Thursday, December 16, 2010

Musings on my Muses

A few men have contributed a great deal to the study of astronomy (and by implication, science, in general). They have served as inspirations, scientific muses of sorts, for me. I want to describe the life and work of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton in this post.


Nicolaus Copernicus studied both mathematics and astronomy first at Krakow in his native Poland and later at the Italian universities of Bologna and Padua. His book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres greatly inspired me to question authority and to believe in whatever I want to. Copernicus brought about the idea of a heliocentric theory, and brought new questions to where God's location was in the universe. This made me really think on how I should present my ideas and how significant I can change people's lives.

Sir Tycho Brahe

Tycho Brahe, the Danish nobleman who bulid the elaborate Uraniborg castle was a great observer as he patiently observed the the positions and movements of stars, keeping a record of them. Brahe had the most accurate observations of that time period. As he kept observing, later in Prague, he took on a new assistant named Johannes Kepler, another one of the most influencial scientists as he published the laws of planetary motion, a big step in science.


Galileo Galilei was one of the most influential to me, and brought astronomy to the next level with his invention of the telescope. He basically made all the discoveries and is strongly admired even right now. The only thing missing with Galileo was the concept of motion, which one of my favorite scientists solved, Newton.


Isaac Newton was definately one of the most significant scientists to any time period in history. He found the one universal law of gravitation which could explain all motions in the universe. He found everything from the movements of planets in the celestial world to an falling from a tree in the terrestrial world. Newton's ideas definately dominated the Western worldview and were widely accepted.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Women in Science

I wanted to acknowledge my fellow women in science. Here are a few of the very first women who have made significant contributions to science. I hope that you will support and acknowledge their contributions to science (perhaps you can take a moment to look at their blogs, as well!) Margaret Cavendish and Maria Merian are a bit older than I am; hence, they set precedents for women in science (and I set others!).

Margaret Cavendish

Margaret received an education similar to the way I received mine; women were not accepted in places such as the Royal Academy of Sciences. Thus, our education was primarily informal, and required more of an effort and interest on our part. Margaret, like myself, was denied the opportunity to participate in the scientific circles of men (for her, it was the Royal Society). Despite this, she published several scientific articles (including, inter alia, Observations upon Experimental Philosopher, Grounds of Natural Philosophy). While Margaret did not necessarily make any scientific discoveries, she was very critical of the state of science and objected to fallacies of empiricism and objectivity in her publications. She postulated, "we have no power at all over natural causes and effects...for man is but a small part...His powers are but particular actions of Nature, and he cannot have a supreme and absolute power." This quotation demonstrates Margaret's quintessential argument against the scientific thinkers of our time. With the advent of science, discovery, and technology, humans are increasingly becoming more arrogant about their "natural" position in the world; Margaret employs science to demonstrate and argue that humans need to realize the minute and insignificant nature of human action and discovery.

Here's a picture of dear Margaret:

Maria Merian

Maria, like Margaret and myself, received informal training from her father. As an illustrator, she established quite a reputation as a respected entomologist. She primarily studied insects, plants, and their interactions with each other; however, her studies acquired a reputation because of her detailed illustrations. Her seminal scientific publication, the Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, was produced subsequent to her expedition to Surinam in order to pursue further studies in insect and plant life.

Here's a picture of Maria:

The Nature of Women

One of the primary reasons why the men at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin reacted so obstinately against my wishes to work with them is because of the general mentality concerning women in contemporary society. Women are considered to be inherently base and inferior to men in our society. There is a stereotype of women as uneducated, "sexually insatiable", inferior, and emotional; thus, these qualities deem us, women, incapable and incompetent to contribute to society in any significant manner.

It is quite funny how this mentality is being perpetuated by modern "science." Many scientists contend that women have smaller brains than men, and this is only because the accepted anatomical drawings (predominantly drawn by Vesalius) of our day  have illustrated men in a particular, arbitrary fashion, that is unfounded upon real, scientific evidence. Furthermore, due to the illustrations of larger pelvic areas, analysts of these drawings reaffirm their belief that the only purpose of women is childbearing. With smaller brains and larger pelvic areas in illustrative form, these representations influence contemporary mentality; thus, women are assumed to be senseless creatures solely created with the purpose of propagating the human species.

Vesalius presents a dichotomy between the anatomy of the two sexes (based on his arbitrary conceptions) in his illustrations,
below is such an example of his drawings:

While one would assume that progressive scientific thinking would correlate to progressive thinking in terms of gender and stereotypes, on the contrary, modern science is perpetuating these traditional ideas about women and gender roles.

