By now you’ve probably heard about the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves that lends support to the idea that the early universe expanded very, very quickly, a hypothesis known as chaotic inflation. It’s actually a very big deal. Like the discovery of the Higgs boson big. Even if you don’t understand what all the fuss is about (and, seriously, how many of us actually do?), it’s easy to see that it’s a discovery that is rocking the physics world.
It’s also something that scientists spend their lives pursuing — proof of a hypothesis that changes the way their field is studied. As clinical and empirical as we try to make the practice of science, this must be an incredibly emotional experience. If you question that, I’d suggest you watch this video of Andrei Linde, one of the developers of the chaotic inflation hypothesis, being told about the discovery:
What the video doesn’t make clear, however, is that Linde developed chaotic inflation with three other people, one of whom was in the room with him when he got the good news. That’s right; his wife, Renata Kallosh, is also an accomplished physicist and one of the developers of chaotic inflation.
It’s extremely important that we don’t forget Kallosh’s contribution. This discovery has the stink of Nobel all over it. If it holds up to peer review and if other physicists can confirm the discovery, it’s almost assured a Nobel Prize. The question is who will get it. Let’s face it: the Nobel committee has a history of snubbing the women behind humanity’s most breathtaking discoveries.
There’s Rosalind Franklin, whose work on DNA for a long time went unregarded and who was not awarded the Nobel Prize she deserved along with Francis Crick and James Watson. (As an aside, it’s asserted that Franklin wasn’t eligible for a Nobel Prize because, by the time it was awarded to Watson and Crick, she had died. While it is true that today a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, that rule only came into effect in 1974. Watson and Crick were awarded their Nobel in 1962. In fact, only the year before a Nobel Prize was awarded posthumously.)
That’s not all. There’s Lise Meitner, whose research partner published their work without crediting her as a coauthor. Her partner won the Nobel Prize for their work on nuclear fission in 1944. There’s Ester Lederberg, who, with her husband, developed an easier way to transfer bacterial colonies from one petri dish to another. Her husband received a Nobel Prize for this work, but she did not. There’s Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars. The award for that accomplishment went to her thesis adviser and another dude.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. These women made incredible contributions to their fields, yet have had to fight to get the recognition they deserve. It would be ironic and sad if we again forgot the historic contributions of an amazing scientist who happens to be a women, especially in Women’s History Month.
Photo Credit: Stanford University YouTube