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LGBTQIA+ Folk in STEAM (part 2)

This is the second part of a two part series celebrating LGBTQIA+ folks in the STEAM fields. The first part discusses the importance of diversity and history of exclusion. This part will honor the people in the fields.

In honor of Pride Month*, the Los Alamos STEAM Lab would like to recognize a few of the countless LGBTQ+ scientists and innovators that have aided in the advancement of numerous STEM fields. 

* Yes, we know that was soooo last month. Luckily, we celebrate diversity every day!

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

  • Astronaut, physicist, engineer, and professor. Known as the first LGBTQ+ astronaut, youngest American to have flown in space, and first American woman in space. 

Allan Cox (1926-1987)

  • American geophysicist and specialist in paleomagnetism. Instrumental in developing a way to measure the changes in the earth’s geomagnetic alignment and polarity. His work enabled testing of the seafloor spreading hypothesis which gave some of the first credible evidence to the theory of plate tectonics. 

Alan Hart (1890-1962)

  • American medical doctor, radiologist, author, and pioneer of tuberculosis research and screening. Developed x-ray photography to detect tuberculosis and implemented screenings that saved many lives.

Lynn Conway

  • American electrical engineer, inventor, systems architect, transgender activist, professor, and computer scientist credited with the invention of generalized dynamic instruction handling used by most modern computer processors to improve performance. Also known for the Mead-Conway VLSO chip design revolution that greatly simplified the design and fabrication of complex microchips allowing for the rush of high-tech startups in the 80s and 90s. 

Angela Clayton (1959-2014)

  • British physicist and trans rights advocate known internationally for her work in the fields of nuclear criticality safety and health physics. Former Head of Criticality Safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment and chairperson of UK Working Party on Criticality among other achievements. 

Ben Barres (1954-2017)

  • Neurobiologist and researcher credited with numerous landmark discoveries including the identification of glial-derived factors that promote the formation of neuronal synapses and the characterization of signals that induce the formation of myelin sheaths. His pioneering work revolutionized the field of neuroscience and he was the first openly trans man recognized by the prestigious National Academy of Science. 

Peter Thiel 

  • German-American entrepreneur, co-founder of PayPal, and first outside investor in Facebook. Involved as a founder, investor, and developer of many innovative technology companies such as Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, SpaceX, Yelp, and YouTube. 

Neil Divine (1939- 1994)

  • American astrophysicist and major contributor to the modern theory of star formation. His research helped identify numerous interplanetary bodies and radiation belts as well as expanded our fundamental understanding of the complex environments space probes might face. 

Josephine Baker (1873-1945)

  • American physician and public health pioneer who made numerous significant contributions in the areas of public health and child welfare. She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in public health and organized the first child hygiene department under government control in New York City, leading to the lowest infant mortality rate in any American or European city during the early 1900s. She was also instrumental in identifying “Typhoid Mary” amidst the New York typhoid fever epidemic. 

Martine Rothblatt 

  • American lawyer, author, entrepreneur, transgender rights advocate, and biotechnologist. Creator of Sirius XM satellite radio, founder of biotech pioneer United Therapeutics, and former CEO of the satellite-focused company GeoStar. 

Jon Hall 

Karissa Sanbonmatsu 

  • American structural biologist and principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Credited with performing the first atomistic simulation of the ribosome. Determined the secondary structure of an intact IncRNA and published a one billion atom simulation of a biomolecular complex. Influential in the advancements in the understanding of epigenetics and use of computer simulations to understand RNA and DNA mechanisms. 

Jim Pollack (1938-1994)

  • American astrophysicist, a senior space research scientist at NASA, and world-renowned expert in the study of planetary atmospheres and particulates. First graduate student of astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan. His later work in the evolutionary climate change of terrestrial planets and evolutions of giant gas planets led to many advances in the understanding of our solar system. 

Clyde Wahrhaftig (1919-1994)

  • American geologist and professor who worked for the United States Geological Survey and made significant scientific contributions to the field of geology. One of the first scientists to bring the role of plate tectonics in causing earthquakes to public awareness. Pioneer in applying geological sciences to environmental problems with a particular focus on forest management practices and lifelong advocate for public transportation and inclusivity in STEM. 

Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)

  • Russian mathematician and developer of Kovalevsky’s Theorem that made numerous noteworthy contributions to the fields of mathematical analysis, partial differential equations, and mechanics. First woman to obtain a doctorate in mathematics, be appointed to a full professorship position, and work as an editor in a major scientific journal. 

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

  • American anthropologist, psychologist, and author. Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of natural history and former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Credited with changing the way different human cultures are studied and her efforts to apply the principles of anthropology and the social sciences to societal problems and issues such as world hunger, childhood education, and mental health. Her pioneering work on sexuality, culture, and childrearing continues to be influential today. 

Louise Pearce (1885-1959)

  • American physician and pathologist at the Rockefeller Institute who helped develop tryparsamide, a treatment for trypanosomiasis (also known as African sleeping sickness). Her research led to many profound discoveries and treatments related to syphilis, infection resistance, cancer, immune reaction, and hereditary diseases. 

