Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Interstital Intro - My portraits of Canadian Women in STEM

Featuring artwork by me, Cheryl Hamilton and Paige Blumer, Curiosity Collider's artshow Interstitial: Science Innovations by Canadian Women is on exhibit until June 22. Since I was unable to attend the Opening in Vancouver, they asked me to share a short video introduction to me and my artwork. So now, I'm sharing the video with you. Comes complete with a peek inside my studio and some of the artwork you could find there. I think I was so focused on pronouncing "electrophoresis" that I slipped up on the more common "geneticist", but it tells about the work.

The exhibit is open from 11 am to 6 pm from Tuesday to Saturday until June 22 at The Beaumont Studios gallery spaces, located at 316/326 West 5th Street, Vancouver, BC, V5Y 1J0.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Redbud and the Bees

Redbud and the Bees, 18" x 24", linocut with collaged washi papers by Ele Willoughby, 2018
Proof of my Eastern Carpenter Bee linocut and block
I've been working on a new artwork about urban wildlife. Creature Conserve is a non-profit outreach organization which brings artists and scientists together to "foster sustained and informed support for animal conservation," and they posted a call for artists for their Urban Wildlife: Learning to Co-exist exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) at the end of July and through August. Because of my on-going work on native bees, the first thing I thought about were bees in the city. The exhibit aims to get artists to collaborate with scientists and use their artworks to explore the biology and ecology of species and the way they interact with humans. Specifically, artists are invited to explore themes of how ecosystems change in time and space, how wildlife and humans may displace each other homes, the visibility or invisibility of wildlife in the city, the rhythms of animal life and their health. I'm well aware of how our native bees have been displaced and their ranges have changed through time, and also how they can be invisible to people in the city, who often are only aware of the existence of honeybees and maybe bumblebees, so I thought they would be an apt choice.

My redbud linocuts on various pink washi papers
I remembered the urbanredbud citizen science project here in Toronto. Local U of T doctoral candidate Charlotte de Keyzer is working with the public to gather data on flowering times of Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) and their pollinators using bee nest boxes and traps. She and her collaborators are particularly interested in how climate change and urbanization effect these trees and specifically the timing of their emergence and peak activity. Eastern redbud were not really known in Toronto even 30 years ago, but between climate change and its growing popularity as an ornamental landscape tree, they have became fairly common in the city and important for urban bee diversity. Local wild bees are attracted to this early flowering tree covered in pink flowers, and some also use its leaves in building their nests. Since the project addresses changes in the environment over time because of climate change and urbanization, and since it seeks to engage the public, I thought it might be a good fit and that Charlotte de Keyzer might be open to collaborating with me, and indeed she was! I asked her some questions about which bees they observe in their traps, hoping to connect this to my existing collection of native bee lino blocks, and told her about the aims and themes of the exhibit. It turns out that redbud trees are indeed popular with some of my own favourite (and previously depicted) native bees. Their early results show that amongst the most common bee visitors in Toronto foraging on redbuds are Osmia lignaria (blue orchard bee), Colletes inaequalis (polyester bee), and Xylocopa virginica (eastern carpenter bee). Leafcutters also use the leaves to build nests (though they do not yet have information on which species of leafcutter are actually doing the cutting). In my artwork I show flowering redbud branches, the small blue O. lignaria, a Megachile relativa leafeater bee (I took the liberty of simply choosing this local bee) at the top along with a telltale round hole in a leaf, and the X. virginica in the middle.

It was Charlotte's suggestion that I focus on the eastern carpenter bee. Like the redbuds themselves, the eastern carpenter bee is at the northernmost end of its range, which is advancing northward with climate change and aided by urbanization (because cities are warmer due to the urban heat island effect, which likely helps them survive our winters). In fact, since people are planting redbud trees in their gardens, we're inadvertently aiding migration of both tree and bee. She points out that "redbuds are now starting to naturalize in ravines and woodlots across southern Ontario." What brings the X. virginica into conflict with its human neighbours is that female carpenter bees of course, build nests by boring holes into untreated wood structures, including outdoor furniture and buildings. Thus these bees are often considered pests by home owners and we are still working on 'learning to co-exist.' To emphasis this conflict, I printed weathered wood with round holes like thoses bored by eastern carpenter bees.

If you live in Toronto and own or know of a nearby redbud tree, you too can take part in the urbanredbud citizen science project. Check it out here.

