Did you know that only nine of the more than 300 Nobel prizes awarded in science since 1901 have been won by women? This is in spite of the fact that women have historically been responsible for crucial scientific and technological advances such as discovering AZT, the drug that has combated AIDS for many decades; formulating the theory of radioactivity; and teaching us that there are many galaxies outside of the Milky Way.
While increasing numbers of women have pursued science and technology education and professions over the last two decades, many female students and professionals still face obstacles to pursuing a career in science. It is essential that the barriers that discourage women from studying science and pursuing it as a career are identified and overcome. If women are not encouraged to pursue careers in science, what vital discoveries and advances might be missed?
As part of its efforts to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in science and technical fields, U.S. Embassy New Delhi hosted its third annual "Women in Science" workshop on September 12, 2011. The workshop brought together more than 170 women scientists, students, educators, and policymakers to share strategies and ideas for promoting women in science with the objective of surmounting their shared challenges and achieving greater success in the field. The aim of the workshop was to develop realistic and far-reaching proposals that will be effective in attracting women into science and increasing the proportion who remain active in scientific fields.
The students were the real stars of the workshops. These young women were involved in after-school programs such as "Space," which brought the All India Asteroid Search Campaign to Indian students. In 2011, this group was responsible for several Main Belt asteroid discoveries by Indian school students, including a major breakthrough discovery of a rare Trojan asteroid in Jupiter's orbit. Several members of this group aspire to become astronauts. Also represented was the Amateur Astronomers Association, a group of young women eager to discover their own galaxy or solar system. These young women asked many tough questions, but also offered creative solutions for how to attract even more young women to study science.
The students were an inspiration to the conference attendees and demonstrated to the elder women in the room that younger generations of women are eager to advance the field of science. For many participants, the highlight of the workshop was the interactive session with astronaut Sunita Williams. She inspired the crowd when she said that when you look at the world from outer space, you realize that what binds us together as human beings is far more important than the things that separate us. The audience repeatedly broke into spontaneous applause upon hearing the simple profundity of her observations about the unity of all nations when Earth is viewed from space.
The U.S. Embassy organized this workshop with support from the Indian Department of Science & Technology (DST), and the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF). Two women scientists from Nepal also joined in this year's workshop. In addition to media coverage, portions of the event were streamed live online and are archived here. Much to my surprise, the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) broadcast a news report and video clips of the workshop. Presentations, discussions, and suggestions from this event will be published in a report which will be available on the IUSSTF website.