This Week in STEM – June 7th 2019

This Week in STEM – June 7th 2019

Blog Contributed by Dr. Christopher Murphy, Chief Strategic Growth & Communications Officer for Concept Schools, @DrChrisMurphy

The Pitfalls of Data’s Gender Gap

Without female data, everything from safety gear to urban design to Siri is biased toward men. The effects range from inconvenient to deadly

Scientific American

NASA scheduled the first all-female space walk for the end of last month. But a mere four days before the historic event was meant to happen, they scrapped the plan and subbed in a male astronaut, claiming it was because they did not have enough space suits in the proper size to fit all the women astronauts.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain was supposed to take part in the first all-female spacewalk with Christina Koch last week. But McClain did not end up participating because NASA had not prepared two medium-size spacesuit torsos, which both women needed. Credit: Sergei Savostyanov, Getty Images


Unfortunately, women all too often must make do with equipment designed for men, an oversight that can be more than a PR embarrassment. Many police stab vests fail to accommodate women’s breasts, causing the protective gear to ride up and leave the wearer’s torso exposed. Although the U.S. military designed uniforms to fit female bodies, they failed to develop boots that match women’s narrower feet and higher arches. And equipment design is not the only arena where this happens.

In her new book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, journalist Caroline Criado Perez explains how researchers in fields from medicine to transportation fail to collect data on women. This affects aspects of daily life in the home, the workplace and everywhere in between, with results that range from inconvenient to deadly. For example, vehicle safety systems designed and tested based on the default male will not necessarily protect female bodies. Indeed, in a car crash, women are 17 percent more likely to die and 47 percent more likely to experience serious injury than men are.

Study Uncovers Surprising Melting Patterns Beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf

Earth Institute – Columbia University

The ROSETTA-Ice project, a three-year, multi-institutional data collection survey of Antarctic ice, has assembled an unprecedented view of the Ross Ice Shelf, its structure and how it has been changing over time. In a study published today in Nature Geoscience, the ROSETTA-Ice team members detail how they discovered an ancient geologic structure that restricts where ocean water flows. The discovery suggests that local ocean currents may play a critical role in the ice shelf’s future retreat.

Ice shelves are massive expanses of floating ice that slow down the flow of Antarctic ice into the ocean. ROSETTA-Ice collected data from the massive Ross Ice Shelf, which helps slow the flow of about 20 percent of Antarctica’s grounded ice into the ocean — equivalent to 38 feet of global sea level rise. Antarctica’s ice is already melting at an accelerating rate. Predicting how the ice shelf will change as the planet continues to warm requires understanding the complex ways in which the ice, ocean, atmosphere and geology interact with each other.

The IcePod flying over the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica as part of the ROSETTA-Ice project The pod is lowered from an LC-130 aircraft and holds a series of instruments that are critical to completing this project. Credit: Winnie Chu.

Traffic jams are just one of the problems facing climbers on Everest

National Geographic

On May 24, 2019, Christopher Kulish, a 62-year-old attorney from Boulder, Colorado, died at Camp 4, located on the South Col at 26,000 feet, after returning from the summit of Mount Everest. According to Kulish’s brother, an initial assessment indicates Kulish died of cardiac arrest, not altitude sickness.

His death brings the number of fatalities on Mount Everest this season to 11 and raises the full death toll on Himalayan 8,000 meter peaks this spring to 21. With several more days remaining in the climbing season—which effectively ends when the monsoon arrives sometime the first week in June—it is possible the number will continue to rise.