I got a lot of positive feedback on my linocut of the redbud before I added the bees, so I think I will also make a simpler piece of the tree branches alone. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mathematician Emmy Noether, Symmetries and Conservation Laws

Emmy Noether, linocut, 11" x 14", Ele Willoughby, 2018
Emmy Noether (1882-1935, pronounced NER-ter) has long been on my "to do" list of scientist portraits. Noether's Theorem is one of the most fundamental and profound theories in physics and I think it's impossible to overstate its importance. In some ways it's astonishing that Noether's Theorem wasn't discovered until one century ago in 1918 and in some ways its true import wasn't clear until much later. The theorem is so powerful that I struggled with how I could depict it visually. It can be written in many different ways. I could have reproduced her actual equations as her paper is widely available in the original German and in English translation. But, my goal with my art is to communicate science, and even writing a single equation cuts the potential audience. I hope that expressing ideas visually through geometry is more accessible to more people. So, in my portrait, I chose to depict a young Emmy in front of a blackboard with a more simple formulation of her theorem and three specific applications of it, shown schematically, using pictures and geometry. In simple terms, Noether's theorem shows us that any symmetry of a system (say, a given problem in physics, like a ball rolling or a molecule or a solar system or the universe itself) implies a conservation law.

The three examples I give are probably the best known, but just give a hint of the power of this theorem. If you do an experiment and then move three steps to the right and repeat it, you usually expect the same results. In general, a lot of things will have this translational symmetry. Noether's Theorem shows that if you get the same result in two reference frames which are shifted from one another, your system conserves momentum (p with an arrow, as a vector quantity). Thus, we have conservation of momentum in any inertial frame of reference. That means that any place where we don't have to worry about any significant differences from acceleration or gravity, we can solve physics problems by simply knowing that the total momentum never changes. In my print I show a set of x, y, z axes moved (translated) to get a new set of axes x', y' and z' and then the quantity p. Similarly, if your system doesn't care if you rotate it or how it's oriented in space, the conserved quantity is angular momentum (L with an arrow, as a vector quantity); hence in my print, I show a set of x, y, z axes rotated x', y' and z' along with conserved quantity L. Your system itself doesn't need to be symmetric. A lumpy asteroid conserves angular momentum every bit as much as a planetary system made of perfect spheres. If it's irrelevant to results whether you do your experiment at 3:00 or 6:25 then your system has a time symmetry and conserves energy (E). This method of using observed symmetries of something and then finding things which are invariant allows us to easily solve all sorts of problems in physics. Further, using observed symmetries of the Universe allows us to know which things are invariant, know more about the nature of reality and assess any new theories by checking whether they also produce the same conserved quantities.*

Here's a nice video which talks about Noether's Thereom.

Her male colleagues Pavel Alexandrov, Albert Einstein, Jean Dieudonné, Hermann Weyl, and Norbert Wiener described Noether as the most important woman in the history of mathematics - a compliment which betrays the biases of the times in comparing her only to those of the same sex. She was quite simply, one of the most important mathematicians period, and her impact on physics was tremendous. (My portrait betrays my own biases, focusing on the physics of Noether's Theorem, rather than her contributions to mathematics... but there you are. I'm a physicist by training, not a mathematician).

Born in Erlangen, Germany, Emmy Noether initially planned to teach girls English and French, rather than follow in her father's footsteps and become a professor of mathematics. But ultimately, she choose to study mathematics at the University of Erlangen, where he was a lecturer. Pursuing mathematics was unconventional for a woman; the university had recently declared that mixed-sex education would "overthrow all academic order" and as one of 2 female students (out of 986) she was only able to audit classes at the discretion of professors. She nonetheless managed to pass the graduation exam in 1903 and was granted a degree. She spent the winter semester at the University of Göttingen attending lectures from astronomer Karl Schwarzschild and mathematicians Hermann Minkowski, Otto Blumenthal, Felix Klein, and David Hilbert, before returning to Erlanger. She completed a dissertation supervised by Paul Gordan, On Complete Systems of Invariants for Ternary Biquadratic Forms (1907) using the "computational" approach to invariants, later superseded by Hilbert's more abstract and general approach. She later referred to this well-received thesis and the first few similar papers as "crap". She continued to work at the university for 7 years, but as a woman she was excluded from an academic position and in fact forced to worked without pay.

In 1915 she was recruited to come to the renown University of Göttingen and work with famed mathematicians David Hilbert and Felix Klein. However, some philologists and historians in the philosophical department protested that a woman must not become a Privatdozent, an additional post-doctoral rank required in Germany and certain other European nations to act as a university professor. Famously, a faculty member protested "What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?" but Hilbert defended her indignantly, with one of my favourite lines in response to such entrenched academic sexism: "I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bath house." There she still faced hurdles and had to rely on her family to support her financially, as she was unpaid and could only lecture under Hilbert's name until 1919  despite already having published her eponymous Noether's Theorem in 1918! After Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915 and Noether responded by applying her invariance work to some of its complexities and this eventually lead her to prove her famous theorem. As Einstein wrote when he read her paper, "Yesterday I received from Miss Noether a very interesting paper on invariants. I'm impressed that such things can be understood in such a general way. The old guard at Göttingen should take some lessons from Miss Noether! She seems to know her stuff."

