Archive for December, 2021

Monday Morning Math: Mary Jackson

December 13, 2021

Before we begin, the fall semester is coming to a close here at Naz (we’re right in the middle of finals) so this will be the last Monday Morning Math for…about a month.  We’ll resume on January 17, when the spring semester begins. 

Mary Winston-Jackson was born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia. She loved science and shared her love with the Science Club at the Hampton’s King Street Community Center by assisting in the building of and experiments with a wind tunnel. She spent many years as a Girl Scout Leader and tutor for high school and college students.  After graduating from the Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, she worked in several different careers before taking a job at NASA as part of the West Area Computing unit under the supervision of Dorothy Vaughn in 1951. 

After two years as a computer, Mary Jackson was offered a position in 1953 working for NASA engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki. After seeing her potential, Czarnecki suggested that Mary become an engineer and as such Mary had to seek special permission to enter the night program at a segregated school to attend graduate level classes. She completed the courses and she was promoted to become NASA’s first female engineer in 1958.

She retired from NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1985 and died on February 11, 2005. While at NASA, Mary Jackson earned the most senior title in the engineering department. In 1979, she opted to take a demotion so she could work as an administrator of NASA’s Equal Opportunity Specialist field. As such, Mary Jackson worked to make changes and highlight women and minorities in the engineering field at NASA, for which she was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2019. NASA renamed their headquarters in Washington, D.C. the “Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters” in February 2021.  Mary Jackson was featured in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and portrayed in the film based on the book by Janelle Monáe.


Written by Tracy Lyn Lause

Monday Morning Math: Isaac Newton

December 6, 2021
Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, 1689.jpg
Portrait of Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller 

Isaac Newton was born in England on December 25, 1642 (under the Julian calendar:  this corresponds to January 4, 1643 under the Gregorian calendar).  His father had died shortly before he was born, and he was raised by his grandmother after his mother remarried.  When he was 12 he returned to live with his mother, but was forced to leave school and become a farmer.

He did not like being a farmer.

Instead, he returned to school and eventually went to the university at Cambridge, returning home for a length of time only when the Plague forced the school to close.  While he was at home he developed, among other things, the theory of Calculus, although it was over 20 years (long after he returned to Cambridge) before he published this in his book Principia.

His discovery of Calculus led to some controversy:  a contemporary, Gottfried Leibniz, had published the main ideas in Calculus first, but Leibniz was accused of having gotten the inspiration from unpublished works of Newton.  This was brought to the Royal Society, who concluded that Newton was first, although the fact that Newton was president of the society does call their conclusion somewhat into question.   Even today, although there is agreement both that Newton was first and that Leibniz’s notation was more useful (and still in use today!), it is unclear if the two men developed the same ideas independently or if Leibniz got key information from Newton.

Newton went on to develop many many theories of mathematics and physics (including gravity), and although some of them were alter proven wrong, his work was overall groundbreaking.  In one of his more famous quotes, he stated:

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.