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Science needs a feminine touch

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2008
Rebecca C. Jernigan,

Despite the debate over its cause, there is general agreement that women are underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering. Theories about the cause of the discrepancy range from lack of interest to subtle discrimination, with many shades in between, but one group is striving to turn the numbers around.

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley’s Math, Science and Technology initiative (MSTi), a community partnership that focuses on engaging young people in the sciences through hands-on learning in after-school programs, and Wolfe Laboratories Inc., a female-owned pharmaceutical company, are working together to introduce girls to careers in the sciences and to role models within the industry.

Seven 12-year-old girls from the local Boys & Girls Club were selected to participate because of their interest in math and science and because of their involvement in MSTi. They visited Wolfe Laboratories, where they met with scientists and marketing professionals about jobs available in the industry and where they heard how education and focus are important in achieving their goals. Although the women at the company shared some of the struggles they faced while pursuing their education and careers, they also highlighted some of the perks that come from working in the field.

Rayanna West, left and Special Grubb, right, perform a chromatography experiment. They are waiting to see the color separation of black ink into shades of blue and purple. Image courtesy of United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley.

The girls were allowed to perform basic chromatography experiments designed to demonstrate the importance of separating mixtures in chemistry. The experiments mimicked the processes used by high-performance liquid chromatographs, which are commonly used at the company.

Another site visit has been scheduled for early 2009.

Basic Sciencechromatography experimentsengineeringResearch & TechnologyscienceTech Pulse

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