The end of WWI and German Revolution of 1918-1919 lead to social change and increased rights for women. Her habilitation was approved and she obtained the rank of Privatdozent in 1919. Three years later she was promoted to an untenured professor (nicht beamteter ausserordentlicher Professor) but her work remained unpaid until the next year when she was finally granted a special position (Lehrbeauftragte für Algebra).
Until 1919 she focused on theories of algebraic invariants and number fields. While her incredible contribution to physics had already occurred in 1918, mathematicians remember her for her central role in the 20th century revolution in mathematics, the development of abstract algebra, and her prolific work including Ring Theory from 1920 to 1926, as well as Noetherian rings, Noether groups, Noether equations, Noether modules and more. Her revolutionary 1921 paper Theory of Ideals in Ring Domains is considered a classic and objects which satisfy the ascending chain condition are named Noetherian, in her honour. In the final stage of her career, she focused on noncommutative algebras and hypercomplex numbers and united the representation theory of groups with the theory of modules and ideals. She was a leader in the strong University of Göttingen math department until 1933. Her colleague Dutch mathematician B. L. van der Waerden made her work the foundation of the second volume of his influential 1931 textbook, Moderne Algebra; it was typical of her to allow students and colleagues to receive credit for her ideas. She supervised more than a dozen doctoral students. She was known for her patient guidance but insistence on accuracy. van der Waerden wrote that she was, "Completely unegotistical and free of vanity, she never claimed anything for herself, but promoted the works of her students above all." She learned to live frugally, having gone so long without a salary, and took no concern about her manners, housework or appearance. She used her lecturers as a time for spontaneous discussions of the latest mathematics with students and a place to explore ideas (many of which would become major publications of those students). She spent the winter of 1928–29 at Moscow State University, working with P. S. Alexandrov. She was interested in and supportive of the Russian Revolution and her political opinions got her evicted from her lodging back in Germany when students there complained of living with "a Marxist-leaning Jewess". In 1932, she won the received the Ackermann–Teubner Memorial prize for her contributions to mathematics, which came with 500 Reichsmarks and she gave the plenary address at the 1932 International Congress of Mathematicians in Zürich, a sign of her international stature in the field. Colleagues complained that she was however never elected to the Göttingen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (academy of sciences) or promoted to full professor. Within a year Nazi Germany moved to dismiss her and all Jewish academics from university positions. The German Student Association, aided by one of Noether's own former students, a privatdozent named Werner Weber, led the attack on Jews at the University of Göttingen. She merely laughed when students showed up dressed as Hilter's brownshirts. Dedicated to her students, she invited them to her home to discuss math and their plans for the future. Herman Weyl wrote "Emmy Noether—her courage, her frankness, her unconcern about her own fate, her conciliatory spirit—was in the midst of all the hatred and meanness, despair and sorrow surrounding us, a moral solace." Emmy Noether was able to find a position at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1933, where she finally gained the appreciation she deserved. In 1934 she lectured at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, but remarked that she was not welcome at the "men's university, where nothing female is admitted." Tragically, she died 4 days after surgery to remove an ovarian cyst in 1935 when she was only 53.

Noether's theorem remains fundamental to physics, and has been especially vital to particle physics in the decades since her death. Her originality in mathematics was beyond compare and in Weyl's words she "changed the face of algebra by her work."

Emmy Noether, wikipedia article access June 6, 2018

Noether E (1918). "Invariante Variationsprobleme". Nachr. D. König. Gesellsch. D. Wiss. Zu Göttingen, Math-phys. Klasse. 1918: 235–257.

M. A. Tavel's English translation of Noether's Theorems (1918)

Matthew R. Francis, Mathematician to know: Emmy Noether, Symmetry Magazine, June 18, 2015.

Natalie Angier, The Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of, The New York Times, March 26, 2012

*Now, if you're interested in the equation itself here's one good online explation (if say, you have most of an undergraduate degree in physics or more). A more intuitive a bit more straightforward explanation is here. The original paper is here and can be found in translation here

Monday, May 7, 2018

Interstitial: Science Innovations by Canadian Women art show

I'm very glad to announce that my portraits of Canadian women in STEM will be part of the Curiosty Collider's show Interstitial: Science Innovations by Canadian Women in this June in Vancouver! More information to come ....but B.C. friends, mark your calendars:

Industry Preview: June 7, 2018 from 11 am to 6 pm
OPENING NIGHT: June 8, 2018 from 7 pm to 2 am
The exhibit will be otherwise open from 11 am to 6 pm from Tuesday to Saturday until June 22 at The Beaumont Studios gallery spaces, located at 316/326 West 5th Street, Vancouver, BC, V5Y 1J0.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Alice Wilson, tenacious geologist and paleontologist who persisted

Alice Wilson, linocut on collaged washi papers, 11" x 14" by Ele Willoughby, 2018
Some people are late bloomers. Some are slowed in their progress due to illness and battle serious illness throughout their life. Some scientists only pursue science a little later in life. Some experience all three. Alice Wilson did not at first study geologist, and once a geologist her employer hindered her advance, as a woman, at every stage. Nevertheless, she persisted and made her greatest achievements later and took the greatest pleasure in her career after her retirement! Her extraordinary tenacity and glorious success late in life is such a satisfying story.

