster machines, delicate precision devices, even those finicky electronic brats that spend more time sulking in a heap of malfunction than collecting data: we love the equipment that allows us to explore the world around us.
Top image: Staff astronomer Juna Kollmeier with her 6.5 meter telescope. Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science
In a frustratingly familiar story a prominent scientist made an offhand sexist comment perpetuating chronic alienation, declaring that astronomers were “boys with toys.” Luckily, in what is becoming an equally familiar epilogue, the aftermath is a celebration of woman in science that is downright delightful as we get photos of “girls with toys.”
The photos cover everything from scientists strutting with their equipment like something out of a perfectly-posed movie poster, to the more gritty aspects of the practice of science. I’d never contemplated just how irritating it would be to use a massive dish during a snowstorm!
Women are not a recent addition to the practice science, or even to astronomy. The human computers who stared at blurry glass plates made amazing strides in observational astronomy, and the first Mars maps required an eye for detail that I can’t match. That they still get overlooked, ignored, or erased isn’t just foolish; it’s tiresome and predictable.
Sometimes the toys steal the spotlight. Other times, it’s the environments. But what I love about this is that every one of these photos is a story of the humans behind the science, the tales hidden within the carefully-glossed-over methods sections that pretend science is some abstract process. With each caption, we get hints of the passion that drive these people to deal with long hours, uncomfortable conditions, broken equipment, tedium, repetition, and outright hostility. This is where data comes from:
While I am absolutely loving these photos and stories, and I hope that you’ll add your photos of scientists of any variety at work with fantastic machines and confounding devices, I really hope that one day we’ll skip the obnoxious triggering event, and just skip straight to the celebration of people who love science.