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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 
Science & Nature
 

October 13, 2018 - October 19, 2018

Nobel Prizes still struggle with wide gender disparity

 

In this file photo dated Friday, April 17, 2015, a national library employee shows the gold Nobel Prize medal awarded to the late novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in Bogota, Colombia. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Mark Lewis

Stavanger, Norway (AP) - Nobel Prizes are the most prestigious awards on the planet but the aura of this year’s announcements has been dulled by questions over why so few women have entered the pantheon, particularly in the sciences.

The march of Nobel announcements began last Monday with the physiology/medicine prize.

Since the first prizes were awarded in 1901, 892 individuals have received one, but just 48 of them have been women. Thirty of those women won either the literature or peace prize, highlighting the wide gender gap in the laureates for physics, chemistry and physiology/medicine. In addition, only one woman has won for the economics prize, which is not technically a Nobel but is associated with the prizes.

Some of the disparity likely can be attributed to underlying structural reasons, such as the low representation of women in high-level science. The American Institute of Physics, for example, says in 2014, only 10 percent of full physics professorships were held by women.

But critics suggest that gender bias pervades the process of nominations, which come largely from tenured professors.

“The problem is the whole nomination process, you have these tenured professors who feel like they are untouchable. They can get away with everything from sexual harassment to micro-aggressions like assuming the woman in the room will take the notes, or be leaving soon to have babies,” said Anne-Marie Imafidon, the head of Stemettes, a British group that encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s little wonder that these people aren’t putting women forward for nominations. We need to be better at telling the stories of the women in science who are doing good things and actually getting recognition,” she said.

Powerful men taking credit for the ideas and elbow grease of their female colleagues was turned on its head in 1903 when Pierre Curie made it clear he would not accept the physics prize unless his wife and fellow researcher Marie Curie was jointly honored. She was the first female winner of any Nobel prize, but only one other woman has won the physics prize since then.

More than 70 years later, Jocelyn Bell, a post-graduate student at Cambridge, was overlooked for the physics prize despite her crucial contribution to the discovery of pulsars. Her supervisor, Antony Hewish, took all of the Nobel credit.

Brian Keating, a physics professor at the University of California San Diego and author of the book “Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor,” says the Nobel Foundation should lift its restrictions on re-awarding for a breakthrough if an individual has been overlooked. He also says posthumous awards also should be considered and there should be no restriction on the number of individuals who can share a prize. Today the limit is three people for one prize.

“These measures would go a long way to addressing the injustice that so few of the brilliant women who have contributed so much to science through the years have been overlooked,” he said.

Keating fears that simply accepting the disparity as structural will seriously harm the prestige of all the Nobel prizes.

“I think with the Hollywood #MeToo movement, it has already happened in the film prizes. It has happened with the literature prize. There is no fundamental law of nature that the Nobel science prizes will continue to be seen as the highest accolade,” he said.

This year’s absence of a Nobel Literature prize, which has been won by 14 women, puts an even sharper focus on the gender gap in science prizes.

The Swedish Academy, which awards the literature prize, said it would not pick a winner this year after sex abuse allegations and financial crimes scandals rocked the secretive panel, sharply dividing its 18 members, who are appointed for life. Seven members quit or distanced themselves from academy. Its permanent secretary, Anders Olsson, said the academy wanted “to commit time to recovering public confidence.”

The academy plans to award both the 2018 prize and the 2019 prize next year - but even that is not guaranteed. The head of the Nobel Foundation, Lars Heikensten, has warned that if the Swedish Academy does not resolve its tarnished image another group could be chosen to select the literature prize each year.

Stung by criticism about the diversity gap between former prize winners, the Nobel Foundation has asked that the science awarding panels for 2019 ask nominators to consider their own biases in the thousands of letters they send to solicit Nobel nominations.

“I am eager to see more nominations for women so they can be considered,” said Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and vice chairman of the Nobel Foundation. “We have written to nominators asking them to make sure they do not miss women or people of other ethnicities or nationalities in their nominations. We hope this will make a difference for 2019.”

It’s not the first time that Nobel officials have sought diversity. In his 1895 will, prize founder Alfred Nobel wrote: “It is my express wish that in the awarding of the prizes no consideration shall be given to national affiliations of any kind, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.”

Even so, the prizes remained overwhelmingly white and male for most of their existence.

For the first 70 years, the peace prize skewed heavily toward Western white men, with just two of the 59 prizes awarded to individuals or institutions based outside Europe or North America. Only three of the winners in that period were female.

The 1973 peace prize shared by North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho and American Henry Kissinger widened the horizons - since then more than half the Nobel Peace prizes have gone to African or Asian individuals or institutions.

Since 2000, six women have won the peace prize.

After the medicine prize was awarded on Monday, Oct. 1, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the Nobel in physics on Tuesday the 2nd, and in chemistry on Wednesday the 3rd, while the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. On Oct. 8, Sweden’s Central Bank announced the winner of the economics prize, given in honor of Alfred Nobel.


October 6, 2018 - October 12, 2018

1st private moon flight passenger to invite creative guests

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, right, after announcing him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, in Hawthorne, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, right, looks at a monitor showing the BFR spacecraft. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Christopher Weber

Los Angeles (AP) - After announcing that he’ll take the first-ever commercial rocket trip around the moon, Yusaku Maezawa said he wants company for the weeklong journey. The Japanese billionaire said he plans to invite six to eight artists, architects, designers and other creative people to join him on board the SpaceX rocket “to inspire the dreamer in all of us.”

The Big Falcon Rocket is scheduled to make the trip in 2023, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced at an event Monday at its headquarters near Los Angeles.

