It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re celebrating the contributions of women to science. A year ago, I was in Chile celebrating the inauguration of the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array. At dinner at a lovely restaurant in Santiago, each woman at the table received a small gift from the restaurant, a “lucky pig” or “chanchito,” a three-legged pig. I don’t see nearly as much celebration of Women’s Day in the United States. Let’s change that.
There are the more famous professional women scientists, of course, like Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, and Ruby Payne Scott. We know that the women “computers” had a huge influence on early 20th century stellar astronomy, women like Henrietta Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon. We also celebrate today’s women in science, though the path for them is still not easy. As a citizen science site, we also want to celebrate the women citizen scientists throughout history and today.
Have you heard of Mary Anning? She was a 19th century fossil collector who was kept out of the wealthy, male-dominated scientific society of her time. But her collections were invaluable to advancing the field of paleontology. She was a working class woman who made her living selling the fossils she collected, a dirty, dangerous, and unseemly job for a woman. But her ichthyosaur, pterosaur, plesiosaur, and dinosaur fossils helped solidify the case for mass extinctions and decorate museums throughout the globe today.
In astronomy, Caroline Herschel began by assisting her brother, William, but went on to do her own work as a citizen astronomer, discovering eight comets and M110 with her 27-inch telescope. She went on to help catalog the night sky, assist her nephew John in his observations, and received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828.
Today, women are still making an impact in citizen science. You may have noticed that this project is led by several women. You may have also heard of SciStarter, a clearinghouse for citizen science projects led by Darlene Cavalier and run by several more amazing women and men. SciStarter gets you on the right track to finding a citizen science for you, your children, or your classroom. Women also participate in citizen science, as we know from talking with and meeting with you. Then there are stories like that of six-year-old Alyson Yates, who with her mother Kate discovered a rare species of ladybug through the Lost Ladybug Project.
However, women tend not to participate in physics and astronomy-based citizen science projects nearly as much as men. Our survey last summer showed that only 18% of our respondents identified as female, matching the percentage of female respondents to a Galaxy Zoo survey. However, at a talk at the last dotAstronomy, Stuart Lynn notes that although women participate less in Zooniverse projects, they may be contributing better results!
So, let’s celebrate women and citizen science and women IN citizen science by sharing these projects with the women in your life. Show a woman or girl you know that they can do science, too. They can, as anyone with a computer connection can, map the surfaces of the Moon, Vesta, and Mercury. Share your science and share your experiences and help the community of citizen scientists become everything it can be.