Silver Chips Online

Blair grads focus of Washington Post Magazine cover story

Girls have "Aptitude Aplenty"

By Alex Hyder, Online Op-Ed Editor
July 31, 2005
The Washington Post Magazine featured Abby Fraeman and Sherri Geng, both 2005 Blair graduates, in its cover story, "Aptitude Aplenty," by Kathy Lally, on July 31, 2005.
The article pointed out a disparity between women and men in scientific careers. It used Fraeman and Geng, both finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, as examples of young women with extraordinary skill in the sciences.

"Aptitude Aplenty" described both their and their mentors' experiences as females in the predominantly male scientific world and the difficulties women often face in pursuing a scientific career.

Fraeman and Geng were both in Blair's Mathematics, Science, and Computer Science Magnet, which produced more finalists in the 2005 Talent Search than any other school in the country. Although neither Fraeman nor Geng was among the contest's ten winners —like their friend and classmate, Justin Kovac — the prestige that comes with placing as one of the 40 finalists is still monumental — the finalists were culled from among 1,600 competitors selected from schools and science fairs around the country, according to The Washington Post.

For her project, Geng developed a computer algorithm to analyze electroencephalograph data from mice and rats in order to detect evidence of a seizure. An EEG measures the brain's electrical activity. Her project was titled "Automated Seizure Detection Using Statistical Analysis of EEG Time-Domain Signals." Geng also served as an editor-in-chief of Silver Chips print.

Fraeman, whose photograph appeared on the cover of the magazine, was interested in astronomy from a very early age. No wonder, then, that her Intel project should involve astronomy. Although she described her project as being based on just three squiggly lines, the significance of these lines was astronomical — literally. The lines indicated an uneven distribution of water vapor around a star known as IRC+10216, and Fraeman's research concluded this was the effect of a large planet.

The article explained that Geng and Fraeman have spent their lives around women who excel in the sciences. Geng's mother holds a PhD in engineering, and Fraeman's holds a degree from MIT. Half the teachers in Blair's magnet program are women, and both Fraeman and Geng did their research under female mentors. However, the article notes that their experience is far from typical. In fact, the National Science Foundation reported that in 2001, 9,490 women held full professorships in science and engineering — a scant fraction of the 60,470 men with such positions. According to Vera Rubin, a world-renowned astronomer, "It's still possible to get a PhD never having studied under a woman."

Ironically, the announcement that the two had made the finals came "less than two weeks after Harvard President Lawrence Summers questioned the 'intrinsic aptitude' of women in science." Despite the ongoing paucity of women in the sciences, both Fraeman and Geng look forward to a rewarding career, preceded by a thorough education. Fraeman will attend Yale. Geng will start at Harvard this fall, where Summers will have every reason to eat his words.

"Aptitude Aplenty" can be read here.