Bruce Voeller (1934-1994) 

  • American biologist, pioneering AIDS researcher, professor, gay rights advocate, and founder of the Mariposa Foundation who pioneered the use of the topical virus-transmission preventative serums and research the spread and prevention of various diseases. Credited with coining the term “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” (AIDS).

Alan Turing (1912-1954)

  • British mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, philosopher, theoretical biologist, inventor of the Enigma machine, and father of modern computer science. His role in deciphering German military code contributed to the Allied victory in WWII. Credited with creating the theoretical framework and design for the earliest modern computer and provided formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine. 

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

  • English economist, journalist, and financier whose ideas fundamentally changed the theory and practice of macroeconomics and the economic policies of governments. Recognized as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century whose ideas are the basis for Keynesian economics and its offshoots. 

Frank Kameny (1925-2011)

  • American astronomer, politician, military personnel, and gay rights activist referred to as “one of the most significant figures” in the American  LGBTQ+ rights movement. Conducted photometric studies of variable stars and worked as an astronomer with the Army Map Service before being fired and denied the opportunity to continue his astronomy research by the federal government due to his sexuality. 

Jessica Esquivel

  • Physicist, data analyst, science communicator, and advocate for diversity and inclusivity in STEM. Her research focuses on developing and applying machine learning models to improve data analysis in particle physics experiments and she is currently working at the Fermilab on experiments to test the current theories of the standard model of particle physics by measuring the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of muon particles. 

Alexander Von Humboldt (1769 – 1859)


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LGBTQIA+ Folk in STEAM (part 1)

by JoAnna O’Neill

This is the first part of a two part series celebrating LGBTQIA+ folks in the STEAM fields. This part discusses the importance of diversity and history of exclusion. Part two will honor the people in the fields.

In honor of Pride Month*, the Los Alamos STEAM Lab would like to recognize a few of the countless LGBTQ+ scientists and innovators that have aided in the advancement of numerous STEM fields. 

* Yes, we know that was soooo last month. Luckily, we celebrate diversity every day!

The term “LGBTQ+” encompasses a wide range of identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning and the plus symbol acknowledges groups in the community that aren’t included in the short initialism, including intersex, pansexual, asexual, non-binary, and two-spirit individuals alongside other identities. Queer is an umbrella term that is commonly used to describe sexual orientation or gender identities that fall outside the heterosexual mainstream or the idea of a gender binary.

The word queer can also be used to describe the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but it is important to note that although widely reclaimed, “queer” has historically been used as a slur and may still be offensive to some people and therefore should be used with caution. For an in-depth guide to the terminology surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation as well as LGBTQ+ history, resources, and more, please refer to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide:

When discussing historical LGBTQ+ figures, it can be difficult to describe them using modern terminology found within the community today. LGBTQ+ individuals in past decades or centuries likely lacked the proper labels to describe themselves and/or may not have openly used them for fear of ostracization, imprisonment, or violence in the society they lived in. As homophobia and gender discrimination continue to run rampant in our society, the fear of retaliation is, unfortunately, something that many LGBTQ+ individuals face today. This heartbreaking reality has resulted in countless individuals (both historically and present) keeping their identities private.

All of the living scientists and innovators listed in the second part of this article have come out publicly as queer. Many of the historical mentions were confirmed as LGBTQ+ during their lifetime or after their passing while others have strong historical evidence supporting the speculation that they did not align a gender binary or the heterosexual mainstream and were therefore likely LGBTQ+. 

Visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in STEM fields is something that is historically lacking. Within academic and professional environments, LGBTQ+ experience horrifically high rates of exclusion, harassment, assault, and discrimination as represented in the following statistics: 

Diversity is an incredibly important factor within STEM as it allows people from different backgrounds and walks of life to make decisions about how to investigate the world around us. Increased diversity comes hand in hand with a more complete picture of the world and ultimately aids in the process of scientific discovery and understanding. Negative attitudes and other harmful biases create barriers to opportunity, produce unwelcoming environments that disadvantage LGBTQ+ people, and ultimately prevent the advancement of all fields both scientific and otherwise.

Education and representation are key to gaining a better understanding of the challenges and hardships faced by the LGBTQ+ community. It is key that LGBTQ+ individuals and their communities receive support from colleagues, classmates, and peers as they work to make STEM (alongside other fields) more diverse, accepting, and equitable. Simply being an active bystander that speaks up against the negative or discriminatory actions or behaviors of others can go a long way. 

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Book Review: All the Impossible Things

You guys. This book. Don’t read it before bed. Don’t keep reading it hoping to get to a part where you’ll stop crying before you go to sleep. Just don’t.

Okay, but seriously, All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey is a piece of speculative fiction about a twelve year old foster kid who has a bit of an affinity with the wind. Red has been through a lot in her life. Her mother is in jail, her grandmother and primary caregiver is dead, and when her emotions get too much for her she has a tendency to cause storms. Her foster families don’t know about her magic, but they do know she’s trouble and she knows she’s unwanted.

The story begins when Red is being taken to a new foster home. I won’t go into too much detail as it will spoil the story, but I will highlight some of the things done well.

