The Weekly Geek: Girl power at the Google Science fair


There’s plenty going on in the geek world right now, with Comic-Con underway. The worlds of comics, movies, games and TV (along with every form of media above, beyond and in between the majors) are primed to explode. But there’s a smaller piece of news out this week that’s arguably much more important than any big movie announcement or celebration of fan culture. It has potential implications for the future of women in science in this country, and, at the very least, it’s the most awesome, pro-fem thing I’ve heard all week.

I’m referring to the fact that young women absolutely swept the first Google Science Fair.

In their respective age groups, Shree Bose, Naomi Shah and Lauren Hodge dominated the field of over 10,000 entrants from countries around the world. Of all the 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18 year old science whizzes in the world, these three ladies rank on top. They also got nifty Lego trophies for their phenomenal work.

From the New York Times:

“At the end, we were like, ‘Yeah, girl power!’ ” said Naomi Shah of Portland, Ore., who won the age 15-16 category with a study of the effects of air quality on lungs, particularly for people who have asthma. Ms. Shah recruited 103 test subjects, performed 24-hour air quality measurements at their homes and workplaces and had each blow into a device that measured the force of their breath.

Both Bose and Hodge did research related to cancer.

For the winning research Ms. Bose looked at a chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, that is commonly taken by women with ovarian cancer. The problem is that the cancer cells tend to grow resistant to cisplatin over time, and Ms. Bose set out to find a way to counteract that.

Specifically, her findings were focused on ovarian cancer, one of the nastiest forms of the disease.

Lauren Hodge of Dallastown, Pa., won the age 13-14 category for research on whether marinades reduce the amount of cancer-causing compounds produced by the grilling of meat. She found that lemon juice and brown sugar cut the level of carcinogens sharply, while soy sauce increased them.

It’s a quietly historic moment for women in science – an acknowledgement that – at least in the younger generation – the traditional gap between male and female achievement in science is closing. Bose has encouraging words on that subject: “Personally I think that’s amazing, because throughout my entire life, I’ve heard science is a field where men go into,” Ms. Bose said. “It just starts to show you that women are stepping up in science, and I’m excited that I was able to represent maybe just a little bit of that.”

Let’s hope the trend continues – through college and beyond.

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