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physics, lipstick, beer

Lip gloss.

Bright pink lip gloss.

As a birthday present, maybe. As a free gift at the cosmetic counter, maybe. But as a give-away at a gathering of National Science Foundation funded projects? That caught me by surprise.

The gloss was met with mixed reactions. Some of the female scientists thought it was offensive, some thought it was cool, and some, like me, thought a little of both. The give-away, according to the giver, was meant to send the message that women don't have to change (meaning become more man-like) to succeed in a science research career.

With the intention of treading the lighter side, I thought I'd look into the physics of lipstick instead of treating you all to my not-quite-developed thoughts about women in physics. To my surprise, I came across Institute of Physics, lipstick, and beer all in the same sentence.

Apparently, the Institute of Physics (IOP) sponsored a 4-week initiative last fall aimed at igniting discussions about the physics of food and drink. One of the questions was, seriously, How does wearing lipstick affect your beer drinking? (Don't worry, it's multiple choice)

A. the fats in lipstick destroy the foamy head
B. lipstick makes the glass slippy and harder to hold
C. the perfume in lipstick makes the beer taste sweeter

Personal experience (not my vast knowledge of physics) led me to believe that it must be A, because B and C don't make much sense. Unless you have on the really tasty lip stuff, and that would wear off before the end of the first drink.

In this case, reality seems to match physics.

The physics (or chemistry), goes like this. Foam is made from CO2 gas bubbles that form as the beer is poured. The bubbles are enclosed in a protein skin, which increases their stability. Fat, in lipstick, nuts, or whatever, essentially pokes holes in the proteins and deflates the bubbles. This is according to my very limited understanding, and I will point you toward the very excellently titled, The Relative Significance of Physics and Chemistry for Beer Foam Excellence: Theory and Practice for more information on beer foam formation.

Other give-aways at this event included a tornado in a jar, a robotics patch, the usual pens and stickers, and I can't even remember what else. By far the most memorable was the lip gloss. Which makes me think that no matter what message it is meant to send to the larger science community, it is definitely sending a "notice me" message.

What do you think? Would you rather get lip gloss or a luggage tag touting a ULR for an NSF funded project? The project, by the way, is an initiative by Ohio State University called Project CEOS (Comprehensive Equity at Ohio State) to train and support women interested in patenting their work, among other things.

"Every faculty member wants her research to make a difference, yet most view the end product of their work as the refereed publication or conference presentation. This workshop series, cosponsored with the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Research, will introduce faculty to a different route to provide impact, by partnering with commercial entities," reads a description on the website.

One motivation for the project is that women are much less likely than their male counterparts to apply for patents, hence the workshops. The ongoing question remains, when do women have to change to fit the environment, and when does the environment need to change?


  1. I think it would be interesting to see men change. Perhaps the lip gloss was intended for the male physicists too.
    Last night I was watching the season finale of Ru Paul's Drag Race on Logo (Go Tyra!) and I realized that a mixture of this show with Nova Science Now (or Big Bang Theory) would be brilliant. Such a show would break down stereotypes in both communities.
    On Ru Paul's website, you can upload a photo of say your favorite physicist and "dragulate" them. Try it!

  2. Some of the story ideas (Project Runway!) and this lipstick thing make women look incredibly silly on this blog. Enough already. You don't need preening to be good scientists. If women obsess on being women or girly rather than scientists, how does this make the sexism go away?

  3. A comment to reflect on...

    On the other hand, had the posts been on shaving cream and Ultimate Fighter, would that have been any different?

    You absolutely don't need preening to be good scientist, but I don't see the idea of embracing oneself as a scientist AND a woman as silly. It's something that women have been advised not to do for far too long.

  4. Well said, Kendra. I think everyone can agree that women do not need lip gloss to be good scientists, but the subtext is often that wearing lip gloss makes them BAD scientists or less acceptable in the academic community. How is this any less sexist? I think it is more so. It also leads to the dangerous assumption by many young women that they need to change themselves somehow, to make themselves less feminine, to be respected. How can we expect to increase the number of girls going into physics if the community continues this biased? If anything, I think we should be applauding those women who are not afraid of wearing lip gloss and showing their feminine side. Requiring women to let go of that piece of themselves is inherently saying that femininity and good science are mutually exclusive.

  5. i think everyone is reading way too much into the lipstick thing.

    If they gave out free razors or cologne for men you wouldn't hear any complaining.

    Free stuff!

  6. Hello, Kendra!

    I loved this your post, cause it's funny and in a way( really) scientific=) Would you like to do the other investigations? ) I'd love to read that)




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