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Strides for Female Scientists

To see the country's preeminent scientific body - the National Academy of Sciences - increasing the number of women in its ranks certainly is heartening, although a move past due.

At its annual meeting in Washington this week, the Academy elected 19 new female members - the largest number ever. The figure represents some 26 percent of the total number of this year's new members.

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Since the NAS was created by Congress in 1863 to advise the government on scientific issues, just 249 women have been selected. But in recent years, the percentage has grown. In both 2003 and 2004, women represented 17 percent of the Academy's newest members.

The statistics suggest that recent efforts by educators to interest more women in the sciences finally may be paying off. The typical age for a new NAS member is 50, which helps explain why the uptick of women going into the sciences in recent years may be finally showing itself in the NAS roster. And hopefully, the hot debate at Harvard University over this subject may prompt even greater numbers.

Also this week, six Americans were honored with the $1.25 million Heinz award, given for achievement in various fields such as the environment, public policy, and technology. Notably, the recipients included one woman - Mildred Dresselhaus, PhD - considered one of the nation's foremost physics experts. She also happens to be quite the advocate for promoting women in the sciences.

With numerous awards for her efforts to that worthy end, more women (and men) could follow her, and NAS's, lead.