A gender gap in physics classrooms

Jill Barshay May 4, 2007

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The United States has the best physics programs in the world — MIT, Stanford — but fewer than 8 percent of faculty members are female. One woman plans to change that equation this weekend. Jill Barshay has the story.

JILL BARSHAY: Nora Berrah is a physicist at Western Michigan University. She’s about to begin the boldest experiment of her career. Not on fast-moving light, her specialty, but on her entire profession.

She aims to double the number of women physicists in the United States in 15 years. Since Marie Curie — back in the 19th century — there haven’t been many women in the field.

NORA BERRAH: It’s really the worst. We are half the percentage for chemistry or even astronomy.

Berrah is bringing in social scientists to work with the chairs of top physics departments and laboratories to find out why physics is particularly unfriendly to women. They’ll to draft recommendations to help make the field less isolating.

If Berrah succeeds, there will be more women scientists and less need to look overseas for talent.

In Los Angeles, I’m Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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