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Women In Science


May 20, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 21


Letters to the Editor

C&EN’s portrayal of women

I was dismayed by the caption under the photograph of the Berkeley-Novartis drug discovery researchers (C&EN, April 23, page 24). The caption indicates “First row, from left” and lists the names of five male researchers named in the story. But the photo clearly shows seven people in the front row!

The last two are women. Their omission from this caption normalizes the invisible status of women in science. It gives readers permission to think, ‘Oh, they’re just women—not important,’ as so many other portrayals of scientists likewise give permission. Perhaps it is indeed not important to the story exactly who they are—the people in several other rows of the photo are not named either—but to caption the photo as if this list of five names describes the entire first row is simply insulting. Many more inclusive ways to caption this photo come to mind, such as “Project leaders ABCDE stand in the front row (from left), joined by 31 other team members.” You can do better.

Sandra Laursen
Boulder, Colo.

I am writing to express my disappointment in the C&EN photo spread “Scenes from the ACS National Meeting in New Orleans” (April 2, page 34). Even after all the reporting about sexual harassment in the field of chemistry, your photo spread shows two women chemists partying and wearing masks, one woman chemist playing with Magic Nuudles, and directly beneath this, a male chemist explaining his work at a poster session. Why did you need two photos of women chemists playing? Why could you not have portrayed a woman chemist showcasing her work? This type of reporting just reinforces stereotypes that women chemists can be ignored and do not need to be taken seriously.

Lori Spangler
Churchville, Pa.

Livestock emissions

Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

I’ve read with interest the B. E. Erickson article about the extended exemption of farmers and ranchers from reporting hazardous air emissions to federal agencies (C&EN, April 2, page 28). This is a serious matter: The toxicity of hydrogen sulfide is comparable with that of carbon monoxide. It is a broad-spectrum poison, but it most affects the nervous system, while exposure to very high concentrations of gaseous ammonia can result in lung damage and death in humans and aquatic animals; even at dilute concentrations, ammonia is highly toxic, and for this reason it is classified as dangerous for the environment (source: Wikipedia). So it appears that whether ammonia and hydrogen sulfide should be monitored and reported at the federal level is not as important as removing those toxic gases from the air to protect both people and animals.

Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in the farm air originate from the soil and have to be replenished with fertilizers for the plants to grow. Chemical fertilizers contain urea, superphosphate, mono and dibasic ammonium phosphates, ­calcium ammonium nitrate, and potassium chloride. The ammonia used as a feedstock for all other nitrogen fertilizers is produced by an energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process in which methane and air are usually the sources of hydrogen and the nitrogen, respectively. So it would make sense to return ammonia and sulfur from the farm emissions to the soil by the shortest route to close the cycle.


Technology for scrubbing ammonia from farm air with acids—for example, with H3PO4—already exists and was field-tested, for example, back in 2013—see Hydrogen sulfide can be reacted with hydrogen peroxide, and the technology is also available—for example, “Design and Scale-Up of an Oxidative Scrubbing Process for the Selective Removal of Hydrogen Sulfide from Biogas” was published in 2012 (J. Hazard. Mater., DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2012.02.028). If the sources of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions were gathered in a confined space (like a manure composter), then the combination of such technologies to remove dangerous chemicals from the air and convert them back to fertilizers could not only reduce the emissions to non-noxious levels and protect health but would also provide some economic benefit. This might be a better incentive than just fines for exceeding the government-imposed limits and definitely provide a more beneficial solution for farmworkers and those living in close proximity of the farms.

Barbara Debowski
San Diego



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Rita Gehman (May 24, 2018 12:57 AM)
I am commenting on Lori Spangler's reaction to “Scenes from the ACS National Meeting in New Orleans” (April 2, page 34). She said why you couldn't have shown a woman chemist showcasing her work instead of two women chemists playing around.

I really don't see why female scientists can't enjoy their work (and show it) as much as male scientists. If we saw two male scientists playing around, would we really think that the editors didn't take their work seriously? Come on, people. If we want equal treatment, we have to be willing to TAKE equal treatment, which includes allowing people to show us in every possible light, not just the "ultra-serious, must-take-my-job-seriously-or-people-won't-think-I'm-a-good-scientist" light.

I'm glad they were having fun and enjoying their jobs. And I'm glad it was published for everyone else to enjoy, as well.

Rita Gehman
Amarillo, Texas
Virginia Trimble (June 1, 2018 7:54 PM)
This is a response to the May 21st editorial.
I read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" when it appeared and found no "troubling behaviors" therein. Indeed he wrote that he asked a Caltech woman grad student to pose for him when he was learning to draw. I was that student, fully clothed in the one souvenir drawing I have, but not always so. In later years, after Richard's death, my husband looked at one of his sketches and said, "I've seen that back before!" My mother had no objection to our friendship, nor did Gweneth Feynman, who brought us orange juice and cookies mid-sessions. The $5.50/hour plus all the physics I could swallow from each two-hour session were both significant contributions to my education (male students could live and eat cheaply in dorms; women had to rent apartments). We remained friends thereafter; Richard came to my PhD party, making it the student social event of the year; and he and my late husband engaged in a number of intense, productive scientific discussions over the years, in which I was a junior participant. Incidentally, as a strict teetotaler and non-smoker for many years, Feynman was a better role model than many of his colleagues. "Sexist views?" Well RPF recommended that I not change my surname at marriage (advice taken), and once or twice near the end of his life, invited me to share the instruction duties of his "ask me anything" undergraduate class, because he was getting lots of astrophysics questions then, and not feeling very perky.

I am an astronomer by training (PhD Caltech 1968), an ACS member because my father was a chemist; and the widow of Joseph Weber, the developer and builder of the first detectors for gravitational waves. I arrived at U
California Irvine in 1971 as the youngest member of the department and am now the oldest still on full active duty.
It has been a wonderful 50 years in physics, and the friendship of Richard Feynman was part of what made it so.

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