Inge Lehmann, the female Danish seismologist, who discovered the earth’s molten core, is a person whose memory was recently celebrated via a Google doodle.
The second earthquake to hit the epicenter of Nepal is a grim reminder that seismology needs to progress in order to protect vital human lives from the damage inflicted by natural forces. And it also happens to be the bold and brave female seismologist, Inge Lehmann’s 127th birthday. She was a pioneer in her field and the first woman in a man’s world to make a major scientific discovery.
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Born in the 1880s, Lehmann got to study at a co-ed educational institution where she felt right at home. Later on when she noticed that women were treated like second class citizens in society, she found it difficult to adjust. But she never considered herself as inferior to her male counterparts. If they could make discoveries and inventions, she would engage in a sort of one-upmanship with them.
What Lehmann noticed about earthquakes was that they showed the earth to have an outer crust and an inner core. Her knowledge which she imparted to the scientific community remains the foundation of seismology even today. She used to have a large table on which she placed various cardboard oatmeal boxes and from this manual makeshift computer of sorts, she would calculate various formulas regarding earthquake activity and behavior.
The doodle that Google has on its search page in memory of her (she died in 1993 at the ripe old age of 105) shows the earth split into two hemispheres and its inner map is on display. The glowing molten core is conspicuous and looks like a star in its florescence. This woman was responsible for contributing her bucketful of knowledge to the tributary that was seismology in an age when women usually cooked food and did the dishes.
Enthusiastic and inquisitive minds like Lehmann’s, which are ever-ready to explore and search a subject till the limits of their curiosity, are rare indeed. She was given an award and is regarded as a pioneer and trailblazer in her field of endeavor. It is thanks to her efforts that humanity has progressed till the point where earthquakes can be partially predicted, gauged and mapped in time.
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This vital knowledge may be the crucial difference between lives lost and lives saved in a region where seismic activity is at a maximum. Towards the end of her life she was lauded for practicing what can only be called a “black art”. That phrase of course is meant as a compliment rather than in a denigrating way.