Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Meet your CSWA: Aparna Venkatesan

In our series on the Women in Astronomy blog, we'd like to introduce our readers to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. Today's feature is on Aparna Venkatensan.

Aparna Venkatesan is a cosmologist working on a number of research topics including studies of the first stars and quasars in the universe and the physical conditions in early-universe galaxies. Aparna is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of San Francisco (USF), and a former NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow. She has received multiple NSF grants, AAS and APS grants, and the Single Investigator Cottrell College Science Award. She was recently featured amongst USF’s Changemakers. She appeared recently in a number of episodes of The Weather Channel’s show The Strangest Weather on Earth.

Aparna currently serves on a number of local and national committees to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and astronomy, including the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy, and as co-Chair on the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. She is deeply committed to increasing the participation and retention of underrepresented groups at all career stages in astronomy, physics and the sciences. She has been active in Native American/indigenous education programs/issues, as well as in recruiting and retaining women and minorities over her entire research and teaching career.

Friday, January 13, 2017

AASWomen Newsletter for January 13, 2017

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of January 13, 2017
eds: Nicolle Zellner, Heather Flewelling, Christina Thomas, and Maria Patterson

This week's issues:

1. Thinking About Boycotts
2. Meet your CSWA: Nicolle Zellner    
3. 2017 Annie Jump Cannon Award       
4. First women to chair the SSB 
5. House Approves Bipartisan Bills to Promote Women in Science
6. Materials for Teachers and Students: Teaching Guides on Women and Minorities 
7. Month by Month, 2016 Cemented Science’s Sexual Harassment Problem
8. What one semester reveals about Native American students’ struggle to succeed in college 
9. Job Opportunities  
10. How to Submit to the AASWomen Newsletter
11. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWomen Newsletter
12. Access to Past Issues of the AASWomen Newsletter

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thinking About Boycotts

Would you share your restroom with
this woman?
Both the American Astronomical Society and Women in Astronomy IV are scheduled to meet in Texas this June.  Austin, where the meetings will occur, touts itself as LGBT friendly on its Visitor Center web site:
You don't have to look for rainbow flags or limit yourself to one small part of Austin if you're interested in experiencing everything that the city's large and diverse LGBT community has to offer. Unlike many places, which have only one or two areas known as 'gay districts,' Austin's LGBT residents are truly everywhere. And proud of it!
But dangers lurk in the Texas State Capitol in Austin. According to the Texas Observer,
SB 6, authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would nullify trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in several Texas cities, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio. It would also require the state’s school districts and political subdivisions to adopt policies requiring people to use restrooms and other facilities in government buildings that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Cities and school districts that fail to comply with the provisions of SB 6 would be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,500 per violation.
Unlike the North Carolina legislation, HB2, which triggered nationwide protests and boycotts of that state, this bill seems to be entirely directed at transgender people who were assigned a male gender at birth but no longer live in that gender. According to the Observer, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, for whom this bill is a top legislative priority, dismissed the threat of economic backlash at a news conference last Thursday, but it is also noted that the Texas Association of Business estimates that SB6 could cost the state’s economy up to $8.5 billion and 175,000 jobs. An organization of businesses named Texas Competes has also made its case for a multitude of economic impacts. And then there is the NCAA Final Four scheduled for San Antonio in 2018. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has said SB 6 won’t be a priority if it clears the Senate, and with the business backlash against the bill, it seems unlikely to be passed by June. But you never know.

A further cause for worry from the Texas Tribune:
Citing bathroom safety concerns, Patrick first waded into the fight in 2015 as part of his opposition to a Houston ordinance, known as HERO, that would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Houston ordinance was eventually shot down by voters, but as of last summer there were still 12 Texas cities with populations of more than 100,000 that had some rules or legislation in place to protect residents or city employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to The Atlantic, similar legislation is also being considered in Kentucky and Virginia:
Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who works on LGBT issues, says the lawmakers introducing bills now were “people who are committed to targeting the trans community.”
“We saw last session bills across the country attempting to do the same thing,” Strangio said. “We were overwhelmingly successful in stopping them, and we’re incredibly optimistic that we’ll be able to stop the majority of them this session.”
But the advent of a Trump administration should be favorable for bathroom-bill advocates. The president-elect himself offered vague and contradictory statements about North Carolina’s law during the campaign, but a Department of Justice headed by Senator Jeff Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, is expected to be much less friendly to expansions of LBGT rights.
Interestingly enough, Patrick started the press conference with a quote attributed to Martin Luther King which I would read differently than the Lieutenant Governor intended it:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Spoken from the pulpit on March 8, 1965, while King was in Selma, Alabama supporting the fight for voting rights, it would appear to me that Martin Luther King's timeless words encourage us to think before we support places which abridge the rights of members of our profession.

Opposition to HB2 from the federal government was effective in blocking its implementation in North Carolina, but I don't think that we can count on that kind of support from the new Republican administration. Opposition to HB2 by national commercial and nonprofit organizations also helped, and I think that we have to make sure that our local hosts (and other AAS members in Texas), as well as those who run our venue, know that there is a potential problem concerning a national professional organization in a field where Texas has a significant place, and that they pass on that concern to their legislators.

And remember that for now, we're protected in Austin, so we don't want to act prematurely:
DISCRIMINATION means the direct or indirect exclusion, distinction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial or any other differentiation in the treatment of a person based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability in a public accommodation.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meet your CSWA: Nicolle Zellner

In our series on the Women in Astronomy blog, we'd like to introduce our readers to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. Today's feature is on Nicolle Zellner, our lead editor of the AASWomen Newsletter.

Bio: Nicolle Zellner is an associate professor of physics at Albion College in Albion, MI, where she teaches introductory and advanced astronomy and physics courses. Her research interests focus on understanding the impact history of the Earth-Moon system and how those impacts affected the conditions for life on Earth. Dr. Zellner studies lunar impact glasses to interpret the bombardment history of the Moon (and Earth), and a second project focuses on understanding how the chemistry of simple molecules is affected by impacts.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meet your CSWA: Sara Seager

In our series on the Women in Astronomy blog, we'd like to introduce our readers to the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. Today's feature is on Sara Seager, who was also recently highlighted by The New York Times.

Sara Seager is the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Seager’s research team develops theoretical computer models of atmospheres and interiors of all kinds of exoplanets, to make predictions and interpret data, with a prime interest in atmospheric "biosignature" gases. She is widely credited with conceiving of and formulating the main technique used to analyze exoplanet atmospheres today, work that also led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. Professor Seager actively works on the search for another Earth, including: her CubeSat (ASTERIA now being implemented at JPL); Deputy Science Director on the MIT-led TESS Mission (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission scheduled for launch in 2017; and recent leadership of the NASA Science and Technology Definition Team for a space-based, "Probe-class" Starshade and telescope system for direct imaging discovery and characterization of exoEarths orbiting sun-like stars. Among her recent accolades, Professor Seager was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015, was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2015, is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and was awarded the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences in 2012. For more on Professor Seagar, visit