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AN ENLIGHTENING T-SHIRT

I LEARN something every day. Well, sorta every day. Recent enlightenment came when I solved a personal sartorial shortcoming by ordering new T-shirts from March for Science.

March for Science, Fullerton, California, Earth Day, April 22, 2017. I marched at the 2018 event as well.

The March for Science Shop has a variety of T-shirts, caps, posters, mugs, and cellphone cases, among which I selected a T-shirt celebrating scientists: My new T-shirt reads “Newton & Jemison & Copernicus & Franklin & Archimedes & Jackson & Einstein & McClintock & Tesla.”

Of course, I already knew about several of these scientists.

Archimedes was a Greek scientist and mathematician of note. He’s the one who yelled “Eureka!” in the bathtub.

Nicolaus Copernicus, Renaissance mathematician and astronomer, placed the Sun, not the Earth, in the middle of things.

Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosopher extraordinaire, had a revelation involving a falling apple and co-invented the calculus.

Benjamin Franklin was a U.S. Founding Father, writer, inventor, and more than just an amateur scientist.

Nikola Tesla, Serbian-American scientist, inventor, engineer, and futurist, was sufficiently eccentric to qualify retroactively as Geek of All Time.

But who are Jackson, Jemison, and McClintock? This calls for some research.

Shirley Ann Jackson is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has served on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board since 2014. In 1973, she was the first African-American woman earning a Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the second in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in physics.

Shirley Ann Jackson, Washington, D.C.-born 1946, American physicist, National Medal of Science awardee. Image courtesy Shirley Ann Jackson.

Mae C. Jemison is professor-at-large at Cornell University and was a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. Jemison served in the Peace Corps before being selected for NASA’s astronaut program in 1987. The first African-American female astronaut, she flew on the 50th mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Jemison has been active in promoting science education and its benefits to society. In 2017, Lego chose her as one of the mini-figures in its “Women of NASA.”

Mae Carol Jemison, Decatur, Alabama-born 1956, American engineer, physician, NASA astronaut.

Barbara McClintock focused her career on the cytogenetics of maize, how corn chromosomes relate to cell behavior. She produced the genetic map for maize and formulated the theory of gene transposition, of “jumping genes.” Much of her fundamental research was accomplished at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York.

Barbara McClintock, 1902–1992, American scientist and cytogeneticist, the first woman awarded the National Medal of Science, 1970, and awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Wait. There’s a pattern here. The three scientists new to me are all women. There are eight scientists celebrated on the T-shirt. In balance, might Ben Franklin be a red herring?

Yep.

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was an English scientist who made key discoveries in the understanding of DNA and RNA molecules. Her academic career was at King’s College, Cambridge, an institution not known for its welcoming of women. Nor did it help that Franklin was an agnostic and of Jewish heritage. And really intelligent.

Rosalind Elsie Franklin, 1920–1958, English chemist and X-ray crystallographer. Image from Jewish Chronicle Archive/heritage Images.

As described in nationalgeographic.com, Franklin’s work in X-ray analysis of DNA was shared, without her knowledge, with James Watson and Francis Crick, other Cambridge researchers. Watson and Crick received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their DNA work.

Rosalind Franklin had died of ovarian cancer in 1958, and Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously. However, Aaron Klug, a Franklin team member, continued her research and was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In truth, all of these facts aren’t printed on my new T-shirt. But the T-shirt is certainly enlightening. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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