HerStory July: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

We all know the feeling: you walk into your kitchen, prepared to start your day, and a cloud of wee annoyances lift off of an overripe banana on your countertop. Your kitchen has been besieged by those unruly, buggy little things we all know as fruit flies. But just imagine if you will, that you look at one of these wee annoyances and instead see the key to understanding just how genetics work. Imagine seeing the beauty and the possibility in a cloud of fruit flies. Well, that’s what our July HerStory recipient, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, did. She embraced (not literally, because fruit flies are teensy) the little buggers and figured out how genes control embryonic development.

Born in 1942 in Magdeburg, Germany, Nüsslein-Volhard was a precocious child, always interested in biology and the natural sciences. Her grades throughout primary school were mediocre, as she professed to not give time and energy to the subjects that didn’t interest her. She attended Goethe Frankfurt University in Frankfurt in the early 1960s, but found herself feeling unchallenged and bored, so transferred to the University of Tübingen when they debuted a biochemistry program in the mid-1960s. Tübingen housed the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research, and was host to visiting scientists from a variety of fields, which proved to be inspiring to our young researcher. While at Tübingen, she briefly married and gained a hyphenated name, but when the marriage ended in divorce, she kept both names, as she had begun to be published, and preferred the continuity of having the same name. Her PhD work led her to study molecular biology and genetics in more depth, but she found that the course of study she had chosen was limited and not as inspiring as she hoped. She moved on to cellular biology, and studied at the University of Basel in Switzerland for a time, learning more and more about how genes behave, and what effects introducing mutations into a developing embryo have. She moved back to Germany to continue her work on genetics, and in 1980, along with her research partner, published a paper identifying fifteen genes that compromise the fruit fly.

After publishing this seminal paper, in 1986, Nüsslein-Volhard went home, to Tübingen, Germany, and became the director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. She held this position for many years, and continued her work on genetics. Inspired by her genetic discoveries with fruit flies, she began working on isolating genetic structures of vertebrates, and began studying zebrafish.

Nüsslein-Volhard also began working on social, ethical, and philosophical issues in the sciences. She served on the National Ethics Council of Germany and became a leader on ethics and gender equality issues. Nüsslein-Volhard established the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, an organization which seeks to promote gender equality in science by providing support and resources to female scientists. One of things that most inspired Nüsslein-Volhard to found this organization was the realization that, no matter how accomplished a female scientist was, at the end of the day, for many women, the burden of homemaking, otherwise known as the invisible workload, most commonly falls to women. Her foundation provides funding resources to help female scientists hire out that invisible workload. She has spoken on the ongoing difficulties women face in the sciences: how hard it is for women to balance research and family obligations, and the fact that this is the leading reason women are so underrepresented in leading scientific positions.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard won the Nobel Prize Physiology and Medicine in 1995. She later reflected that it was a double-edged sword: she enjoyed the legitimacy and professional honor, but found it a distraction in many ways. She was torn between feeling the need to accept all invitations to speak and the desire to get back to work, and felt that there was a definite sexist slant to some of the reception to her award. Throughout her career, and throughout the careers of many women in fields that have been dominated by males, she’s had not only to do the work, put in the time, and make sure her work is exemplary, but also to fight against the sometimes-fragile male egos of her contemporaries.

She’s currently Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, and in her spare time, loves to cook (she’s even published a cook book!) and play the flute and sing. She continues to be a leader in the field of genetics, and even has an asteroid named after her. So, the next time you find yourself with some overripe fruit and overzealous fruit flies, take a moment before smashing them all to think about how these humble pests helped to further our understanding of how genes work, and inspired the career of a truly inspiring HerStory recipient.

HerStory June: Valentina Tereshkova

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

” Hey sky, take off your hat, I’m on my way!”

“Anyone who has spent any time in space will love it for the rest of their lives. I achieved my childhood dream of the sky.”

“If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?”

“Once you’ve been in space, you appreciate how small and fragile the Earth is.”

-all quotes by June’s HerStory recipient Valentina Tereshkova

Every month, we get to spend a little time getting to know another amazing woman, and this month, our HerStory recipient is really out of this world. Meet trailblazer Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. 

Born March 6, 1937, Tereshkova grew up in a proletarian family in central Russia. Her mother worked in the textile industry, and her father fought in the Finno-Russian War of 1939-1940 and went missing in action. She left school at 16 to work in the textile industry and help support her family, finishing her education via correspondence courses. She became interested in skydiving at a young age, and joined her local Aeroclub, making her first jump at the age of 22. She fell in love with skydiving; she was hooked.

