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Black Holes, Hollywood, and Astrophysics: May the Fourth Be With You

Just recently, we were able to see, for the first time ever, a black hole. The image itself defied odds, borders, and surpassed expectations. Oh, and did I mention that the algorithm that made this all possible was written by a woman? 29-year old Katie Bouman, a computer scientist, led the development of a computer program that made possible the magnificent image that showed a halo of dust and gas existing five hundred million trillion kilometers from Earth.

The conversations we have opened up, about the future being female, are beginning to bear fruit, and this extraordinary example shows us that the more we make space, the more women will step into those spaces. And when they do- we should expect magic.

Meet the Rockstar Astrophysicist

Dr. Erin MacDonald is forging a new path in her chosen field, and making enough noise for others to follow her. She’s astrophysicist, science fiction consultant, aerospace engineer, and host of the online series “Dr Erin Explains the Universe“. Her specialty is in general relativity, having previously worked in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration searching for gravitational waves. She has since found her home in science fiction, consulting with writers, teaching STEM through popular culture, and fulfilling her life goal of becoming a warp drive expert.

Breaking Barriers

Faster than the speed of sound (roughly three hundred forty three meters per second), Dr. MacDonald is breaking down what people imagine when they think of a female astrophysicists… if they imagine anything at all. With red hair, tattoos, and an Xbox that regularly travels with her, Dr. MacDonald says she loves breaking down the walls in people’s minds on what things can and should be, because this is where progress happens. When the  imagination is free to take over, disruptive innovation is always just right around the corner.

Why It Matters

Dr. MacDonald was the first ever female researcher in her department, while working on her post-doctoral research at Cardiff University. As a female in a male-dominated industry, I understand the level of loneliness, frustration, and misplacement that are the result of not having mentors or peers you can fully relate to. The upside to being the only female is the opportunity to empower those who will follow. And Dr. MacDonald makes science seem so cool, there will be plenty to follow her.

Let’s Thank Hollywood

Thanks to the movie industry, my daughters have these strong female fiction role models to look up to, something Dr. MacDonald also resonated deeply with. Agent Scully will go down in history as being a fictional female with a very nonfiction impact. “The Scully Effect” was a coin termed in honor of the medical doctor and FBI Special Agent, because she is believed to have inspired many young women to pursue careers in science, medicine, and law enforcement. I believe we are at a progress point now, where if women in male-dominated fields continue building these bridges, our children will never see the gender gap. Instead, they will see limitless opportunity.

CEO’s + Business Owners Have Work To Do

The thing is this- it isn’t only on women to continue to build these bridges. This has to be a global collaborative effort, much like it was to capture that black hole photo. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that:

  • We have to stop putting labels to how things should look, or boxes around our communication.

  • These younger generations entering the workforce are very communicative, and we must meet them where they are.

  • CEO’s and business owners can step into this work by letting their guard down, facilitating open communication in a professional manner, and creating a culture and an environment where authenticity flourishes.

If we wish to encourage women in STEM, we have to also see the importance of role models, communication skills, and passion- and act accordingly. Dr. MacDonald ended up on an atypical path for her career field, a path she forged, because she had the confidence to do so and the enthusiasm to go out and talk about it.

Dr. MacDonald told me she believes confidence and enthusiasm are infectious, and I believe, not only is she right, but that this is the formula for empowerment for any generation or gender.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

This article is from Inc.com

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