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Women widen their share of engineer and science jobs

For US women who aspire to careers in science or engineering, things are looking up. Two recently published surveys show them winning increased entry into what was largely a male preserve, although their satisfaction with the gain may be tempered by concern over lingering discrimination in salary and promotion.

A National Science Foundation (NSF) study reports overall employment for scientists and engineers grew at an annual rate of 8 percent in 1981, compared to 5 percent for the period 1976-80. Scientists' gains, taken separately, were higher (11 percent) than those of engineers (5 percent). The highest gains were made by women, who registered a 15 percent rise, compared with 7 percent for men.

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The NSF says overall employment growth may have slackened last year, although these figures are not complete. Nevertheless, women are moving ahead. It is interesting, though, to note that they are doing much better in the sciences than in engineering. Some 13 percent of all employed scientists and engineers now are women. But that figure breaks down to 25 percent of working scientists and only 2 percent of engineers.

So far, so good. But a National Research Council (NRC) report on the status of women with doctoral degrees emphasizes a need for opportunity at career entry levels to be matched by equivalent opportunity for advancement.

Four years ago, the NRC, an agency of the National Academy of Sciences, found the number of women with professional academic jobs to be growing rather slowly. Now it finds rapid growth.

This matches the growth in the number of women with doctorates, which increased 50 percent in 4 years. The report calls this ''the most striking change that has taken place since 1977.'' Yet it notes, ''Much of the focus of affirmative action efforts in the past has been at the entry level. The findings of this report suggest a need to take that one step further and examine the comparative advancement of those hired as assistant professors.''

Statistics in the NRC report demonstrate that, compared job for job, the median-salary sex differential ranges from $200 to $6,200 depending on academic field and rank. Also, women are more likely than men to be hired for positions that are not on the tenured career-advancement track. Even women who can aspire to tenure tend, as a group, to wait longer to attain it. Of the 1977 pool of assistant professors, three-fourths of the men gained higher rank by 1981, while only half of the women advanced.

It is past time for this needless discrimination to be eliminated. The ball is in the academic administrators' court. Let's hear it for the father of soda pop!

Historians of science are this year celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Priestley, the great 18th-century chymist (to use the antique spelling) who discovered oxygen. But did you know he also invented soda pop?

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Priestley, who will appear on a US 20-cent commemorative stamp next month, mixed up a tangy, nonalcoholic drink by blending water with the carbon-dioxide gas bubbling off beer. He said it reminded him of mineral water, and published the instructions for making it.

The invention was immediately popular. It is, perhaps, one of the most pervasive - and largely unrecognized - legacies of 18th-century chemistry. Are wood stoves stoking pollution?

According to Frederick W. Lipfert and Jennifer L. Dungan of Brookhaven National Laboratory, residents of the United States are buying wood stoves and ''efficient'' fireplaces at an estimated rate of a million units a year. Yet, while the slogan ''split wood, not atoms'' makes a provocative bumper sticker, what does all that wood smoke do to the quality of the air?

As Lipfert and Dungan note in a research report in Science, ''wood smoke is generally regarded as benign by the public, (yet) there is concern about effects on ambient air quality and health that might result from widespread use of wood.''

As a first step in assessing the problem, they have developed a method for estimating how much wood is, in fact, being burned in a given local area. They used extensive data for New England to construct a statistical equation that relates firewood use to local-population density. This was tested against survey data from 12 other states.

Using the equation, Lipfert and Dungan estimate that US firewood consumption is concentrated in urban areas of the Northeast and north-central states. They also conclude that about 9 to 11 percent of the fuel for US space heating is wood.

These findings imply that firewood is burned in highly populated areas where smoke pollution would be least desirable. Although the researchers have not reported any pollution estimates, they do note that ''it appears that emissions of particulate matter from woodburning in Northern cities may contribute the major portion of all space-heating particulate emissions.'' Codfish 'see' with sound

Like many another aquatic animal, codfish make effective use of underwater sound. However, A. Schuijf of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and A.D. Hawkins of the Marine Laboratory at Aberdeen, Scotland, find the cod has exceptional ability.

Not only does the fish have a true three-dimensional sense of space - that is , it can tell from which direction sound comes - it also knows the distance to a nearby sound source. Experiments reported in Nature by Schuijf and Hawkins show unambiguously that this distance ranging is quite effective.

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