In 1961, after the successful launch of the Russian space program, the powers that be in the program decided that it was their patriotic duty to beat the Americans in any way possible, including being the first country to send a woman to the final frontier. There were over 400 applicants for this program, with the list of qualifications including: trained parachutists; no older than 30; no taller than 170 cm (5 ft 7 in); weighing no more than 70 kg (154 lbs); and, perhaps most important, ideologically pure. Tereshkova applied for the program and was selected, and, along with four other skydivers, began intensive training for space flight. In the final selection process, Tereshkova beat out her closest competitor, not because she was more qualified (her testing resulted in lower scores than the female cosmonaut she was pitted against), but because she was a better communist. It was all about the propaganda in Russia at the time, and Tereshkova proved herself to be the picture-perfect New Soviet Woman. She was a reliable communist, a factory worker from a humble background, and a ‘good’ girl, with the looks, charm, and attitude necessary for celebrity.

On June 16, 1963, after a two-hour countdown, the spacecraft Vostok 6 took off, carrying Tereshkova (call sign Chaika, or seagull) to space. She was the first woman ever to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, and she spent three days in space, orbiting the Earth 48 times. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.

Upon her return to Earth, Tereshkova faced lots of criticism from a certain faction in the Soviet Air Force, with heavy-handed attempts to discredit her. She was called weak for experiencing physical discomfort while in space, and criticized for calling attention to an orientation error that could have caused her death upon attempted re-entry. Ultimately, her allies outnumbered and outmaneuvered her opponents, and she became a beloved fixture in the communist party and beyond, remaining an enduring Soviet hero to this day.  

After her space flight, Tereshkova had a rich, full, life, but she always hoped to once again leave the Earth’s atmosphere. She never made it back to space, although in 2013, when meeting with Vladimir Putin, she offered to embark on a one-way trip to Mars. Shortly after her trip to space, she married another cosmonaut, giving birth to her daughter, the first person to have both a mother and father who had been in space, a mere year after her space flight. She had a rich political career, working in the communist party as a prominent member. She received a graduate degree in engineering from the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. She represented Russia, and Russian woman, at the Olympics, UN conferences, and the World Peace Council. Her marriage was ultimately unhappy, and it wasn’t until gaining the personal permission of Soviet Premier Brezhnev in 1982 that she was able to divorce her first husband. She later married for love, and had 20 years of happiness with her second husband before he passed away.

The quotes at the top of this love letter embody the joy and pride Valentina Tereshkova felt in space, and the deep impact it had on the rest of her life. She is now retired from most of her public and political life, living in a small brick dacha on the outskirts of Star City, a house with a seagull weathervane, commemorating the call sign of her flight in space, and still hoping, we are sure, to once again make it out of this world and into the deep of space.

As you honor our HerStory recipients by knitting with the yarn inspired by their lives, please be sure to share your projects with us. On Instagram, tag @knittedwit, and use hashtags #knittedwit and #herstory2018kal. On Facebook, make sure to join our Knitted Wit Knitalongs Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/knittedwitkal), to be inspired by what your co-HerStory knitters have made, and inspire all of us with your creations. We are halfway through our HerStory lessons for the year, and are daily inspired by the women we have honored so far. We hope this journey has been inspiring for you, as well.

HerStory May: Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This month, our HerStory recipient is the scientist who discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was born in Paris, France, in July of 1947. As a young girl, she was fascinated by the workings of the natural world. She’d spend hours observing insect behavior on family vacations, and quickly realized that she was destined for a life in the natural sciences. Once grown and schooled, she joined the Pasteur Institute in Paris in the 1970s, and worked on retrovirus research. In 1996, she became the head of the Retrovirus Biology Unit (later called Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit). For all of her work and dedication, Barré-Sinoussi won the Nobel Prize in 2008, along with the colleagues she discovered HIV with.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi thought she’d have the typical life of a research scientist, specializing in retroviruses, doing the work, putting in the time. And that all would have created a wonderful life, full of good work on important diseases without a huge effect on her entire life. That is, until an infectious-disease specialist called the Pasteur Institute and asked her to look for a retrovirus in a new disease that had been wreaking havoc all over the world. This disease was AIDS, and her work on it would change her life forever.

