Foster innate curiosity of all children, urges Nergis Mavalvala
If we want more women in science, we need to nurture the innate curiosity that all children are born with, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Dean of Sciences Nergis Mavalvala said Friday.
She told this to Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy in the opening keynote of the Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest 2021 on Friday.
“The right question isn’t how do we get women interested, how do we maintain and nurture that interest,” she said. “For me, it was just literally being able to go to the lab after hours, you know a chemistry lab, and being able to turn on a Bunsen burner.
“There was an awry side to me and I experimented with hydrogen sulphide and I made stink bombs,” she said. “For a kid, this is so exciting to do something like that.”
The discussion opened with a slideshow based on the detection of gravitational waves that won the Nobel Prize in 2017. These waves present a new way of looking at the universe. Previously, scientists relied on light to discover the universe and knew that light objects — objects that emit or reflect light — account for an estimated 10% to 30% of the universe. The rest of matter in the universe is only known to exist by circumstantial evidence, and gravitational waves provide us a way to directly detect dark matter — matter that does not interact with light.
Mavalvala is a Pakistan-born professor of physics. She has worked on the detection of gravitational waves, cooling physical systems to very low temperatures and finding ways around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
To close the discussion, Hoodbhoy asked Mavalvala about her experience as the MIT’s Dean of Sciences.
“It’s a little intimidating because of the enormity of the task, but I take it in my stride, otherwise the enormity of the task would paralyze me,” Mavalvala replied.
“When I thought of stepping into the role, what motivated me was starting to think a little bit bigger than my own research and wanting to enable others to have the opportunity to make this kind of discovery.”