Geologist and paleontologist Alice Wilson (1881-1964) was outdoorsy as a girl. Her family spent its summers canoeing, camping and collecting fossils in the limestone formations near their home in Coburg, Ontario. The Wilsons valued scholarship and science. Her father was a professor of classics at the University of Toronto. She went to the University of Toronto to study modern languages and history, as preparation for one of the few career options for women: teaching. But her ill health prevented her from finishing her degree and she withdrew in her final year. When she recovered, she decided to pursue her fossil collecting first love, got a job in the Mineralogy Division of the University of Toronto Museum, and found an entry into her career in geology.

Then in 1909 she got a job as a museum assistant with the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), in Ottawa, where she would work until 1946 and then maintain an office as an emeritus scientist until shortly before her death in 1964.  She was supervised by the GSC's chief paleontologist Percy Raymond and catalogued and labelled the invertebrate paleontology collections. Raymond encouraged her to complete her undergraduate degree, which she succeeded in doing in 1911, after which she was offered a permanent position with the survey - the first woman to hold a professional position there. Alice Wilson became the first female geologist in Canada, facing a series of roadblocks due to her sex. She had to fight for the right to do fieldwork, arguing to superiors that "with reference to further field work of the more strenuous type, I would like to point out that while not heavily built, I am muscularly very strong, and from earliest childhood have been accustomed to an out-of-door life both with canoe and tramping." Since she was forbidden to stay in remote field sites with male colleagues, she made a case that she could work alone during day trips which she made on foot or bicycle. Denied access to a government field vehicle provided to men she later used her own car. The GSC otherwise barred women from fieldwork until 1970. 

Her research interests focused on fossil invertebrates from the Paleozoic era (252–541 million years ago) from across Canada, and from the Ordovician era (444–485 million years ago) in her own backyard in Ontario and Quebec as well as Ordovician fauna from the Rockies and Arctic. She studied stratigraphy in Ontario and Quebec. Over the course of 50 years, she became an authority on fossils and rocks of the Ottawa - St. Lawrence Valley, as a direct response to the sexist limitations placed upon her. Her studies of the geology and paleontology around Cornwall, Ontario were vital to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. She covered more than 16,000 square kilometers despite ill health, frail constitution and the limitations placed upon her.

Alice Wilson at Rigaud Mountain, Québec, May 1953, happy after retirement
(courtesy Natural Resources Canada/Photo number 165185-A)
She fought from 1915 for a decade for the right to take an education leave; paid leave was commonly awarded to her male peers. She despite repeated denials, she persisted and in 1926 she was allowed to apply for a scholarship from the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), but when it was granted to her, she was again denied leave. CFUW campaigned on her behalf, even petitioning Cabinet members and eventually the GSC relented and allowed her leave. She earned her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1929 at age 49! She returned to the GSC and was repeatedly denied promotions or the professional recognition she deserved. She had only been promoted from clerk to assistant paleontologist in 1919, and then to assistant geologist in 1926. She did not receive a raise, as was common practice, after completing her doctorate. Perhaps an unexpected champion, the government of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett was seeking a female federal civil servant to honour in 1935 and selected Wilson to become a Member of the Order of the British Empire. One suspects the GSC was shamed into action as they rapidly published her research for the first time in 10 years and gave her a promotion. Wilson became first the female Canadian Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1936, and first female Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1938. She finally was promoted from assistant to a full geologist position in 1940. By 1945, she finally was addressed by the well-earned title "Dr." Five people were hired to replace her upon her retirement! Following compulsory retirement at age 65, in 1946, she had what she thought of as the happiest stage of her career. She was afforded the opportunity to mentor protegés and share her love of geology with students and children. She taught paleontology at Carleton, wrote a children’s book about geology The earth beneath our feet. She maintained an office as emeritus scientist at the GSC until she was 82, visiting daily and continuing her fieldwork. She published more than 50 academic papers throughout her career. When she finally gave up her office, the survey's director James M. Harrison tried to disuade her but she told him that her "work was done." Alice Wilson is one of only 60 inductees in the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame. Alice Wilson is now a designated national historic person.