Once she and her colleagues began working on the research into whether or not AIDS was caused by a retrovirus, that was it. She was forever inextricably linked to the disease. Discovering that AIDS was, indeed, caused by a retrovirus took a relatively short period of time, and since that discovery, Barré-Sinoussi has worked tirelessly with patients and doctors and other researchers to try to discover a treatment and pave the way for a potential cure for the disease. She spent time in San Francisco at the height of the US AIDS epidemic, holding the hands of AIDS patients as the disease took them further and further into illness. Over the years, she has befriended many AIDS patients and watched as they sickened and died. She threw her entire self into the study of the disease, and at points in her life, has told her loved ones that “I feel that I’m not my own personality any more. I look like a virus. My face is like HIV.”

In 1996, a therapy was introduced that completely changed the course of the AIDS epidemic. Not necessarily a cure, antiretroviral (or combination) therapy proved to be very effective in saving lives and curbing the effects of the disease. Although a huge relief, Barré-Sinoussi fell into a depression once this happened (as did many of her colleagues), as the relentless push against the virus finally lessened, and they were all left with a feeling of almost let-down. We are strange creatures, human beings; sometimes that which should give us the most joy opens our eyes to all we have lost, and we think that must have been what happened to Barré-Sinoussi: the weight of all of the lives lost to the disease pressed down relentlessly on her. She stepped away from the public eye for a while, and was able to find her way back to the good fight, once again working on a deeper understanding of the disease, and being a relentless advocate for those whose lives have been affected by the infection.

In reading about Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who is, to this day, intimately involved in fighting AIDS and advocating for those afflicted with HIV, we are once again touched to our very cores by these strong women in HerStory who have given so much of themselves to making the world a better place. For where would we be without them?

The colorway this month, inspired by the 1980s era, is called Prendre le Coeur (take heart). The colors are decidedly 1980’s Laura Ashley fabric and dresses, the message decidedly Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. Take heart, everyone, for there are people like Françoise Barré-Sinoussi working tirelessly to make this world a better place.

Remember to share your HerStory projects with us. Tag me @knittedwit, and use hashtags #knittedwit and #herstory2018kal. On Facebook, make sure to join our new Knitted Wit Knitalongs Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/572482266432576), where folks have been sharing their HerStory projects so far. We have so many fabulous women to talk about with you, and hope you’ve loved the lessons so far!

HerStory April: Maryam Mirzakhani

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

Every month, we are more in love with our HerStory subject AND the colorway we create to honor them, and this month is only different in that we literally cannot stop looking at and dreaming of the yarn. It’s so good that Shannon has already knitted an entire sock. We’ll share photos on IG after the 25th of the month, when she will surely be done with the second sock.

April’s honoree was a little heart-hard for us. We first heard about Maryam Mirzakhani when she passed away last year at the age of 40 from breast cancer. The fact that many Iranian newspapers, (and even the President) decided to share her photo, head uncovered, even though she didn’t live by religious law, was really striking. This was a woman who had blazed so many trails in her 40 short years on earth that it was deemed more important to honor her than respect long-standing cultural taboos surrounding the rules her birth society imposed on women.

Maryam Mirzakhani was born in 1977 in Tehran, Iran. She quickly began to amass what would be a long list of mathematical “firsts”: she was the first female student to receive the gold medal level in the International Mathematics Olympiad in 1994, and the next year, became the first Iranian student, either male OR female, to achieve a perfect score and win two gold medals. Her entire school and work career, she was blazing trails and breaking glass ceilings, y’all. After earning her BSc in Mathematics from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, she journeyed to the US, to Harvard, for her graduate work. She was a relentless and inquisitive learner, and didn’t let the language barrier get her down. Her class notes were in Farsi; she communicated with her peers and professors in English. In 2004, she earned her PhD, and had fellowships at the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professorship at Princeton before finding her home at Stanford. It was there that she earned the singular honor of being both the first woman AND the first Iranian to win the prestigious Fields Medal mathematics prize (it’s like the Nobel prize, but only awarded every four years, and primarily to mathematicians under the age of 40).

Mirzakhani’s approach to math can be described as beautiful and (dare we say it?) crafty. When asked how she does her math thing, she referred to herself as a “slow” mathematician (others strongly begged to differ, changing the description “slow” to “deep”), and said that “you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.” Mirzakhani literally doodled her way through mathematical figuring, filling huge pieces of papers with squiggly doodles and jotting equations along the edges, something her daughter described as “painting.” Sounds pretty craft-adjacent, doesn’t it? She was known for her creative thinking and her ability to see the big picture, pairing seemingly disparate mathematical theories and approaches to solve long-standing mathematical problems.

