Women in Science
Heidi B. Hammel joined The Planetary Society's Board of Directors in 2005. A Senior Research Scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Hammel herself lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
She received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982 and her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988. After a post-doctoral position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), Hammel returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
Hammel primarily studies outer planets and their satellites, with a focus on observational techniques. Hammel received the 2002 American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (AAS/DPS) Sagan Medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public .
Question: What are the challenges to being a female scientist?
Heidi Hammel: I would say the biggest challenge I had as a woman in science, is be a mom. It’s really hard. It’s very hard work having children, and I tell kids this all the time. They say what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, because I’ve done so many space missions in Hubble and taught these big projects. I’m like, oh, the hardest thing is being a mom. It’s like 24/7. You can’t stop it, and it’s always there. And as a scientist, it’s hard because my particular field of science, and most fields of science, require quite a bit of dedication, whether it’s laboratory work, or in my case telescopic work, where I need to go places and do things. Having high quality daycare is by far the most important thing you can do when your kids are little. When I relocated, I spent more time looking for daycare than I did looking for a house. It was much more important to have good daycare, and I was fortunate to find high quality daycare where I just totally trusted it, and my kids were great. They’re absolutely fantastic kids doing super jobs now. They’re wonderful. But, you know, I had to spend a lot of time and energy doing that. I also learned you must relay on friends and family to help you out. You can’t do it on your own. There’s people like, oh, how do you do it? I’m like, well, my neighbors, my mom helps. I just rely on other people. That’s the way it has to be, otherwise you’d just go nuts. So it’s a tough balancing act. And I also learned that there is no such thing as balance, that on any individual day your life is completely skewed one way or the other. One day you’re like dealing with child crises, and you’re just coping. And the next day, you may be dealing with a work crisis, and just dealing with that. Over the long run, you have to find sort of the right balance, but you can’t expect it to balance at any individual moment, because it won’t. And once you learn to give that up, once you learn to give up the myth of balance, you can be a much more relaxed person.
Question: What’s your advice to women entering astronomy?
Heidi Hammel: I would encourage anybody who’s interested in any kind of science, engineering, math field, to go after that. I am not about telling people become astronomers. We don’t need a lot of astronomers. But what I want to avoid is that young, young woman coming along, who is absolutely fascinated in biochemistry, but she’s told, oh, no, biochemistry, this is a guy’s field. That’s wrong. The best complement I ever had was a young person who I just met standing in line to go to a concert. It was like two years after the Shoemaker-Levy 9 thing, where I had been in the news a lot. And this guy, we were talking waiting to get into this concert, and he said, “Oh, hi.” I like introduced myself Heidi. And it was like, “Are you Heidi, the Heidi Hammel, the astronomer?” And I, “Yeah. That’s it.” He was like, “Oh, you’re the reason I became a biologist.” I said, “Oh, yeah? How’d that happen?’ He said, “Well, when you did that comic crash thing, I just thought that was so cool, and I had really slacked off. I had dropped out of college, and I was just, you know, being a slacker, but I was so excited by that, that I went back to college, and I took astronomy courses.” And I said, “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He said, “Yeah, but I hated astronomy.” Like, well, it’s not for everyone. He said, “But I loved biology, and I went on to get my PhD in biology.” I’m like, that’s it. That’s what it’s all about. My message is don’t be discouraged by anything anybody tells you. In my case of the science thing, and I just ignored people who said, oh, girls don’t do that. Or blah blah blah. I just went ahead and did it anyway, lack of fear, stupidity. I don’t know why. I just kept doing it. But to tell young people don’t listen to those folks that you can’t. If you want to, go do it. That’s the message I try to give.
Despite the hurdles, women should just go for it, says Heidi Hammel.
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Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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