The Remarkable Career of Shirley Ann Jackson

MIT Technology Review, December 19

Jackson in red sui stands on balcony with trees in background

Courtesy of Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson worked to help bring about more diversity at MIT, where she was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate. She then applied her mix of vision and pragmatism in the lab, in Washington, and at the helm of a major research university.

Shirley Ann Jackson arrived at MIT in the fall of 1964 as one of just a handful of black students and the valedictorian of her public high school in Washington, D.C. In the midst of working on her first physics problem set, she emerged from her room and noticed all the other first-year women on her floor out in a common area, doing theirs together. “If you know anything about MIT, you know that working the problem sets is a big deal,” she says. “So I gathered up my paperwork and said, ‘May I join you?’

“One of them looked up and said, ‘Go away.’

“I said, ‘I’ve done half the problems already and I know how to do the other ones.’

“And another girl said, ‘Didn’t you hear her? She said
go away.’” Read more from Amanda Schaffer for MIT Technology Review.

African-American History Seen Through an African-American Lens

The New York Times, December 19

Rhea Combs is the curator of photography and film at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American history and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2016. She talked about the museum’s photography collection with James Estrin. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. Read the entire interview: African-American History Seen Through an African-American Lens – The New York Times – 12.19.17

No Kitten Around: Museum Exhibit Celebrates ‘Divine Felines’

NPR “Morning Edition,” December 20

Statue of cat with nursing kittens

Bronze sculpture of a mother cat with four nursing kittens, circa 664-30 B.C. or later.
Brooklyn Museum/Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund

Independent, graceful, agile, adorable when they’re small — if cats are where it’s at for you, the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Asian Art has you covered. Their new exhibition is called Divine Felines, and it features images of cats both big and small from the land that honored them as holy: Egypt.

Ever feel fearful? Or brave? Protective? Aggressive? They had a cat for that in ancient Egypt. Though, says curator Antonietta Catanzariti, they didn’t exactly worship cats. “What they did is to observe their behavior,” she says. They noticed that cats — especially big ones — were expert hunters, quick and precise. Also, they were nurturing. “They’re protective against their cubs for lions, or kittens for cats, as well as they are aggressive when it’s necessary, kill if necessary.” Read more and listen to Susan Stamberg’s story for NPR’s “Morning Edition.” 

Every designer should see the Smithsonian’s illuminating exhibit on accessibility

Quartzy, December 19

Mobility devices on display in Access + Ability exhibition

Chris J. Gauthier © Smithsonian Institution

It’s only a matter of time until all of us experience some form of physical disability. From needing corrective eye glasses to requiring a cane to move around, we all will rely on assistive technology as we age, if we don’t already.

But until recently, designers have primarily had the able-bodied user in mind when creating products. Most products for aging adults and people with disabilities have been clunky, depressingly clinical, and cobbled together with a “good enough is good enough” design standard. Read more from Anne Quito for Quartzy.

NASA Plans Search for Alien Life on Ceres, the Mysterious Dwarf Planet

Newsweek, December 19

Image of Ceres showing bright spots

The Dawn spacecraft has spotted bright spots on Ceres’s surface it wants to investigate more closely. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Ceres is a strange place and NASA has learned through its Dawn mission that the dwarf planet could be much more habitable than scientists had ever guessed. Now the space agency plans to probe Ceres even further by sending the Dawn spacecraft closer than ever to its mysterious surface.

The Dawn mission launched a decade ago and was meant to wrap up its work two and a half years ago. But the spacecraft is still working and still has fuel, and scientists are determined to get all the information they can from it, especially now that we know so much more about its target than we did at launch. Read more from Meghan Bartels for Newsweek.

Smithsonian military history curator shows holiday cheer through the eras

Federal News Radio, December 20

Curator wearing gloves displays holiday card

A postcard given to World War I troops in a good cheer bag for the holiday, now stored at the National Museum of American History.

In a drab, fluorescent lit, staff-only room of the National Museum of American History there is a little bit of holiday cheer where you’d least expect it.

A good cheer package from World War I, a beautifully decorated card sent from a World War II service member to a Japanese internment camp and a menu from a Korea War Christmas dinner sit in a room surrounded by military history artifacts.

Miranda Summers-Lowe, the newest modern military curator for armed forces history at the Smithsonian Institution, pulled out some of the things from the Smithsonian’s shelves that kept troops going during the holidays. Read more from Scott Maucione for Federal News Radio.

The 50 Best Podcasts of 2017

The shows that kept listeners refreshing their apps this year

The Atlantic, December 21

Stylized cell phone with earphone

Katie Martin/Emily Jan/The Atlantic

This year, podcasts got funnier, sharper, and even more niche. Our recommendations here pass a vigorous audio smell test. First, the arrival of a new podcast episode must send you into an ethical quandary: How do I get out of at least some of my obligations today to listen to this? Second, you must be able to recommend this to a colleague with the knowledge that your reputation is at stake. A podcast that teaches you how to prepare your taxes by hand might blow your hair back, but it’s doubtful you’ll recommend it to anyone aside from your accountant. Third, we recused ourselves from ranking any podcasts produced by The Atlantic, including Radio Atlantic and The Atlantic Interview. Finally, the podcast world, like any other sphere, is about what have you done for me lately. The best shows don’t paint themselves into a corner. They evolve and progress or risk their listeners hitting “unsubscribe.” Podcasts, like cowboys, shouldn’t get fenced in. These shows generated maximum buzz, kept us refreshing our apps, broke boundaries, and made our future selves romanticize the golden years of podcasting. Read more from Laura Jane Standley and Eric McQuade for The Atlantic.