Time Machine

Mad Men (Season 5)

When watching Mad Men, I put special attention to the furniture they have on the show. I cannot help but be fascinated with Megan and Don’s chic apartment: I want to live in a place just like that. The 60’s were a great time to be alive and the series characterise this very well. It was the time of cultural awakening that led to a revolution of ideas: gender and sexuality, youth, race, education and democracy. What I would give to experience the vibrant atmosphere that transformed the modern world.

Television and cinema are the best way we have of taking a look at the past as if it were a window. If feels more real than a painting or a book.

Humans are deeply drawn to the past. We often think that we belong to another time, or maybe are curious about how a certain event happened. Perhaps you are oddly interested in furniture, a specific battle or a scientific breakthrough. Sometimes we simply think that our generation is rotten and that yesterday’s grass was greener.

If you had access to a time machine, where would you go? Or rather, when?

Here is simple advice for planning the trip:

-Decide if you are comfortable in a place where there is little personal hygiene. Sure, the Middle Ages seem interesting but what about the smell?

-If you belong to a minority, unfortunately you might not be treated like a normal person. For instance, being gay was illegal until not so long ago.

-Consider fashion. Would you agree to wear tights and a heavy wig when visiting France before the revolution?

-Blend in. Remember that before the industrial revolution, there was not much movement and cities were rather small. This means that strangers were regarded as intruders. People did not welcome anything that took them out of their routine: it was scary.

-Always choose a place and time that makes you happy and excites you.

Happy traveling!

-ana-

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Sandwiches aren’t made in the lab.

cori_cori_lab_photo

“Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”
Nobel laureate Tim Hunt got a lot of criticism for this comment a couple of months ago.
But why?

Surely, the STEM gender gap is getting smaller than ever, and there are more campaigns to involve women in science than ever.

And yet, it is widely believed that men’s brains are wired for science, while women “have wordier brains”. While there are many studies that claim to prove that we are “wired differently” it’s tough to differentiate between what was a difference since birth and what was built through socialising and upbringing. It’s an age old debate of “nature vs. nurture”.

In my personal experience, I have seen no innate limitations in the women scientists I’ve known, nor have I seen any lack of enthusiasm.
Growing up in a girls only environment in both a conservative developing country and then a more liberal developed country, I have had the opportunity to experience two different approaches to girls’ education, and the effects that these have on their decisions for the future.

It seems to me that in an environment where girls are invited to explore any interest they please, many flock towards science. For example, 40% of girls in my current environment take at least one out of Chemistry and Biology, compared to the 10% from my old, more conservative environment.
The sciences are not discouraged for these girls, they are just not celebrated.

And this is the problem. We shouldn’t need to be advertising subjects, trying to “sell them” to pupils. The subjects should be a choice that everyone is free to make. It should not be overcompensated with more people leaning one way or another.
After all, we are all humans with different preferences and it is just as valid to lean towards the sciences as it is to the humanities.

Gender should not define our personalities or our interests, and it certainly should NOT define our professional limitations.

So long as there are people who make comments strongly based on stereotypes and and unfair judgements, women may not be able to pursue the fields they love most. Heck, there will be girls who may not even realise that there is this passion within them.

I’m trying to keep this short and to have a clear point across. The way we get more women involved in science is by realising that there is no trick behind it all. No hidden way of trapping girls into being interested in STEM fields. Girls will be interested if they are given the chance. If they understand that it is a choice for them to make, and especially if we acknowledge that it should be normal for girls to take an interest in science.

There is no space for sexism in STEM. Research is all about collaboration and team work. We need to stop telling women to “go make me a sandwich” because in a lab where cutting edge science is happening, there is no space for this kind of bigotry.

If you ever see a girl pick up a bug, please don’t tell her that it is masculine, or “gross”
If a girl ever tells you that she enjoys maths, do not tell her that maths are for boys.

