Helping Hackney women to reach for the stars

Top: crescent moon over Dalston and, above, Alice Sheppard

ASTRONOMY is one of the most exciting subjects — who has not marvelled at the night sky? Yet worldwide a mere 25% of astronomers are women.

At least, that is what Alice Sheppard claims and she’ll be trying to counter that with a talk at Newington Green on Wednesday 12 December 2012.

Sheppard, an MSc astrophysics student who helps to run Galaxy Zoo, a public science project, explains that women’s brains have long been considered “incapable” of logic, rationality, and science.

Nonsense, of course, and she points out that women have made great but rarely acknowledged contributions to astronomy. Even today, schoolgirls are often subtly discouraged from studying mathematics and science.

Sheppard says: “In my talk, we’ll meet some historical and modern female astronomers, and find out how to get women into science.

“I’ll be talking about a few female astronomers whose achievements are important but little-known. For example, that stars are made of hydrogen and helium, not iron, was discovered by 25-year-old Cecilia Payne in 1925. She was told by male colleagues that she was wrong. Later they took the credit.

“Then I’ll talk about the problems and progress made by women in astronomy today. No knowledge of astronomy is needed.”

That last bit is appealing. And males are welcome — Sheppard promises that there will be “no men-bashing”. Incidentally, her talk has nothing to do with astrology. It’s about science, you see.

Donations will be sought for charities to raise awareness of female genital mutilation. Nothing to do with astronomy, but Sheppard says that FGM has bothered her since she heard about it as a teenager.

She adds: “Nimco Ali, from Daughters of Eve, encourages me with the reminder that FMG is not a ‘cultural’ issue to be sensitive about but a human-rights abuse that is harming children.”

David Altheer 091212

* Women in astronomy, Newington Green Unitarian Church, 39A Newington Green, Stoke Newington N1 2TZ, Wed 12 Dec 2012, 7pm



This site welcomes fair comments, including the critical. As is standard UK newspaper practice with letters to the editor, they will be subject to editing, although only as necessary, for grammatical, legal or taste reasons, or for shortening. Be polite in what you write and be brief. Wikipedia citations are not welcome. Loving Dalston on Twitter: @lovingdalston