Today, after more than four decades of geophysical research, my mother, Joan Feynman, is getting ready to retire as a senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is probably best known for developing a statistical model to calculate the number of high-energy particles likely to hit a spacecraft over its lifetime, and for her method of predicting sun spot cycles. Both are used by scientists worldwide. Beyond this, however, my mother's career illustrates the enormous change in how America regards what was, only a few decades ago, extremely rare: a scientist who's a woman and also a mother.
To become a scientist is hard enough. But to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and disapproval-this was what my mother had to do. If such treatment is unthinkable (or, at least, unusual) today, it is largely because my mother and other female scientists of her generation proved equal to every obstacle thrown in their way.
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