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She Blinded Me with Science: Exploratorium Awards Dinner

It was Ladies’ Night earlier this week at the Exploratorium where this beloved science museum celebrated its 32nd Annual Awards Dinner.

Always a heady event stacked with tip-top scientific minds from near and far, this year specifically lauded the ladies of science with the theme, Women in Science: Inspiring Women in the Field.

Among the honorees: Frances Allen (an IBM Fellow and computer science pioneer), Marissa Mayer (Google VP of Search Product and User Experience), Helen Quinn (a particle physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory), Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson (President of the Karolinska Institute of Sweden) and (though she was not able to attend) Red Burns (NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Professor and Chair of the Interactive Telecommunications Program).

Exploratorium Board Chairman George Cogan and honoree Helen Quinn

Frances Allen had no idea she'd end up at IBM and, eventually, become the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow -- the computing company’s highest technical honor. She originally began her career as a high school math teacher in upstate New York who, flat out, just loved geometry.

After pursuing her masters degree, she took a second job at IBM to pay down her student loans.

“I always intended to go back to teaching,” said Frances, laughing. “But all of the sudden it was 45 years later.”

Among the honorees, the theme of young girls and science education was a common thread.

“I was into everything as a child,” said Marissa Mayer, the first female engineer at Google. “But I became more focused on science fairs and projects when I discovered you could grow crystals with light!”

From that point forward, Mayer was always asking her parents for things such as chemistry sets and microscopes. But science doesn’t come naturally for all students, especially young girls.

“We are nowhere where we should be in terms educational parity for women entering the fields of science,” explained Mayer, who recently delivered the commencement address at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Honoree Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson agreed.

“I was lucky that I had an absolutely amazing teacher when I was an undergrad,” said Wallberg-Henriksson, who also serves on the Karolinksa Institute’s Physiology-Medicine Nobel Prize Assembly. “He made physiology so exciting I knew it was for me!”

But like America, it is also difficult in Sweden to fill scientific and math-related positions with qualified candidates.

“The teaching of science, at any level, is so important,” continued Wallberg-Henriksson. “Because that’s when you can engage students in the most exciting way.”

And while our educational system is strapped, strained and overwhelmed by bureaucracy, thankfully, the Exploratorium helps fills that gap.

Wandering throughout this cocktail party that included a delish Dan McCall Associates dinner, were orange-vested Exploratorium Explainers. These local students and teens assist in explaining the phenomena that occurred as gleeful guests playfully pulled on dials or looked through lenses of the Exploratorium’s hands-on exhibitions.

Demonstrating the steamy effects from some sort of atmospheric doo-dad (and no, we were not one of those students asking our parents for a science kit), was Uche Okochi.

A senior at Galileo High School (which in 1995 officially transformed itself into the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology), Okochi said when he began his Explainers elective at the Exploratorium, he really wasn’t that into science.

“But one day at the museum, we helped perform a cow eye demonstration to help explain pupil action,” said Okochi. “Right after that, we did one in physiology class. And the teacher asked me to assist.”

“Because I knew what I was doing, I sort of felt like I was the teacher,” said Okochi, a smile spreading across his face. “And that made me feel really good.”

Check out the photos below.

Zack Bogue, honoree Marissa Mayer and her parents Margaret and Michael Mayer

Honoree Frances Allen

Rishi Sunak, Susan Bartels, her husband Exploratorium Director Dennis Bartels and Board member Akshata Murty

Warren Hellman and his wife, Awards Dinner Honorary Chairwoman Chris Hellman

Honoree Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, Bernard Osher and Kristina Yu

Deborah Magid, Julie McHenry, Julie Wainwright, Ann Winblad and Dr. Melina Jampolis

Exploratorium Board member Marcia Smolens and former Exploratorium Director Goery Delacote

Andy Paul, Bill Booth, Lisa Paul and Exploratorium Board member Barbara Carbone

Joachim and Nancy Bechtle

Director Dennis Bartels, Mills College President Jan Holgrem and Contemporary Jewish Museum Board Chairwoman Cissie Swig

Exploratorium Student Explainers Antoine Simpen and Uche Okochi