Congratulations to a Young Skepchick!

Mary Masterman, young astronomer extraordinaire.

Being a young woman in science myself, I am always interested in encouraging girls to pursue science. A 17-year-old high school girl named Mary Masterman needs no encouragement from me. In fact, I wish she would come over to MIT and give me a few lessons in spectroscopy! Mary just won a $100,000 college scholarship from the Intel Science Talent Search for her building of a homemade spectrograph, a machine that generally costs a hundred thousand dollars but which she build for mere hundreds of dollars. Most impressive! I can’t wait for this girl to grow up and win her Nobel. Of note, six of the top ten winners of this year’s Intel Talent Search were female. Woo-hoo!


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. Congratulations to Ms. Masterman! It heartens me that our country and society can produce and encourage such people.

    It also frustrates me a bit, because I wonder about the others like her, especially women, that are be out there and won't get the same encouragment. How much more could be accomplished for advancing science and education in general, by a greater commitment to nurturing Masterman's kind of interest?

    Easy enough to say, of course. And a bit simplistic. It could be argued that her kind of budding scientist/technician will rise up and make a contribution to their field regardless.

    But then why encourage scholarly achievement at all? Far better to err on the side of caution, and let as few Mary Mastermans as possible slip the grasp of good teachers, scholarships, all the mixed joys of grad school and an advanced degree.

    For their sake and the sake of all the rest of us. ;)

  2. Oh yeah?? Well, I once made a permanent blue dye (which stained my driveway until it was resurfaced) while screwing around with a chemistry set at home. Where's my award, hmm??

    I also managed to craft a number of odd smoky and fizzy things which may or may not have been dangerous. I was never too good about listening when a chemical said "Do not mix with acids" after all…

  3. Good for you, Expatria. Though I hope you didn't suffer anything worse than singed eyebrows for your youthful spirit of inquiry.

    Clearly no parent put that "Do not…" on those chemicals. It's what's called begging the question.

  4. "Clearly no parent put that “Do not…” on those chemicals. It’s what’s called begging the question."

    No it's not.

  5. You just know that if that was a 50's article the subheading would have been "and she's pretty too!" :)

  6. Mary Masterman was one of my students at SSP in New Mexico during the summer of 2005. It was quite amazing to meet at 15 year old so who is so interested in stellar spectroscopy. Her father told me a story about how he took her to a star party once (where a group of amateur astronomers had set up telescopes), and she was frustrated that everyone just wanted to look at stars with eyepieces. She explained that looking at *spectra* is where the real interesting physics lies, letting you figure out what the stars are made of and how they work.

    She's also a really, really wonderful person. And she's an excellent musician. Getting to know and teach students like her is one of than things that keeps me motivated in education. She went to MIT for RSI last summer, and I think she wants to go to MIT for her undergrad education.

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