The concepts behind what Mirzakhani studied make our brains literally hurt, but they also sound almost like magic. She studied the curves that sit on top of surfaces to understand the surfaces, things that are not bound by constraints of the REAL WORLD. What? In researching these theories and approaches, we were struck by the fact that the prevailing thoughts on mathematicians are that they are super boring and nerdy. In reality, after trying to get our heads around these concepts, it seems that they actually might be some of the most magical among us. It feels like it’s all a big leap of faith to even approach a mathematical problem like the ones Mirzakhani was able to solve.
Mirzakhani was known for her studies of moduli spaces (which is where we got the name for the colorway from). From what we can gather and understand (which is not a lot!), a moduli space is a theoretical space consisting of solutions for geometric classification problems. The goal is to have a fine moduli space, where there is a unifying factor among the problems. And… that’s about as far as we can go on that, because it’s all pretty high-level mathematic theorizing, and, as we’ve said before, “Dammit, Jim! We’re dyers and knitters, not mathematicians!” However, in the most basic understanding of moduli spaces, having a place where problems can more easily be solved by having at least one parameter in common sounds kind of dreamy, doesn’t it? Finding common ground and all that jazz. Even if we are off the mark on our understanding of these concepts, we’re feeling pretty good about it.

The colorway itself was inspired by the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, otherwise known as the Pink Mosque in Iran. Seriously, check out this photo (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mayhlen/8094768919/), and try not to be immensely inspired by the overwhelming beauty of this space. We are tickled pink, blue, and yellow that our yarn came out to so perfectly match this amazing place. The mosque was built in the late 1800s, and features stained-glass windows that let in beautifully-colored light that in turn plays with the brightly-colored glass tiles that adorn the walls and ceiling. It is one of the most stunning buildings we have ever seen, and made the absolute perfect colorway to honor the trailblazing, amazing, and mind-bendingly brilliant Maryam Mirzakhani. We hope you are as inspired and touched by this HerStory as we were.

Remember to share your HerStory projects with us. Tag me @knittedwit, and use hashtags #knittedwit and #herstory2018kal. On Facebook, make sure to join our new Knitted Wit Knitalongs Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/572482266432576), where folks have been sharing their HerStory projects so far. We have so many fabulous women to talk about with you, and hope you’ve loved the lessons so far!

HerStory March: Tu Youyou

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

This month, our colorway is a delightfully springy homage to the sweet wormwood plant, and our honoree is a real trailblazer who never forgot the importance of looking back while working for the future. 

Tu Youyou’s path to her place in HerStory almost reads like a novel of intrigue. A young medical researcher gets recruited into a secret cabal of scientists hell-bent on discovering a cure for malaria, to give the communist North Vietnamese army a better chance at winning the war they are embroiled in. Relying on traditional Chinese medicine and texts from hundreds of years ago, Tu and her team, known only as Mission 523, discover mentions of “sweet wormword,”or qinghao, which, once tested, proved to be an effective treatment of the disease that was wreaking havoc both on rainforest populations and on the NVA army. Decades pass, many lives are saved, the researcher lives in quiet obscurity, until, in the 2000s, the scientific community “rediscovers” her, and begins to recognize her remarkable achievement and contribution to medicine.

Tu Youyou was born, raised, worked, and did all of her research in China. Most of her work was done during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1960s and 1970s), a time when science was not held in high regard. In fact, scientists (and all intellectuals) were considered to be of a societal caste only one step above beggars, which were abhorred. They were known as the Stinking old Ninth, as in the ninth caste. But the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, understood the significance and importance of science, and when asked by the North Vietnamese government to help figure out a way to treat the malaria that was decimating their soldiers, he put together a secret task force, known as Mission 523 (it was formed on May 23rd, 1967, hence the name 523). 

Tu was quickly recruited. She was a research scientist, a pharmaceutical chemist who focused on traditional and herbal medicines. She spearheaded the effort to comb through the texts and visit herbalists all over China, testing herbs that ancient herbalists used to combat traditional symptoms of malaria. Hundreds of potential malarial treatments later, the benefits of qinghao were discovered. Through lots of trial and error (a deeper read of the ancient texts revealed that the herb needed to be steeped in cool, not boiling water, for instance), Artemisia annua was shown to be completely effective in animal studies. Once those primary trials were underway, she volunteered to test the compound on herself before moving on to human trials. The discovery of artemisinin has been instrumental in saving many lives that would once have been lost to malaria. 

