Leila Hadley Luce & Milbry Polk Create
“Wings” To Celebrate Outstanding Women
Dr. Edie Widder
Combining the announcement of its 2007 Women of Discovery Awards with updates by previous awardees, WINGS WorldQuest last month showed once again why, since its formation 13 years ago, it has become the “leading resource and advocate for women explorers world wide” and for science research and education. The celebratory event, which was held at The Explorers Club, featured presentations by four remarkable women who continue to make their mark, going where few have gone, pioneering new technology and addressing ecological issues with professional expertise and artistic excellence. WINGS WorldQuest, whose mission is “to inspire women to explore their universe” by seeking “to identify, to research, to promote, and to celebrate the contributions of extraordinary women explorers, in all areas / fields of study, around the world, from all periods of history,” could not have asked for more articulate exemplars.
The 2007 WINGS Women of Discovery winners are: Constanza Ceruti, an intrepid Andean high-altitude archaeologist, who won the Leila Hadley Luce Award for Courage, scaling volcanic summits and discovering preserved mummies; Grace J. Gobbo, an ethnobiologist, who was honored for Field Research into medicine practices in Tanzania; Erin Pettit, whose wilderness program for high school students, “Girls on Ice,” gained her the Earth Award; Terrie Williams, a marine biologist, working on Antarctica’s Weddell seals and the adverse effects of global warming; and Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees who now adds a WINGS’ Lifetime Achievement Award to her numerous honors. All five will all be acknowledged at the 5th Annual WINGS Women of Discovery Awards presentation in March, to be hosted by actress Uma Thurman (“The Producers,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” ). It was, however, the slide-show presentations by past winners that was at the center of the Explorers Club evening—impressive testimony to women who undertake challenging scientific research and commit themselves to advancing science education.
Introduced by Milbry Polk, Director of WINGS WorldQuest, the speakers, showing photos of their astonishing work, managed to convey with efficiency and passion what might be called the ecological imperative—convincing the public and powers that be of the immediate need to strengthen efforts at preservation and conservation around the globe. Carol Amore, who won the 2003 Film and Exploration prize for her National Geographic film “The Ultimate Cat” and who was sporting an attractive tiger cap, led off with talk about her latest film, “Tigers: Tracking a Legend.” Explaining that she is taking her exploration into a big-time exhibition phase because she wants to connect with science centers around the world and reach school children, she dazzled viewers with photos of imaginative, interactive educational activities. Though she traces her conversion to film to her first camera, which she got at 16, she told Education Update that she went on to study clinical psychology, happily affirming her belief that women in science should be involved in “everything.”
Just back from Beijing, Elizabeth Bennett, last year’s Courage Award winner for her conservation work in Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state, elicited gasps from the audience with photos of how Chinese (as well as U.S.) legal and illegal trade is depleting wild life, emptying forests of animals large and small, and how collecting confirming data in cities and working on the problem worldwide, through education and enforcement programs, is proving to be as risky as working in the wild, maybe riskier.
Marilyn Bridges, whose unusual black and white aerial photos of ancient sites in Greece and Turkey, many of which can be seen in her new book Flights Through Time and in major collections, and who won the 2003 Courage Award, certainly convinced the audience not only of her artistic and technical expertise but of her enterprising valor when she noted that she became a pilot (single-engine Cessna) in order to photograph antiquities not generally seen and to reinforce her own safety.
Finally, Dr. Edie Widder, a Ph.D. is in neurobiology and a newly minted MacArthur Fellow, who won the 2006 Sea Award for work with ORCA (Ocean Research & Conservation Association), delivered a stunning slide show of her ground-breaking work as an ocean explorer and conservationist, not to mention inventor, with her “eye-in-the-sea” underwater camera system. With joyous enthusiasm, she spoke of her love of bioluminescence (true of over 80 percent of sea creatures), of her determination to act on commission reports about dangers to the ocean (“we have such a short window left to do something”) and of her determination to bring a sense of the wonders of the ocean to schoolchildren and get them to participate in scientific study, not just read about it. Readers would be well advised to look up each awardee’s website and to seek out info about WINGS at www.wingsworldquest.org.#