January 2020: Disability Awareness

Temple GrandinTemple Grandin

Important Scientific Contribution: Expert on animal behavior who designed humane livestock handling systems used by the meat industry.

As a scientist with autism, Temple Grandin’s hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli was critical in her recognition that visual distractions in livestock holding pens and slaughterhouses were increasing the stress on livestock in their living spaces, and during transport, and slaughter.

“I strongly recommend that students with autism get involved in special interest clubs in some of the areas they naturally excel at. Being with people who share your interests makes socializing easier.” – Temple Grandin


Richard MankinRichard Mankin

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed acoustic monitoring techniques to study insect behavior and detect insect infestations.

Richard Mankin was originally trained as a physicist, but he felt that his disability, a rare muscle disease that limits his mobility, limited his career opportunities. When he was hired by the USDA in an insect research lab, he utilized his physics knowledge to develop acoustic detection methods for use in entomology research. Despite his limited mobility, Mankin is actively involved in field-based research with a team of biologists. “I’m good on operating the equipment, but I’m not good at climbing trees,” he quips.

Photo Courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service


Wanda Diaz MercedWanda Diaz Merced

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed software to analyze astronomical data with sound.

Growing up in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, Wanda Merced was inundated by beauty. From brightly colored houses and tropical plants and birds, to spectacular views of the night sky, her world was awash with visual stimuli. She also used visual data from charts and graphs to study space phenomena as an astronomer. But in young adulthood, Merced lost her eyesight due to complications of diabetes. Rather than give up her career, she developed a new way to study astronomical phenomena by converting data into sound. “The only thing that matters is determination,” says Merced. “Please never give up on your dreams!”

Photo by William Leibman


Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452-May 2, 1519)

Important Scientific Contribution: Prolific inventor and scientist, completing seminal studies in the areas of physics, anatomy, botany, geology, cartography, astronomy, alchemy, hydrodynamics, engineering and mathematics.

Leonardo da Vinci is credited with bridging the gap between medieval methods of study and modern approaches to scientific study. Da Vinci combined his artistic skills with his scientific curiosity to observe and document natural phenomena in extraordinary detail. Despite his dyslexia, he maintained detailed journals of his studies and inventions and taught himself Latin. He is acknowledged as both an artistic and scientific genius.

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci from the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Farida BedweiFarida Bedwei

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed a cloud software platform used by 130 micro-finance companies nationwide; co-founder and chief technical officer of Logiciel.

Farida Bedwei is one of Africa’s brightest and most successful technological minds. As chief technical officer of Logiciel, she designs software that is easy for people with no banking training to use. Bedwei was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 10 years old. She created the world’s first superhero with a disability, Karmzah.

“Persons with disabilities are usually portrayed as feeble. We have weaknesses and strengths like everybody else and it’s about time the focus moved from what we can’t do to what we CAN do.” – Farida Bedwei

Photo Courtesy of TechHerNG


Geerat VermeijGeerat Vermeij

Important Scientific Contribution: Identified and articulated the role of predation in evolution of mollusks that led to the Escalation hypothesis of evolutionary change.

Geerat Vermeij calls himself a shell enthusiast, but fellow paleontologists and evolutionary biologists call him “a brilliant guy, an idea man, a synthesizer.” (David Jablonski) Born with glaucoma and completely blind by 3 years old, Vermeij studies modern and fossil shells tactilely, which allows him to notice different characteristics of the fossils. This unique talent led him to notice patterns between shell geometry and abundance, and to note that predators simultaneously diversified in terms of predation strategies.

Photo Courtesy of University of California at Davis


Cynthia Dusel-BaconCynthia Dusel-Bacon

Important Scientific Contribution: Her field work and geologic mapping contributed to a better understanding of the geologic and tectonic history and mineral prospects of east-central Alaska.

Dusel-Bacon is a classic field geologist, honored by Harvard University in its Adventurous Women series. Two years into her 39-year career as a US Geological Survey geologist, she surprised a napping black bear while she was mapping mineral resources in east-Central Alaska. The bear mauled her, causing her to lost both arms as a result of the injuries. She was awarded the Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee in 1981, and had a long and prolific research career with the USGS studying Alaska’s geologic history.

Photo Courtesy of US Geological Survey


Stephen HawkingStephen Hawking (January 8, 1942-March 14, 2018)

Important Scientific Contribution: Prolific researcher and author, he was the first to propose a theory unifying the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

Stephen Hawking’s revolutionary work in cosmology has changed the way that astronomers understand the universe. From singularities to black holes, he has discovered and articulated complex ideas about the universe, and through his books written for the general public, has made those ideas accessible to all of us. Although Hawking was given two years to live after his diagnosis of ALS in 1963, he had a long an productive career, although his plans for space travel did not reach fruition.

“Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.” – Stephen Hawking

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Hawking Foundation


John Forbes Nash, Jr.John Forbes Nash, Jr. (June 13, 1928-May 23, 2015)

Important Scientific Contribution: Fundamental contributions to game theory used in economics led to 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; research on partial differential equations led to 2015 Abel Prize.

John Nash developed the Nash equilibrium of game theory as a doctoral student, and also did ground-breaking work in algebraic geometry, partial differential equations, and cryptography. In 1959, he began to manifest symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia that impacted his academic duties. Once he learned to manage his condition, he enjoyed new success in his later career. He died in a car accident on the way home from receiving the Abel Prize.

“The only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart.” – John Nash

Photo Courtesy of Fordham University


Nicholas SaundersonNicholas Saunderson (January 20, 1682-April 19, 1739)

Important Scientific Contribution: The most probable discoverer of the Bayes’ theorem in statistics, and author of The Elements of Algebra.

Nicholas Saunderson was born blind before the invention of braille, and it is said that he taught himself to read by tracing engravings on gravestones. Born with a natural talent for mathematics, Saunderson developed a device to keep track of his calculations and to study geometric shapes. These devices may have been the inspiration for modern geoboards. Saunderson was known for making higher level mathematics accessible to undergraduate students. He claimed that his blindness was a benefit to learning mathematics, as it required him to develop extraordinary memory and spatial awareness.

Photo Courtesy of The Royal Society


Dorothy HodgkinDorothy Hodgkin (May 12, 1910-July 29, 1994)

Important Scientific Contribution: Awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry for identifying the atomic structure of important biochemical substances using x-ray crystallography.

Over the course of her career, Dorothy Hodgkin identified the atomic structure of many important biologically important substances using x-ray crystallography, including steroids and hormones, such as insulin. The wartime effort to refine the use of antibiotics led to her discovery of the atomic structure of penicillin. Born with a hand deformity, Hodgkin suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis that affected her ability to use the x-ray equipment necessary for her research. She modified her instrumentation to account for her mobility issues.

Photo Courtesy of The Royal Society


Edwin G. KrebsEdwin G Krebs (June 6, 1918-December 21, 2009

Important Scientific Contribution: Won Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for describing reversible phosphorylation mechanism in cells.

Edwin Krebs’ discoveries about cellular activity in the human body led to a greater understanding about hormones, cell life spans, and transplanted organ rejection. Often confused for “that other Krebs” who identified the citric acid cycle, Krebs remained humble about his accomplishments throughout his career. Krebs was one of the last people to learn of his Nobel prize because his hearing impairment did not allow him to hear the phone ring when the committee called.

“I would like to see a day when any kid would be able to go as far as his abilities could carry him.” – John Nash

Photo Courtesy of University of Washington