I’ve shown her with one of her geological maps of the Ottawa region, published at the official "end" of her career just before she retired, which was for her another beginning. Her publication in 1946, 'Geology of the Ottawa - St. Lawrence Lowland, Ontario and Quebec' was the first the first major geological publication about the region and we owe our knowledge of the area's geology and economic resources including building stone, sand, gravel, and drinking water to Wilson.


Alice Wilson, Libraries and Archives Canada, accessed May 2, 2018
Alice Wilson, The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed May 2, 2018
Wilson, A E, Geology of the Ottawa - St. Lawrence Lowland, Ontario and Quebec, Geological Survey of Canada, Memoir 241, 1946, 66 pages (4 sheets)
Alice Evelyn Wilson 1881-1964; Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, Canada Science and Technology Museum. 
The History of the Geological Survey of Canada in 175 Objects
Trailblazer - Alice Evelyn Wilson, 1881-1964 First Woman Geologist Left her Mark in Stone 
Alice Wilson, Wikipedia, accessed May 2, 2018
Parks Canada This Week in History for Monday December 24, 2012, Nothing could stop Alice Wilson!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Beatrice "Trixie" Worsley - World's First Computer Science Doctorate

Trixie Worsley, linocut 11" x 14" by Ele Willoughby, 2018

It's interesting how Trixie Worsley, who is believed to have earned the very first doctorate in computer science, supervised by Douglas Hartree and Alan Turing at Cambridge, is often identified as "the first woman in the world to earn a doctorate in computer science" as if the idea that she was the first person to do this had not even occurred writers. She was a woman, so she must be the "first woman," and an imaginary innovative prior man is implied. Amongst the first computer scientists in Canada, she was certainly the first woman in the field here. She focused on writing software, development of computer libraries, scientific computation and was co-author of the first compiler Transcode (vital to physicists) as well as teaching in the new field of computer science. Her work provides insight into the history of the nascent field of computer science. She published her computational insights and solutions for problems in physics, biology and computer science.

Beatrice Helen Worsley (1921-1972), a quiet and accommodating girl known as Trixie, was born in Queretaro, Mexico, to English parents who had moved to Mexico so her father could work in her mother's family's textile mill. This mill had been destroyed by rebels in 1917, and Trixie's future parents had had to move again so her father could instead work for Rio Grande group’s CIMSA mills. Trixie's mother home-schooled her and her older brother, and the family remained cut off from the local community for safety during this turbulent time in Mexico's history. In 1929, the family moved to Toronto, mainly for the sake of the children's education. Trixie attended Brown public school for a few years before going to the private Bishop Strachan School, where as the top student of her day, she excelled in the university track classes. She graduated with honours in 1939, winning awards for math and science and the Governor General's Award for the highest grades in the school. She entered Trinity College at the University of Toronto with both a general proficiency entrance award and the Burnside Scholarship in Science. Getting top marks in most of her classes she won more scholarships and transferred to Math and Physics in 1940, specializing in applied math. She first saw computers during a summer job in the actuarial department of the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company in Toronto in 1942.

As soon as she completed her bachelor's in mathematics at the University of Toronto in 1944, she enlisted in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, known as the Wrens. As a researcher at the Naval Research Establishment at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Establishment Stradacona, in Halifax, NS, she focused on harbour defence. Worsley was one of 6 Wrens amongst 50 scientists, officers and support staff, who were responsible for things like degaussing ships to limit their magnetic signature and vulnerability to German magnetic mines, torpedo guidance and researching different techniques for harbour defence. Most of this group left the service within a year of the end of the war to pursue further education, with the special opportunities offered to veterans. A small number including Worsley, the only remaining Wren, stayed on. The newly promoted Lieutenant Worsley began researching the badly understood electrochemistry of hull corrosion in 1945, performing experiments at sea. She set the Wrens' record for time at sea, at 150 days, including during the rough mid-winter months. Her endurance and knowledge earned her the respect of the crews, even doing what she called a man's job. She demobilized in 1946 to pursue further education.

She went to MIT for a master's in math and physics with Henry Wallman, at the Radiation Laboratory, where she was exposed to computers and wrote a thesis called Mathematical Survey of Computing Devices with an Appendix on Error Analysis of Differential Analyzers. There were only really a handful of computers out there at the time, in universities, industry and national labs and she surveyed the literature on all of them as well as those planned, and began to be an expert on this new technology and to wish for a future in the field.