If a girl ever expresses her love for science (or for any other subject, really) do not trap her down under your own gender stereotypes. Support girls and boys to pursue the things they love.

Passions have no gender.

-teresa-

How to love science.

It is in the dampest, coldest and darkest days that I question myself the most.
Thoughts parade through my mind making me question the things I love.
Is it worth it to pursue science? Would I not be better off exploiting my artistic side? Am I missing the natural ability for science?
Hours are passed in this mist of uncertainty. And it is exhausting.

Luckily, it is not very difficult to snap out of it.
Because if this, I have compiled a list of things that remind me of my love of science, and help me remember why I sigh whenever I learn something new or when I take part in an experiment, no matter how simple.

To read when science seems bureaucratic and dull:

  • Focus on a part of your body. Do you know how it works? If the answer is yes, concentrate on the process. If no, look it up in a book or online. Think about the work of those who have made this knowledge available to you. You don’t need fancy equipment to understand your own body at work. Amazing.
  • Look up some cool chemical reactions on the internet. Yes, those BuzzFeed and Cracked posts. Try to understand how the reactions work. Investigate some of the simple theory behind it. Captivating.
  • Think of those very simple concepts that you think that you understand. How well do you actually know them? Are you sure you understand gravity? What causes the changing of the seasons? How does jam making work? No question is silly because all questions take you to discovery. Wow.
  • Watch youtube videos on topics that you don’t think are interesting. You will be surprised. Clever channels such as CrashCourse, Vsauce and ASAP Science are amazing at explaining everyday phenomena. Interesting.
  • Open any news website you enjoy and dive straight into the science section. You can also try IFL science if you are feeling like a lighter read. There are amazing and exciting things happening in the world of science that we don’t always hear about. Fascinating.

Perhaps the most important point to remember is what science really is about:

Curiosity.

All the questions that flood you are like your fuel. When you feel like you are running low, release yourself from the bonds of “obvious” knowledge and approach the world as if for the first time. Analyse the pen you hold in your hand as its mechanism was completely foreign. Listen to the rain and try to forget about what you know. Watch nature, watch yourself.

How do things happen? Why do things happen?
And why are you not trying to understand them?

Science can be mindful. It can bring you peace.

-teresa-

CLOSER TO THE SKY

Lunch atop

In a movie, a simple shot of the Eiffel Tower is enough to let the audience know that the story takes place in Paris. However, when talking about New York we usually don’t see a specific building but rather, an aerial shot of the city’s skyline. We can find this emblematic skyline in t-shirts, mugs and key-chains, among other things. Any American can certainly be proud of this view, because although they are no longer the first in height or design, it represents one of their most important accomplishments in art: the invention of the skyscraper.

These impossibly high buildings are a symbol of the modern world:

-They represent the technological advances of the XIXth and XXth centuries such as the telephone and the many benefits that came with electricity, such as lifts.

– Also, skyscrapers provided a ground for experimenting with new building techniques and materials. They use glass in a whole different way, freeing it from being merely windows to covering almost the whole structure. This creates a unique sensation, as if there were no walls- one can feel a part of the city. Besides, glass allows one to play with the reflections of other elements, such as trees, clouds or other buildings.

– They also represent a new way of understanding life and professional work- a whole company working in the same building in a great location. Skyscrapers became a propaganda method, as every major firm wanted to have a great and impressive building that provided prestige and showed luxury and elegance. For instance, the Chrysler Building.

Skyscrapers were developed by the Chicago School during the late XIXth century. The first one was work of architect William Le Baron Jenney and built in 1885: The Home Insurance Building. Although nowadays we wouldn’t consider it very tall, it is important, as it was the first to use a steel structure that allowed significant height.

The current tallest skyscraper is the Burj Khalifa, or Khalifa Tower, located in Dubai. It was finished in 2009 and is 829.8 metres tall, a very big distance from the 55 metres of the Home Insurance Building.

Everyday, we’re closer to the sky.

-ana-

Everyday, we’re closer to the sky.