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What a Woman!

The story of Deborah

This Friday, October 11th, is the International Day of the Girl. This is an international day of observance that was first declared by the UN back in 2012. Now every year since then, men and women around the world have celebrated the great accomplishments of women before them and the big things that girls can do in the future. This day is a truly important day to encourage young girls to be anything they want to be.

Historically, science is a field that has been male dominated. Most famous scientists you could name off the top of your head are probably men. Throughout history women have been pushed out of science or often their work would be claimed by their male colleagues. It’s not something the scientific community is very proud of.

Recently this has been something that many people are working to change. There are many programs encouraging young girls into STEM fields like Girls Who Code (, Girlstart (, and National Girls Collaborative Project ( I personally felt completely in my element and accepted when I went through my PhD program. I didn’t personally feel any bias, but I saw the lack of representation. I was 1 of only 2 girls in my class.

Many times, in church settings, the ratios are the opposite from science. There are way more women and girls that are involved in the church than men. The church teachings celebrate womanhood and femininity. In 1995 Pope Saint John Paul II even wrote his Letter to Women where he praises women of all walks of life. One of my favorite quotes from this letter was, “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”

Even though this is true, it is often the case that those who make the decisions and are leaders of the church are men, excluding women from even sitting at the table.

Those who live today and experience these sorts of disproportionate representations might then be surprised to know that there was a woman of the Bible who science chose to celebrate as well. This woman is held up in both the church and science. Her name was Deborah.

If you’ve never heard of Deborah, that’s okay, neither had I until a couple of years ago. But now that I’ve read her story, I think everyone should too! She was AMAZING and STRONG and WISE! She is the only female judge listed in the whole Bible. She was also a prophetess for the God of Israel.

The Lord spoke to her in a dark time of Israel’s history. The Israelites had been oppressed by Jabin, the king of Canaan, for 20 years. It was then that the Lord spoke to Deborah telling her how her people were to be saved. So she called one of the military men, named Barak and tells him what she has learned. He needed to gather thousands of men to fight against Jabin’s army. She then tells him that the Lord will draw their military leader, Sisera, out from the group and lead him to the river where he may be defeated. Barak replies that he will not go unless Deborah comes with him. She replies that she will go, but because of his decision, the glory of the victory will go to a woman instead of him.

So they gather the troops and they march into battle with Deborah right along side them. They are winning the battle when Sisera flees toward the river. He asks a young woman, to hide him. She complies and gives him food and drink, but she knows who he is and while he is sleeping she takes a tent spike to his temple. The book claims that after this victory, there was peace in the land for 40 years.

This is such a super cool story! She was like the Joan of Arc of the church way before Joan of Arc! A smart female who was in close relationship with God just led an army into battle in order to save her people! It makes quite an epic picture!

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But… as cool as this is… what does this have to do with science?

In Judges chapter 5 verse 5, Deborah sings, “The mountains quaked before the Lord.” In some translations though it has her speaking of the mountains flowing before God. She means that even the mountains, these things that are huge and no match for man, even they obey the will of the Lord.

But in the 20th century, a man named Markus Reiner was studying the science of the flow of matter. He was inspired by this verse in the Bible and chose to use her name as a new term to characterize the fluidity of materials. In this field a Hookean solid is a perfect solid, so it doesn’t flow at all. A Newtonian fluid is a perfect liquid, it only flows. In between we have all sorts of different matters that had different levels of fluidity. The Deborah number measures this fluidity. The higher the Deborah number, the closer to a perfect solid. This new term allows science to quantify the ability of solids to flow, even if it is over very long periods of time. All matter is moving, the time frames just might be a little longer than we are willing to wait to observe. (similar to the expression of watching grass grow)

So on this week where we will celebrate the International Day of the Girl, I choose to celebrate this amazing woman. She lived thousands of years ago, but her impact is still lasting even to this day. She was a devout follower of God and that gave her the courage to do His will. Her strength and her wisdom continue to inspire people even today. It is truly a great accomplishment to be a woman with something in science named after you. I hope that her story will inspire young girls to be brave and trust God as they follow their passions, maybe even into the field of science. (One can hope)