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6 amazing things women scientists are doing with technology

When students are asked to 'draw a scientist’, two-thirds will sketch a man in a lab coat. It’s an improvement over the 1970s, when less than one percent of students drew a female scientist. The problem isn’t so much that women aren’t scientists, but that their contributions are often overlooked. Here at Science Node, we think they deserve an extra shout-out for the work they’re doing.

1. Space archaeology

The view from space. In this 2016 TED talk, Sarah Parcak describes building an online citizen science tool called GlobalXplorer that will train an army of volunteer explorers to find and protect the world's hidden heritage. Courtesy TED.

TED Prize-winner Sarah Parcak is racing against time to discover archaeological sites around the globe before looters steal the artifacts and sell them on the black market—and she wants your help.

Her GlobalXplorer citizen science platform gamifies the scanning of high-resolution satellite imagery to detect new sites. She’s already protected Viking settlements in Newfoundland and ancient structures in Peru. What will she discover next?

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2. Saving sharks

<strong>Identifin</strong> is a database of shark fins that employs algorithms to match new shark sightings to existing dorsal fin records. Courtesy Sara Andreotti; Stellenbosch University.As few as 350 great white sharks remain in what was once known as “Shark Alley,” at the southernmost tip of Africa. But trophy hunting, pollution, shark nets, and orca attacks have reduced the population to the verge of extinction.

Marine biologist Sara Andreotti of Stellenbosch University tracks the identity of individual white sharks through notches in the dorsal fin that are as unique as a human fingerprint. Her searchable database, Identifin, uses an algorithmic technique to automatically match incoming photos to sharks already in the database.

By increasing our understanding and knowledge of white sharks, we will eventually maintain a healthier relationship with this ancient predator of the ocean. ~ Sara Andreotti

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3. Predicting near-Earth space weather

<strong>Solar storms.</strong> Named after the Russian physicist Anatoly Vlasov, the Vlasiator offers six-dimensional massive scale simulations of the earth's magnetosphere. Courtesy NASA.Almost all modern communication (radio, tv, phone, and internet) relies on the more 1,000 satellites orbiting the earth. But fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by a solar storm could knock out communication, disrupt aviation, and even black out the power grid.

Minna Palmroth, a computational space physicist at the University of Helsinki used two European supercomputers to develop Vlasiator, an incredibly detailed model that simulates the most important physical phenomena in near-Earth space. Vlasiator will help humans prepare for future solar storms and contribute to our understanding of deep-space physics.

As a scientist, I’m curious about what happens in the world. I can’t really draw a line beyond which I don’t want to know what happens. ~ Minna Palmroth, University of Helsinki 

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4. Saving lives with virtual CPR

<strong>Staying alive.</strong> Augmented reality takes trainees into a real-life emergency scenario to better equip bystanders when an actual sudden cardiac arrest occurs. Courtesy Marion Leary; ImmERge Labs.CPR training has been available to the public for over fifty years. But in the event of an actual emergency, panicked bystanders often fail to respond.

Marion Leary, a registered nurse and director of Innovation Research at the University of Pennsylvania, blames a lack of confidence. Her virtual and augmented reality CPR immerses trainees in a complex, multi-sensory environment, preparing students for the terrifying experience of a victim collapsed beside them.

You can’t hurt someone worse than dead. Doing something is better than doing nothing. ~ Marion Leary, ImmERge Labs

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5. Conquering the digital divide

Sparse population density, difficult terrain, limited investment, and outdated infrastructure means 34 million Americans can’t access broadband internet, particularly in rural areas. Ellen Zegura of Georgia Institute of Technology is connecting underserved districts with the new opportunities in education, research, and workforce opportunities that high-speed networks bring. Her work with the Tribal Digital Village now supplies 17 tribal reservation communities in southern California.

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6. Detecting autism in infants

<strong>Face to face.</strong> Tan harnessed algorithms to calculate gender-typical facial structures and then compared this metric to the faces of children with autism spectrum disorder. Courtesy Unsplash/Photo by Chiến Phạm.Because a fetus’s brain and face develop simultaneously during pregnancy, scientists have long been interested in the link between facial features and atypical brain development.

Diana Weiting Tan of the University of Western Australia uses 3D photogrammetry to distinguish facial landmarks that could detect the incidence of autism spectrum disorder in infants long before behavioral markers (such as poor eye contact and less social smiling) appear. Earlier diagnoses would lead to earlier intervention and likely improve long-term outcomes for individuals with autism.

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