Maezawa, 42, said he wants his guests for the lunar orbit “to see the moon up close, and the Earth in full view, and create work to reflect their experience.”

Musk said the entrepreneur, founder of Japan’s largest retail website and one of the country’s richest people, will pay “a lot of money” for the trip but declined to disclose the exact amount. Maezawa came to SpaceX with the idea for the group flight, Musk said.

“I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself,” said Maezawa, wearing a blue sports jacket over a white T-shirt printed with a work by the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. He said he often mused about what artists like Basquiat or Andy Warhol might have come up with if they’d traveled into space.

“I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind,” Maezawa said.

Maezawa didn’t immediately say who will be on his guest list for the spaceflight, but in response to a question from a reporter he said he’d consider inviting Musk.

“Maybe we’ll both be on it,” Musk said with a smile.

Musk said the BFR is still in development and will make several unmanned test launches before it takes on passengers. The reusable 118-meter (387-foot) rocket will have its own dedicated passenger ship, and its development is expected to cost about $5 billion, Musk said.

The mission will not involve a lunar landing.

The average distance from Earth to the moon is about 237,685 miles (382,500 kilometers). Astronauts last visited the moon during NASA’s Apollo program. Twenty-four men flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972, and half of them made it to the lunar surface.

NASA is planning its own lunar flyby with a crew around 2023. The space agency also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. The outpost would serve as a stepping-off point for the lunar surface, Mars and points beyond.

Maezawa, a former musician, founded the retail firm Start Today in 1998 and built it into one of Japan’s most successful companies. In 2012, he started the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation to support young artists. He made headlines in 2016 when he paid more than $57 million at auction for an untitled work by Basquiat. A year later, he paid more than $110 million auction for another piece by the same artist.

Musk outlined a somewhat different SpaceX lunar mission last year. He said then that two people who know each other approached the company about a weeklong flight to the moon and back. Musk did not name the clients last year or say how much they would pay.

That original mission would have used a Falcon Heavy rocket - the most powerful rocket flying today - and a Dragon crew capsule similar to the one NASA astronauts will use to fly to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The era of space tourism began in 2001, when California businessman Dennis Tito paid for a journey on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station. The trip was organized by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which has since sent several more paying customers on spaceflights.

SpaceX already has a long list of firsts, with its sights ultimately set on Mars. It became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and safely return it to Earth in 2010, and the first commercial enterprise to fly to the space station in 2012 on a supply mission.

Musk’s successes have recently been overshadowed by his behavior and the struggles of his Tesla electric car company to deliver.

He recently criticized analysts during a Tesla earnings conference call, took a hit off an apparent marijuana-tobacco joint during a podcast interview, and tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla private but then announced the deal was off.

Two high-level executives announced departures from Tesla. Last month he told the New York Times he was overwhelmed by job stress.


NASA satellite launched to measure Earth’s ice changes

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket with the NASA Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) onboard is seen shortly after the mobile service tower at SLC-2 was rolled back, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The ICESat-2 mission will measure the changing height of Earth’s ice. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (AP) - A NASA satellite designed to precisely measure changes in Earth’s ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation was launched into polar orbit from California Sept. 15.

A Delta 2 rocket carrying ICESat-2 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 6:02 a.m. and headed over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA Earth Science Division director Michael Freilich says that the mission in particular will advance knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.

The melt from those ice sheets alone has raised global sea level by more than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) a year recently, according to NASA.

The mission is a successor to the original Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite that operated from 2003 to 2009. Measurements continued since then with airborne instruments in NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge.

Built by Northrop Grumman, ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, a laser altimeter that measures height by determining how long it takes photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back. According to NASA, it will collect more than 250 times as many measurements as the first ICESat.

The laser is designed to fire 10,000 times per second, divided into six beams of hundreds of trillions of photons. The round trip is timed to a billionth of a second.

In addition to ice, the satellite’s other measurements, such as the tops of trees, snow and river heights, may help with research into the amount of carbon stored in forests, flood and drought planning and wildfire behavior, among other uses.

The launch was the last for a Delta 2 rocket, United Launch Alliance said.

The first Delta 2 lifted off on Feb. 14, 1989, and since then it has been the launch vehicle for Global Positioning System orbiters, Earth observing and commercial satellites, and interplanetary missions including the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


Photos from Japanese space rovers show asteroid is ... rocky

 

This Sept. 23, 2018 image captured by Rover-1B, and provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the surface of asteroid Ryugu. (JAXA via AP)

New photos taken on the surface of an asteroid show that it is (drumroll, please) ... rocky. (JAXA via AP)

Tokyo (AP) - New photos taken on the surface of an asteroid show that it is (drum roll, please) ... rocky.

It may be no surprise, but Japan space agency scientists and engineers are thrilled by the images being sent to Earth by two jumping robotic rovers that they dropped onto an asteroid about 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) away.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency posted the latest photos on its website late Thursday. They show slightly tilted close-ups of the rocky surface from different locations.

“I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said on the space agency’s website.

It took more than three years for the unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft to reach the vicinity of asteroid Ryugu. One week ago, the craft successfully dropped a small capsule with two rovers onto its surface. The rovers, each about the size of circular cookie tin, don’t have wheels but jump around the asteroid.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to drop a German-French lander with four observation devices onto the asteroid next week. It later will attempt to land on the asteroid itself to collect samples to send back to researchers on Earth.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Nobel Prizes still struggle with wide gender disparity


1st private moon flight passenger to invite creative guests

NASA satellite launched to measure Earth’s ice changes

Photos from Japanese space rovers show asteroid is ... rocky