Returning to Canada in 1947, where there were not yet any available jobs in computers, she worked at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa as an aerodynamics research officer in the mechanical engineering division, but it didn't hold her interest. She managed to negotiate a move to the new University of Toronto Computation Centre - the only existing Canadian computer R&D program - as one of two project assistants in 1948 (hired for $200 month). She and her colleagues worked on tabulating results for Atomic Energy Canada (AEC) in Chalk River. Worsley used Mechanno to build her own differential analyzer with small improvements on the design published by Douglas Hartree and Arthur Porter in 1935. This was a cheap device, one of about 15 ever built worldwide, that was accurate enough to solve many scientific problems. Worsley and the other project assistant were sent to Cambridge to learn about EDSAC at the Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in 1949. Worsley co-wrote the first program to run on EDSAC and her report on the machine's first run was published in the proceedings of a meeting on high-speed computing at Cambridge that June. She didn't return to Canada because she started her doctorate at Newnham College, with Douglas Hartree as supervisor (with Alan Turing and Maurice Wilkes). She returned to Canada before completing her dissertation but math professor Byron A. Griffith agreed to supervisor her till she completed her work. Hartree approved her thesis, Serial Programming for Real and Idealized Digital Calculating Machines, and she was awarded a PhD in 1952 and then published her first scientific paper. Hers is believed to be the first doctorate awarded involving modern computers.

The FERUT computer from the Univerisyt of Toronto Archives
Meanwhile, the ambitious (and expensive) design and construction project of Canada’s first computer, the University of Toronto Electronic Computer Mark I (UTEC) was underway, aiming to produce a nationally-shared university, government and military resource. Plagued by mechanical problems and tube failure, the head of the AEC argued that funding should be withdrawn and moved to purchasing a completed system, the Ferranti Mark I in 1952. Worsley herself named the machine FERUT for “Ferranti computer at the University of Toronto,” and operated the new machine, creating software for everything from problems in atomic physics to the St. Lawrence Seaway calculations. With her colleague Gottlieb she taught courses on its use, but it was notoriously difficult and almost all their students quit. Worsley then worked with physics professor J.N. Patterson Hume, to write a compiler called Transcode, to make higher-order programming possible - a much easier method, if slower to execute. Allowing users to program in a language, rather than machine code, and enter numbers in decimal, rather than binary, hugely simplifier their task and had a huge impact on computing in Canada. It allowed dozens of research groups nationwide to use FERUT to solve a wide-array of scientific problems. Transcode was an immediate success and hundreds of people learned it before the FERUT was replaced with an IBM 650 in 1958. Despite her education, publications and teaching track-record, Worsley was repeatedly passed over for promotion and received less recognition than her (male) peers. She was only promoted from Computation Centre mathematician to assistant professor of physics in 1960. Worsley published more papers than any of the other staff of the Computation Centre in the 1960s as her career veered towards teaching. She was promoted to associate professor of physics and computer science when U of T started a graduate department of computer science in 1965.

She left U of T in 1965 to join Queen's University Computing Centre in Kingston, Ontario, likely influenced by her slow career advancement and treatment as a woman researcher at U of T. It caught her colleagues by surprise as she was moving to a University without a computer science program, only an outdated IBM 1620 and would be computing advisor to the Computing Centre with teaching duties, but not a professor. But, she was lured there to start the new Computing Centre and start anew. A new department of Computing and Information Science was created in 1968 complete with master's program thanks largely to Worsley's efforts and she was promoted to associate professor. In 1971 she took a sabbatical at the Department of Applied Analysis and Computer Science at the University of Waterloo to study assembler coding and computer architecture, but she had a fatal heart attack at age 50 on May 8, 1972.

After her untimely death, Worsley left her entire estate to Cambridge University to set up the Lundgren Fund, in honour of Helge Lundgren, for doctoral math or science students with preference to those in computer science "whose research has been interrupted by national service or personal misfortune." Scott M. Campbell who wrote the great biography of Worsley for the IEEE has been unable to identify this Helge Lundgren, though he suspects this might be tied to whatever it was that drew Worsley suddenly back to Canada before she had finished her doctorate.

Her report on the first run of the EDSAC was included in Brian Randell's classic 1973 book, The Origins of Digital Computers, leading to posthumous fame in the history of computer science. The Canadian Association of Computer Science / Association d'Informatique Canadienne (CACS/AIC) honoured her with a lifetime achievement award in 2015, alongside her former colleagues Hume and Gottlieb. A second Canadian woman supervised by Douglas Hartree at Cambridge, professor emerita of Vanderbilt University Charlotte Froese Fischer established a U of T computer science graduate scholarship in Worsley’s name, for doctoral candidates who have taken an active role in promoting women in the field of computer science. Froese Fischer met Worsley when they both worked in the Computing Centre and remembers her insights, wry humour and "way of expressing herself in a few memorable words.”

