Argonne celebrates International Women's Day

By Eleanor TaylorMarch 8, 2011

ARGONNE, Ill. —Marie Curie discovered radioactivity and won two Nobel Prizes. Rosalind Franklin played an instrumental part in determining the structure of DNA. And two female Nobel laureates, Ada Yonath and Maria Goppert Mayer, each conducted a large part of their research at Argonne. While these extraordinary women are great examples and role models for women everywhere, women are still significantly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

March 8, 2011 commemorates the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, a global celebration of the achievements of women from the past, present and future. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program, a unique program that supports the U.S. Department of Energy’s commitment to recruit, retain and promote women researchers as part of a diverse and strengthened scientific workforce.

“Every day at Argonne, women are making scientific discoveries and technological innovations that improve the quality of life throughout the world,” said Argonne director Eric Isaacs. “Celebrating International Women’s Day and the WIST 20th anniversary gives us a chance to pay tribute to women everywhere and recognize their successes.”

Women at Argonne stand at the very forefront of scientific discovery and engineering excellence. They lead and participate in multi-disciplinary research projects that range from curing diseases and improving human health to developing sustainable sources of energy while protecting our environment and combating climate change. They also design, build and operate world-class national scientific user facilities that enable researchers to conduct experiments that cannot be performed anywhere else in the world.

The WIST program provides leadership and resources to help advance the success of women, encourages professional growth and development and works to promote diversity at all levels within Argonne to create a premier institution for research and development.

“Innovation is based on diversity, and both are critical elements of Argonne’s success,” said Kawtar Hafidi, an Argonne physicist and current leader of the WIST program. “Today we reflect on all the progress we have made as well as the work that still needs to be done.”

WIST also initiates activities to engage young women and students to consider careers in science and technology. Argonne’s Science Careers in Search of Women Conference, which will take place on April 14, welcomes approximately 350 high school students from across the Chicago area to experience science and engineering firsthand. More than 7,000 young women have participated in the program since it began at Argonne in 1987. 

"Having these young women meet with successful female scientists is an important way to break gender stereotypes," said Cristina Negri, an Argonne environmental engineer and former WIST program leader. "If no one shows these young women what it is like to be a scientist or engineer, it's harder for them to see themselves in those roles."

Another WIST-sponsored event, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, targets middle school girls to help capture their interest early and to explore the many aspects of engineering in a fun and interactive way.

 “It is important for the girls to see all of the science and engineering around them and all of the different possibilities that exist,” said Molly Finster, an Argonne environmental engineer and co-chair for the event.

“Today’s technology-driven world offers a nearly endless list of amazing opportunities for women everywhere,” added Hafidi. “We are working to promote the success of women today while inspiring young women to become our next generation of scientists and engineers."