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Monday, February 24, 2014

Texas Science

The University of Texas has kept track of me ever since I graduated, which usually means some kind of blurb from the alumni association once or twice a year. I always threw them in the trash because I suspected they were nothing more than a cover for money grubbing, and why would I ever give UT Austin any money? I mean they get more money from their oil holdings every minute than I will ever make during my entire lifetime. Don't mind me, I'm just bitter that I wasn't born with an oil well in my pocket.
     This time, however, they sent me a small format glossy magazine called The Texas Scientist. I open it and I am surprised to see that there are a bunch of stories about science, all kinds of science. They do mention the scientists, but, well, hard to do science without scientists. Machines are glorious but they aren't that smart, and they aren't at all inquisitive.
     I'm paging through this brochure and I come across You Are Your Microbiome by Joe Hanson. He's talking about how the cells that make up our bodies are vastly outnumbered by the bacteria and fungi we carry around with us. Our own cells must be many times larger that the average hanger-on, otherwise I would expect to see some really weird stuff. Syafolee has also written about this, and I put up a post on this topic once upon a time.
    Now I'm thinking about putting up a post about this, so I go looking for a picture (can't have a post without a picture), and I find this one on the College of Natural Sciences' Facebook page:

UT physics students circa 1900 wait for class to begin in a UT physics lecture hall in the old main building, where most labs and classrooms were located at the time. At the time there were only three physics faculty members.

Some may be surprised to see how many women were in the class, given the time period, but this was no accident. In an issue of The University Record from December 1898 there is a speech by then UT President Winston which lists “the education of women on equal terms with men…” as the first of four prominent ideas for founding UT Austin. The other three were “free tuition, adequate endowment, and freedom from sectarian control or religious tests.”

Photo is from the Prints and Photographs Collection, CN 10361, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
I was shocked. This is so contrary to the popular image of Texas as it is portrayed in the national media. I knew Austin was an oasis of civilization in a sea of rednecks when I was there, but it's been nigh on 30 years, and I had kind of forgotten that.

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