I was surprised how much of Trixie's career I could relate to directly. I've spent much more than 150 days doing research at sea, but never (in the Northern Hemisphere) later than a fairly miserable, snowy October. I have a pretty good sense of what it would have been like on the North Atlantic in the mid-winter. Her work as a WREN was on electrochemistry of hull corrosion. As someone who has done marine electromagnetics, I know this is still an active research topic for my naval colleagues. Her doctoral thesis included a great variety of problems, but one, the calculation of second-order corrections to the value of gravity from pendulum measurements at sea is something I know about as my own doctorate involved adapting a gravimeter to use at sea. I've shown Trixie based on a photo of her seated in front of the FERUT, and other images of the machine. I was influenced by my former colleague at U of T Physics, Gordon West's descriptions of the first computers they used and peering directly into the memory of the machine themselves through its output oscilloscopes. MIT makes her master's thesis available, so I looked it up but ended up opting to try and allude to her career as a programmer (rather than a hardware researcher) by reproducing the structure of a flow chart from one of her papers about computation methods in atomic physics.

Nina Haikara, 'Honouring Canada's first female computer scientist: U of T's Trixie Worsley,' U of T news, May 26, 2015

Scott M. Campbell, "Beatrice Helen Worsley: Canada's Female Computer Pioneer," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, volume 25, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2003), p.51--62.

Beatrice H. Worsley, 'The Self-Consistent Field with Exchange for Neon by FERUT Program,' Can. J. Physics, Vol. 36, 1958

Beatrice Worsley, The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed April 20, 1018

Smillie, Keith (2002). "Beatrice (Trixie) Worsley". The Computer and Me - A Restrospective Look at Some Computers and Languages.

Beatrice H. (Trixie) Worsley | CS-CAN | INFO-CAN, accessed April 20, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Irene Ayako Uchida, geneticist and Down syndrome research, linked chromosomal anomalies and maternal radiation

Irene Ayako Uchida, Linocut, 9.25" x 12.5", 2018 by Ele Willoughby
My linocut portrait of Canadian geneticist Irene Ayako Uchida (1917-2013) is hand printed on 9.25" x 12.5" Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper. Uchida is shown surrounded by chromosones, with anomalies (shown with pink arrows) due to radiation exposure, based on one of her research papers. A strand of DNA is hidden in the image (as her watchband).

Irene Uchida didn’t set out to be a scientist. She was studying English literature at UBC, before she was interned with other Canadians of Japanese heritage during WWII. Born to Japanese immigrant parents in Vancouver in 1917, young Ayako Uchida was dubbed "Irene" by her piano teacher who struggled to pronounce her name, which means "splendid" in Japanese. Her father owned two Japanese bookstores in Vancouver and young Ayako loved reading and music, playing organ, piano and violin for the United Church. She faced tragedy in her youth, first when her best friend Marion Gross was killed in a traffic accident; she wore her ring for the rest of her life. Then her sister Sachi died of tuberculosis, even after her mother brought her to Japan where she felt she would receive better medical care. These tragic experiences left Irene with a desire to help people. While at UBC, she was a reporter for weekly Japanese-Canadian newspaper The New Canadian, and was active in the group Japanese Canadian Citizens for Democracy. In 1940 she and her sister Kazuko went to Japan to visit her mother and sister Junko who were living there. She chose to leave via what proved to be the last ship to Canada out of Yokohama before the outbreak of war. Her mother and sisters were trapped in a bleak Tokyo with shortages and war rationing and remained there for years. She, her father, brother, sister-in-law and their kids were all placed in internment camps in the Rockies in the BC interior, initially together at Christina Lake. Because of her university education, her friend Hide Hyodo, Supervisor for Education for the internment camps, asked for her help. She moved to the nearby Lemon Creek camp, where she set up a school for 500 children and became its dedicated principal, turning her own shack into a library where students could study. Ariving in winter, their first task to avoid freezing to death was to patch gaps where snow and wind breached building walls.

After the war, the United Church gave her the opportunity to complete her degree at the University of Toronto. It's worth noting that after the war and until 1949, the only Japanese Canadians allowed back in Toronto were university students. Overt racism in the post-war years was not rare. Her father had returned to Japan with the repatriation program in exchange for Allied prisoners of war. Her family's bookstores and other assets had been seized and she had nothing left for her in British Columbia. She made money washing dishes and sewing in a factory on Spadina, when not in class. She apparently made enemies in her fellow seamstresses who complained she made them look bad by sewing a zipper into a woman’s skirt faster than anyone, and she was fired. She completed her BA at U of T in 1946. She planned to pursue a master's in social work but zoology professor, and soon to be director of the Department of Genetics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Dr. Norma Ford Walker recognized her talent in an introductory genetics class and recruited her for grad school. Uchida took all her other introductory science courses while in graduate school and got her doctorate in zoology in 1951! She began her research career at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with Dr. Walker, studying twins with genetic diseases including congenital heart disease and Down syndrome. They set up one of the largest twin registries in North America, and working with pediatricians, Irene developed such good relations with the twin subjects that they gladly participated in all her studies and volunteered for others. She stayed there until 1959.