In 2011, Tu was awarded the prestigious Lasker DeBakey clinical medical research award, and in 2015, she won the Nobel Prize in Medicine with two other researchers. As an interesting aside, in China, Tu is known as the “three noes” Nobel winner: no medical degree, no doctorate, and she’s never worked overseas.

A serious and modest woman (when she won the Lasker award, her response was “I am too old to bear this”), her work was initially published anonymously. It finally reached international audiences in the early 1980s, and in the early 2000s, the World Health Organization recommended the use of artemisinin-based combination drug therapies as first-line treatment for malaria. 

Her personal life took a backseat to her professional one. Her husband was “sent to the countryside” (read: to a labor camp) to work during the Cultural Revolution, and she had to leave her 4-year-old daughter at a local nursery for 6 months while she immersed herself in research. When she and her daughter were finally reunited, the little girl didn’t recognize her mother. “The work was the top priority, so I was certainly willing to sacrifice my personal life,” she said later. A woman of few words, she’s known for her passion for work and her drive, and there are millions of people alive today who wholeheartedly appreciate her sacrifice. Thanks, Tu Youyou, for being you.

Remember to share your HerStory projects with us. Tag me @knittedwit, and use hashtags #knittedwit and #herstory2018kal. On Facebook, make sure to join our new Knitted Wit Knitalongs Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/572482266432576), where folks have been sharing their HerStory projects so far. Thanks so much for taking this STEM-y journey with us – we have been thoroughly enjoying learning so much about these amazing and unsung women, and are just as excited about what’s coming up for the rest of the year! 

HerStory February: Sau Lan Wu

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

For February’s HerStory lesson, we are shrinking ourselves down to explore the things that make up protons and neutrons. (Honey! I shrunk the sock club!)

Meet Sau Lan Wu, a scientist who’s been making a mark in her field since her graduate student days. The discoveries in particle physics that she has made make our knitterly brains feel a bit…scrambled. They all have the sweetest names (Charm Quark, Gluon, Higgs Boson) with super important, understanding-the-world-we-live-in significance. We’re making our best effort to distill the information we’ve been researching into a snappy little letter, but a big grain of salt to all of you actual scientists out there: PLEASE forgive us our lack of actual scientific knowledge surrounding this stuff. To misquote Dr. McCoy from Star Trek: “Dammit, people! We’re fiber artists, not scientists!”

Sau Lan Wu was born in Hong Kong, the daughter of a businessman who she rarely saw and his sixth concubine (what?!?!). Her youth was informed by her absentee father, her mother’s poverty, and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong… She recalls her mother shielding her and her brother from the bombing raids and living in a corridor of a rice shop in a Hong Kong slum. Her greatest dream was of being financially independent of men, and fortunately she had a mother that believed in the importance of education for her daughter. This was the 1940s and 50s, when, for the most part, the education of women was neither considered necessary nor important. Wu once dreamed of becoming a painter, but after reading a biography of our January HerStory subject, Marie Curie, she decided to devote herself to the study of physics. After high school, she received a full scholarship to Vassar College, and traveled alone (by boat!) from Hong Kong to get to New York. While there, along with the shock of living on a prestigious college campus in America (she likened it to feeling like a princess), she also experienced both the best (a visit to the White House and an audience with Jackie Kennedy!!) and the worst (a visit to the Supreme Court where she was faced with the choice of entering a “whites” or a “colored” restroom) of America. In 1963, she went on to study for both an MA and a PhD at Harvard, where she faced some hardcore sexism (including getting kicked out of a congratulatory luncheon for graduates at Harvard Yard, among many other overt and covert instances of harassment), and is currently an Enrico Fermi Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin. Her decision not to have children was a direct result of the sexism inherent in that time. She and her husband had long talks about starting a family, and ultimately realized that her career would be over the moment she announced a pregnancy. Sad but true.

There are seventeen elementary, building-block-y particles predicted by the Standard Model, which is the ruling theory of physics. Wu was instrumental in discovering three of them, including the Higgs Boson in 2012, commonly known as the “God particle.” Physicists believe that the Higgs is the particle that gives mass to matter. Without it, nothing that we know would exist, including ourselves. Mind-bending, isn’t it? 