Banned. Why? Because I'm a Woman

As I promised in the last post, I will explain why I was unable to continue my academic study of astronomy in the way that I did antecedent to Gottfried's death. When a woman's husband dies, she becomes responsible for his trade, work, life, et cetera. In a way, she replaces him and ensures that the means by which he contributed to society does not stop with his death. With an understanding of this de facto system within society, I assumed that I would replace my husband's role as calendar maker for the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin, subsequent to Gottfried's death. However, because I am a woman, I was unable to do so. If they had allowed me to have a place in the Royal Academy of Sciences, it would have established a precedent for other women to do the same, as well. They feared this possibility of women entering the masculine institution of science; thus, they obstinately denied my admission as an employee of scientific academia.

Dear old Leibniz (Gottfried von Leibniz, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences) adored me and adamantly attempted to make me a part of the institution. He even gave me this wonderful opportunity to present my knowledge of sunspots to the royal court in Prussia. But still, this was not enough. These men were terrified of women entering their domain; so, they gave me a medal and no job. As I mentioned in my previous post, I don't care for recognition; I simply want the opportunity to do what I love. I was never bitter about the fact that I did not receive acknowledgement for the work I did (i.e. discovering Comet 1720), but I am most definitely disappointed in the fact that I was robbed of the opportunity to do what I love.

I will explain the ideology and reasoning behind this decision to ban my participation in the Royal Academy of Sciences in a later post. Stay Tuned!

Here is a picture of Leibniz:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Name is Winkelmann

Hello, Blogosphere. My name is Maria Winkelmann (okay, so I’m supposed to be a Kirch now, as I took my husband’s name, but I prefer my name, Winkelmann), and I decided to enter this realm in order to share my story with you.

Here's a picture of me while I'm working:

Ever since I was a little girl, my father and uncle fostered my interest in science, as they obstinately believed that it was important for me, as a woman, to have an education that matched any man’s. Thus, with their encouragement and support, I became very interested in astronomy and astrophysics and pursued further education in these fields (on my own, however, since women were not allowed to attend universities). As an autodidact, I am primarily self-taught, but also, much of my edification comes from mentors who took me under their wing. Christopher Arnold and Gottfried Kirch were my two primary mentors when I first developed my identity as an astronomer. As Kirch and I worked together, we fell in love (despite our remarkable age difference), and we started a life together.
            Everyone always assumed that I was Kirch’s assistant, since I am a woman. On the contrary, however, we were partners, and we conducted, facilitated and led all of the experiments as a team. Of course, at the beginning, he had to teach me the skills he acquired over the thirty years I was not alive; however, once this gap was closed, we were able to work together in our research and astronomical experimentation. It was such a pleasure to work with him, even on simply a professional level, as he was one of the first astronomers of our day to begin using a telescope to conduct his studies. Through our research, we were able to create calendars, ephemerides, almanacs, and weather forecast charts.
            The most vivid memory I have from my days of research and study in astronomy was the time I discovered the Comet of 1702. It must be known that I was the one who discovered the comet (and I was the first woman to do so!). Yes, it is true that the comet is named after Gottfried, but this is only because I wanted the discovery published in the German science journal, Acta Eruditorum, which was exclusively written in Latin (and I only knew German). Of course, Gottfried eventually told everyone the truth, but I am sure people still mistakenly believe that he is the one who made the discovery. However, this is all in the past and truth be told, credit was not something for which I sought; I’ve always simply been happy to be doing what I love most.   
Here’s a picture of the beautiful thing!!!

        Eventually, I did start earning credit for my own work. I discovered an aurora borealis (northern lights) in 1707. I also published a pamphlet concerning the conjunction of Saturn and Venus, titled Von der Conjunction der Sonne des Saturni und der Venus. There was a bit of astrology (along with astronomy, of course) in this work, as it is what my patrons and the public demanded. For centuries, astrology and astronomy have been considered synonymous and inseparable. However, it is essential to note that while astrology cannot be conducted without astronomy, astronomy is independent of astrology. I am in no way an astrologist; I am simply an astronomer.

Here is a video that explains aurora borealis in English (click the play button to see the video)! (this is one of the discoveries I made)

          Due to an illness, Gottfried passed away in 1710 while we in Berlin. I fought to continue his legacy through his work; however, I was unable to do so. This is a lengthy story; thus, I will explain it in a later post (when I have more time to describe it in detail). After Gottfried’s death, there was little opportunity for me to conduct extensive research. Hence, what I have described to you was truly the prime of the life as an astronomer. Despite my trials and tribulations subsequent to Gottfried death, I remind myself of the fact that I have four kids who all made Gottfried and I very proud, as they all followed their vocations as astronomers; I realize that they have the potential to continue our legacy.

Rest in Peace, dear Gottfried.