Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Happy International Women's Day!

This is the one day in 365 when we celebrate women. Well, of course, we celebrate them more often than that (most of Britain's medals in the Winter Olympics came from women, for example), but this is their day officially. Here is one of the best songs ever written to celebrate the role of women in all our lives. By a Scot, of course.

And this woman is an inspiring role model for all of us. I wish I thought I would have her courage, for example, to protect Bonni Benstock-Intall from being beaten to a pulp by an anti-Nazi mob. I suppose you never know what you're capable of until you're put to the test: but I think Keshia Thomas is a better person than I am, and I'll just have to live with that for now.

And because I doubt whether anyone else will be remembering her on this International Women's Day, I'll give a mention here to Karen Wetterhahn. I have recently been giving my students an internet searching quiz which included a question on the toxic properties of dimethylmercury, and how its particular ability to penetrate latex gloves was discovered. There has been a general consensus that this was a desperately sad story. Marie Curie became an unintended martyr to the cause of laboratory health & safety, but at least she got a Nobel prize and is arguably the most famous female scientist in history, with the discovery of two elements to her name and another element named after her. Karen Wetterhahn advanced our knowledge of the toxic properties of dimethylmercury without either intention or recognition: she just wound up dead, and we wound up better informed.

So perhaps Karen Wetterhahn is the woman I most want to honour this year. All of us who have ever worked in laboratories, or who have loved ones who have worked in laboratories, salute you.


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