Learning in Retirement with Nina Scott: Sisters in science put their heads together

  • Martha Hanner, left, and Dottie Rosenthal are best friends and members of the Five College Learning in Retirement for over 20 years. The scientists will co-moderate a course this fall for the program called “Alien Life [in the Universe].” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 6/17/2021 4:37:50 PM

Editor’s note: This is part of a monthly series about the offerings from the Five College Learning in Retirement program.

Dottie Rosenthal has been in Learning in Retirement for over 20 years, while Martha Hanner joined three years ago, but they have become fast friends and collaborators on several science-oriented seminars.

There’s a nice story on how they met, at one of the previews we used to have for newcomers to find out about Learning in Retirement, and which courses might interest them. Martha was dragged, unwillingly, to a preview by Katy and Tyll van Geel, both longtime members and Martha’s neighbors.

“But then I met Dottie and the rest is history,” Martha says with a laugh.

In the fall they are co-moderating a course on “Alien Life [in the Universe].” Previous ones have been “The Solar System” and “Mars.”

Martha is an astronomer and planetary scientist who majored in astronomy as an undergrad at Wellesley College, earned a master of science degree from Indiana University and a doctorate in astronomy from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Because of her late husband Jim’s employment in the Albany area, Martha joined a group of scientists working on the Jupiter Project.

Martha said her job was to measure “zodiacal light.” I hadn’t a clue what that was, but she explained it as “the sunlight scattered by all the small solid grains spread out in the space between the planets ... One had to do a lot of modeling of how small grains scatter light — and that was my job.”

Her continuing work in planetary research also took her to Germany and to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Southern California was not an area in which she and Jim wanted to live post-retirement, so she wound up in Amherst, which suits her just fine.

Dottie got a bachelor of science degree from the University of Rochester and an master of arts degree in zoology from UC Berkeley. She taught biology in junior and senior high school, and eventually became an associate professor of science education at CAL State in Long Beach. She agreed with Martha that life in southern California “did not take,” and came to live in this area in her late husband, Jerry, in 1999. “One of the things that definitely attracted me to this location was LIR,” she says.

I confessed that as a humanities person, I was always intimidated by science and scared rigid of math. “I wasn’t good in math, either,” Dottie said, which surprised me. As to science, she observed, “Science is the world around you — why wouldn’t you be interested in that?”

She has a point there …

Nina M. Scott is professor emerita of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a member of Five College Learning in Retirement, which features peer-led seminars and workshops for semi-retirees.

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