  • Her foster dad is black, but that is mostly just mentioned in passing.
  • Her caseworker is a genuinely good person who cares about her.
  • The support family for the foster family are Hawaiian and their culture is very important to them.
  • Red’s mom has a drug problem that doesn’t magically disappear.
  • Lots of things go wrong. There is no magically happy ending, but there is hope.
  • This quote: “Grief isn’t like anger. Anger can burn out. It can be released. But grief is something that becomes a part of you. And you either grow comfortable with it and learn how to live your life in a new way, or you get stuck in it, and it destroys you.”

I will hand this book over to my ten year old to read and she will love it, but it is a hard book. I am not kidding when I say I cried through half of it. It was raw and there was very little break from one moment to the next. Please read this before handing it to your child. It was oh, so good, though. We’ve needed more books like this for a long time, and I’m pleased they are starting to get published.

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Starting a Foundation (or why we’re an LLC)

When starting Los Alamos STEAM Lab, we had a real debate about whether we would be a non-profit or LLC. We have a strong desire to serve the community and make our classes accessible to everyone (you can see one part of that desire in our post about diversity). We finally settled on LLC because we weren’t ready to bring a Board into the decision making process. Four women, each with their own strong vision, is plenty to navigate.

HOWEVER, we still very much want to serve the community and that includes folks with diverse incomes. To that end, we’d like to start a STEAM Foundation that will fund scholarships to our classes as well as programming at the libraries and schools of Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico.

In addition to funding activities at our space, we anticipate that the foundation would support other STEAM activities in town, particularly Mathamuseum, another community focused LLC.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in running this foundation (including raising enough money for a decent salary), please get in contact with us. Besides there not being enough hours in a day, we don’t feel it would be ethical to run this ourselves, but we’d be happy to sit on the board. We expect that it would involve about 40 hours a month of grant-writing and schmoozing.

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Diversity: Neuro and otherwise

As a former educator, I’ve done a fair amount of talking with parents in Los Alamos. One common concern is how new organizations will engage with diverse children. I want to assure you that creating a safe and engaging space for all sorts of children is one of our highest priorities and we have the skill set and experience to accomplish this.

Before moving to Los Alamos I taught high school math in the Chicago Public Schools. The school I taught at was 80% Hispanic, 20% Black, and 100% free lunch. One year, I taught two double period algebra classes. In one of those classes I had 10 students with learning disabilities and 3 students requiring exceptional modifications to their material. In my other class I had a group of 5 kids that were nearly constantly suspended. Three were expelled by the end of the year. For the most part, I had no trouble with them. One of my students was bipolar and could not afford medication, despite not being aware of this until 5 weeks into the school year, he and I had already worked out a plan to manage his behavior that allowed him to be comfortable and successful in my class. These were my kids and I loved them all dearly. It was never my goal to attain an “easy” job in the suburbs. The unique challenge of figuring out how to reach each student was and still is one of my favorite parts of teaching.

In my own family I don’t have anyone labeled as neuro-diverse, but certainly, no one would call any of my children typical and with that, they don’t tend to attract typical friends, so I have a lot of practical experience when children have emotions that run high and need a calm voice or quiet place to breathe and restore calm. I also have a lot of good friends in teaching who care very much about their neuro-diverse students and send me research articles or post the latest developments and strategies to Facebook, so I stay up-to-date in this way.

Jessi has her own experience working with diverse populations. She directed a youth center in St. Paul, Minnesota and has volunteered in schools. She likes to keep an open mind and loves building new projects off of ideas developed in the course of a class. She is really excited about organic thinking and incorporates that into her classes. She really respects her students and values what they say.

In her personal life, Jessi has experience working with neuro-divergent kids. Her family is bi-racial and Jessi herself is bilingual and has dual-citizenship giving her a unique viewpoint and understanding of multiple cultures.

Erin is bi-racial and multi-ethnic but also 100% human being. She has a strong empathy for kids who feel like the world wants them to pick one identity when they just want to be themselves. Throughout her life, Erin has fought against marginalization and ethnic erasure. She’s semi-fluent in Spanish and parents two completely awesome autistic children who are learning that it is okay to be one-of-a-kind.

On the educational and practical side of things, Erin studied child psychology in undergrad and is currently seeking her Master’s in clinical medical health with a focus on child development. As a second generation Mexican-American, she is the first of her family to graduate from college. Erin has also spent the last two years directing a forest school co-op that she founded with the mission to create a more holistic and socially centered curriculum for elementary aged children.

Probably more important than all of this, though, is that we all see kids as individuals and we know how to follow their lead in explaining (or demonstrating) what they want and need. If you are still concerned about your child in a large group setting, we are more than happy to work with whatever aides you would like to arrange for them or speak with you on an individual basis about the strategies that you find most helpful in working with your child. We want our place to be inclusive, so if you think your child would enjoy one of our classes or our drop-in hours with some modification, please talk with us about a way to make that work.

Not mentioned in this essay, is the LGBTQIA+ community, but I assure you we love and accept them as well in very personal ways as family, friends, and colleagues.