She spent a year working on Drosophila chromosomes with Dr. Klaus Patau (who later discovered the Patau syndrome, caused by trisomy 13 or extra genetic material from chromosome 13 in some or all cells, another example of nondisjunction like Down syndrome) at the University of Wisconsin. While there, Uchida learned that French researchers had linked Down syndrome to an excess chromosome (trisomy 21) - the first time a chromosome anomaly was shown as the cause of a human disorder. She decided to find out why people had this excess chromosome. Her work attracted the attention of Harry Medovy, a pediatrician at the Winnipeg Children's Hospital, who hired her.

She brought the skills honed studying fruitfly chromosomes to Canadian hospitals when she started the first cytology department in the country, and running it for 9 years. She found extra chromosomes in babies who had birth defects. Diagnosing trisomy by actually looking directly at chromosomes in cells was a very new technique and she was the first to do this in Canada. Most importantly she made scientific history when she traced chromosomal anomalies in offspring to mothers’ prior exposure to abdominal x-rays. She compared a large number of children born to mothers before they had received diagnostic radiation to those conceived afterwards, and saw much more trisomy in those conceived afterwards. While this did not make her popular with radiologists, her research helped prevent life threatening or altering birth defects, and made her an internationally recognized geneticist. She was also amongst the scientists who discovered that the mother's genetic material was not always reponsible for a baby with Down syndrome and that one quarter of births can be linked to the father. Since the occurance of Down syndrome goes up with maternal age, it had been assumed it was linked solely to mothers.

She received a 1969 Medical Research Council grant to work as a visiting scientist at the University of London and in Harwell, England, to study a technique for analyzing the chromosomes of mouse eggs and sperm, again looking at the effects of radiation. Afterwards she was lured to McMaster University in Hamilton to work as a professor and Cytology lab director. She stayed there for 22 years, working closely with Dr. Viola Freeman, and continuing her research on the link between radiation and chromosonal anomalies, travelling around Ontario to gather samples from Down syndrome child patients and their parents. She also started a Genetic Counselling Program at the McMaster Medical Centre. Her last job was Director of Cytogenetics at the Oshawa General Hospital, 1991–1995. Since one of the X chromosomes is always naturally deactivated in female embryos, Uchida hoped that one day geneticists will learn to deactivate one of the chromosomes in an individual with trisomy (at 21, 13 or 18) and be able to cure them at an early embryonic stage; this sort of research is only just starting, decades after her hopeful prediction.

She was a world expert in Down syndrome, President of the American Society of Human Genetics, served on the Science Council of Canada, received honourary degrees from McMaster and Western universities, was named Woman of the Century 1867-1967 by the National Council of Jewish Women, in Manitoba, an Officer of the Order of Canada, had a lifelong love of language and grammar, and a wry sense of humour. Not a fan of public speaking to large groups of peers, she never turned down a chance to speak with children. She was a dedicated if exacting teacher and mentor to many graduate students and post-docs. She did not have a family of her own but was generous with her neices, often taking them along on international travel. She was one of the people who fought tirelessly for reparations the 20,000 Japanese-Canadian internees, finally granted four decades later in 1988 when each of the survivors received $21,000 and reinstatement of Canadian citizenship if they had been deported. She donated $50,000 to the Winnipeg hospital for a biannual genetics lecture. She was fun if brusque, opinionated though humble, described as feisty and was known as a gracious hostest who believed the only drink worth having was a Glenfiddich single malt with one ice cube, and a truly extraordinary individual.

Irene Uchida, Wikipedia, accessed April 17, 2018
Irene Ayako Uchida - Genetics: World Famous Down Syndrome Researcher, article accessed April 17, 2018
Terry Watada, "Irene Uchida: Seeing the Truly Wonderful", Toronto NAJC
Terry Watada, "Irene Uchida: Seeing the Truly Wonderful", The Bulletin, August 30, 2013
I A Uchida, C P Lee, and E M Byrnes, Chromosome aberrations induced in vitro by low doses of radiation: nondisjunction in lymphocytes of young adults., Am J Hum Genet. 1975 May; 27(3): 419–429.
Olesia Plokhii, 'Irene Uchida, world-renowned leader in genetics research', Globe and Mail, Published September 13, 2013, Updated March 26, 2017
Ronald G. Davidson, Irene A. Uchida, 1917–2013, Journal List, Am J Hum Genetv.93(4); 2013 Oct 3PMC3791260
'Irene Uchida: World-class scientist was known for her enthusiasm,' Network, McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Newsmagazine — Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2014
Daniel Nolan, "Passages: Renowned geneticist began from scratch after internment - Dr. Irene Ayako Uchida — April 8, 1917 to July 30, 2013", Hamilton Spectator, Sep 08, 2013