In 1974, she was on the Nobel-prize-winning team that led to the discovery of the Charm Quark. We googled “charm quarks for dummies” and got a kid’s science website that proved to be super helpful in our understanding of these elementary particles. Quarks are the basic building blocks for protons and neutrons. They are teensy things, and the six types (up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom) are called “flavors.” Yum.

In 1979, Wu was the leading figure in the discovery of the Gluon. Gluons are a type of Boson, and are known as the force-carrier between Quarks. One of the best things we read in our research is that a bunch of gluons bound together is called a glueball.

After all of this research into Sau Lan Wu and particle physics, we were extra-inspired to create a colorway that reflected our favorite of her discoveries: the Charm Quark. Like the three primary colors of light, Quarks can be red, green, and blue, and when mixed, they create white light. All of this, plus a bunch of other micro-microscopic movement and quarkiness (get it? quirkiness???) is happening inside every proton and neutron out there. Which is what we think we achieved on this skein. We do want to remind everyone that true red is a son-of-a-gun, dye-wise, and sometimes, even with the extra rinsing we perform on a colorway like Charm Quark, some skeins may have a bit of extra red. If your red does spread a bit, let’s get physics-cal with it and think about those quark pairs and how sometimes, they stretch themselves to the very limits, without breaking. But sometimes, they break. If yours break a bit, it’s just physics, baby.

If you’d like to take more of a fun foray into particle physics, we totally recommend spending a bit of time with Physics Girl (http://physicsgirl.org/). She has loads of videos and blog posts, explaining concepts that will blow your minds in a fun and easy-to-digest way. Along with a few geared-toward-children science websites, Dianna Cowern’s fun videos helped us to sort-of-kind-of understand what we’re talking about here. 

HerStory January: Marie Curie

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

We are feeling downright electrified by our 2018 HerStory line-up. We’ve been scouring the web and our feminist books for the best and the brightest international women of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and we’re starting out with one of the true greats, Marie Curie. We do want to share that, although we have great respect for the women of STEM, we are not necessarily STEM folk ourselves, so we’ll be discussing things we only nebulously understand in these monthly love letters. Do bear with us if we get some of the facts confused…

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867 to a family with a strong belief in the importance and power of education and a defiantly pro-Polish-independence-from-Russia-bent, Marie Curie moved to Paris as a young woman to further her educational career. Her pre-Paris life involved family, schooling, and a bit of resistance; at that time, Poland was a country divided. Her native Warsaw was under control of the Russians, and after making some noise there, she felt the need to leave Warsaw for Austrian-controlled (and friendlier-to-the-Polish-independence-cause) Cracow.

After moving to Paris, where she ended up spending much of the rest of her adult life, she enrolled in the University of Paris and met Pierre Curie (her future husband and co-conspirator in all things radioactivity). This is where the power couple began the research that led to the winning of her first Nobel Peace Prize, in Physics, which she shared with her husband and Henri Becquerel, who discovered radiation. In the work that led to the couple’s joint 1903 Nobel prize, Marie and Pierre isolated polonium (named after Marie’s beloved Poland) and radium, furthering the scientific community’s understanding of radiation. Her second Nobel Prize was bestowed for Chemistry in 1911, for more work in radioactivity. Marie was one smart and driven cookie.

A scientific pioneer for her entire adult life and career, Marie Curie was the first woman to ever win a Nobel prize, and the first person of any gender to win two. She was also the first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first woman to be entombed at the Pantheon on her own merits. And this was all during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when women all over the world were fighting for the rights to make their marks (not that that’s much different than what’s happening now, but this was the time of the worldwide Women’s Suffrage Movement, so it’s not like Marie entered these situations on equal footing with her male colleagues).

During WW2, Marie focused her energies on ensuring that battlefield doctors had access to safe places to operate on injured soldiers as quickly as possible. She researched the intersection between radiology, anatomy, and auto mechanics (of all things!) to develop mobile radiology units that could easily be deployed to the front lines. These were quickly known as Petites Curies, after her. The saving of the lives of countless French soldiers can be traced back to Marie’s tireless work on this front.

Although the study and practical applications of radiation were the driving force in her life, unfortunately the dangers were neither understood nor really known. She died at the age of 66 from a blood disorder that was later believed to be a direct result of her long-term exposure to radioactive elements.

We chose the most radioactive colors we could think of for our Radioactive Rainbow colorway. It’s eye-searingly bright, in the most delightful way, and if you look closely, you can see glimmers of polonium, and radium, and that spark of whatever it is that Marie had that made her push forward and keep working and strive for the best when the deck seemed to be stacked against her.