A young physicist is re-writing history

When Jess Wade isn’t “investigating spin selective charge transport through chiral systems,” as her faculty page at world top 10 university Imperial College London says, you’ll often find her changing the face of scientific research.

Or, really, faces.

Wade, age 35, has a passion for diversifying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professions to include more women and women of color, and she goes far beyond advocacy. For years she has added the story and accomplishments of one overlooked woman in a STEM field to Wikipedia every night for a current total of over 2,000 contributions. Little by little, her work is changing the fact that around 80% of biographies on Wikipedia are about men.

Additionally, she’s nominated the work of many women for big awards that often see few – if any – non-male entries.

Learn more about Wade’s crusade in this month’s Learning Nugget.

Why do Wikipedia bios matter?

With around 10 billion page views per month on millions of entries just on its English-language pages, Wikipedia is the most widely-used information resource in human history. Its pages are some of the first results on search engines for a huge number of topics and notable people.

Wikipedia can seem like it covers all topics worth knowing about. So if someone has a Wikipedia page, it seems like they are worth knowing about. But since around 90% of Wiki editors are male, the majority of biographies on Wikipedia are about males.

By adding the stories and work of thousands of women to Wikipedia, Wade is doing more than her part to balance those scales. She’s also assuring that women’s significant contributions in STEM fields are recognized in the most-accessed public record in existence and available to show young women what they’re capable of.

In a widely re-published article originally produced by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Wade told a story about the impact her entries can have. The story is about Gladys West, a Black woman who worked on U.S. Navy navigation systems starting in the 1950s and whose work helped create GPS.

“I researched Gladys to write her page and there was so little about her online, she was  almost 90 and no one had celebrated her,” [Wade] said.

“I put her Wikipedia page online in February 2018 and in May 2018 she was in the BBC top 100 women in the world.

“And then she was inducted to the US Air Force Hall of Fame, and she won the Royal Academy of Engineering Prince Philip medal, which had never before gone to a woman.”                                                                                                                    

The rewards of awards

Another way Wade promotes women’s STEM accomplishments is nominating their work for significant awards. She told a reporter from The Guardian in 2023 that 10 of her many nominations have won major awards so far.

Wade has said that her Wikipedia work has aided her nomination efforts in two ways. One is that when judges on award panels google candidates to learn more about them, they find excellent summaries of nominees’ work and accomplishments on Wikipedia. A second is that she believes composing so many Wikipedia entries has improved her skill at writing nominations.

 

A battle she learned to fight

In the Guardian article mentioned earlier, Wade said she hadn’t been fully aware of how little representation and recognition women had within STEM fields until she started studying at upper levels at university. She grew up in an affluent family and attended a girls’ school known for selectivity, which minimized the number of barriers she faced down her chosen life path.

But once Wade saw the demographics of her class, at conferences, and among faculty, the disparity became clear. And while many of us can recognize a problem, what makes Wade remarkable is the huge amount of action she’s taken to solve one.

 

Vocabulary

investigating – erforschen, überprüfen

spin selective charge transport – spinselektive Ladungstransporte

chiral systems – chirale Systeme (Moleküle/Objekte, die nicht mit ihrem Spiegelbild zur Deckung gebracht werden)

faculty – Fakultät

passion for – Leidenschaft für etwas haben

diversify – diversifizieren

go far beyond – weit über etwas hinausgehen

advocacy – Eintreten, Fürsprache

overlook – übersehen

investigating – erforschen, überprüfen

contribution – Beitrag

crusade – Misserfolg

bios – Biografien

billion – Milliarde

information resource – Informationsquelle

crusade – Feldzug

search engine – Suchmaschine

notable – erwähnenswert

be worth knowing about – Wert sein sie zu kennen

editors are male – männliche Herausgeber

balance the scale – Waage ins Gleichgewicht bringen

assure sth. – sicherstellen, gewährleisten

be recognized – anerkannt werden

most-accessed record – meist zugegriffenen Aufzeichnungen/Einträgen

be capable of sth. – etwas können/fertig bringen

impact – Einfluss

navigation system – GPS

induct – einführen

air force – Luftwaffe

Hall of Fame – Ruhmeshalle

rewards of awards – Belohnung/Lohn der Auszeichnung

accomplishment – Leistung

has aided – gefördert, unterstützt

award panel – Auszeichnungsgremium

representation – Vertretung, Darstellung

recognition – Anerkennung

affluent – wohlhabend, reich

selectivity – Selektivität

what makes s.b. remarkable – was jemanden auszeichnet

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