Festive science statue, polar bear survival and little-known research

Margherita Hack (pictured in 2012) is depicted in a statue unveiled on June 13 in Milan.Credit: Left, Nick Zonna/ipa-agency/Shutterstock; right, Massimo Sestini/Mondadori via Getty

The first public statue of a woman scientist in Italy pays tribute to an astronomer

Astronomer Margherita Hack has become the first female scientist to be honored with a public statue in Italy. Hack, born in 1922 and deceased in 2013, was a figurehead for decades. She was a distinguished science communicator and is credited with inspiring generations of young women to pursue careers in science. The bronze monument, by Italian artist Sissi, was unveiled on June 13 – a day after what would have been Hack’s 100th anniversary – next to the main campus of the University of Milan.

In 1964, Florence Hack became the first woman to head the Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, a position she held until her retirement in 1987. She was also the first Italian woman to become a full professor of astronomy. She specialized in spectroscopy and stellar evolution, and made frequent television appearances, communicating the science to the public. She was also politically active, campaigning for gay and abortion rights and against the influence of Vatican City on Italian public life.

The statue shows Hack emerging from a vortex, representing the spiral shape of a galaxy. She pretends to stand and look through a telescope, an inspiring pose she struck during a photoshoot. Sissi was one of eight women who submitted designs for the statue and was chosen as the winner by a jury. The piece was funded by the non-profit Deloitte Foundation; it joins less than 200 public statues of women in Italy.

To mark the astronomer’s 100th birthday, the Italian postal service released a stamp featuring her.

A young adult polar bear standing on its hind legs on the ice staring into the distance in East Greenland.

Polar bears typically use sea ice to hunt, but a newly identified group has found another strategy.Credit: Patricia Hamilton/Getty

A group of polar bears survive with little sea ice

An isolated population of polar bears has been discovered in southeast Greenland, which is free of sea ice for most of the year. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) generally require sea ice to survive, so the finding raises hope that some may survive ice loss caused by climate change.

The researchers identified the genetically distinct subpopulation living in the fjords of southeast Greenland, which is surrounded by mountains and an ice cap to the west, and ocean to the east (KL Laidre et al. Science 376, 1333–1338; 2022). Because this region is so far south, the sea ice cover only lasts about 100 days a year.

Polar bears need access to Arctic sea ice to hunt seals. Thus, with the decrease in sea ice in the region due to global warming, the animals are expected to approach extinction by the end of this century.

But the isolated subpopulation has found a way to hunt without sea ice. The group, numbering several hundred individuals, has adapted to hunting on ice that has calved from glaciers – called glacial mixing. The research team used genetic analysis to learn that this population had been isolated from other polar bear populations along the east coast of Greenland for at least 200 years.

Researchers in a laboratory working in personal protective equipment, with two researchers examining a test tube.

In teams of men and women, men are more likely to obtain authorship of research papers.Credit: Getty

Women’s contributions to research are not recognized

According to an analysis, women are less likely to be named authors of articles or inventors of patents than their male teammates, despite the same amount of work. That’s partly because women’s contributions to research are “often unrecognized, unappreciated, or ignored,” the authors say.

Matthew Ross, an economist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues used data from nearly 10,000 research teams to determine who received and who did not receive author credit for their work. To estimate the potential authorships that the women missed, the authors compared team members employed one year before an article’s publication date — the potential authors — with the actual authors listed on the manuscript. They found that across all job titles and fields, men were twice as likely as women to be named on any scientific paper. The results were published in Nature June 22 (MB Ross et al. Nature https://doi.org/h3bk; 2022).

The research is “innovative and important” because it partly explains why women post less than men, says Virginia Valian, a psychologist at Hunter College in New York. “This is a major wake-up call for scientists,” she adds.

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