By Rhae Adams

As a gay co-founder in the technology sector, June is always an important time of year to recognize the strength brought to First Mode through diversity, inclusion, and equality. Pride Month, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots this year, marks a turning point in the gay rights movement. It’s a valuable time to not only reflect on the tremendous progress the LGBTQ+ movement has made, but also to recognize the work that still must be done. This movement has become symbolized through the rainbow flag, a visible reminder around the world for the LBGTQ+ community and the fight for equality.

For those of us in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), the rainbow is also a common and critical tool in our day-to-day work. The diversity of its application and the importance of discovery has aided scientists and engineers for hundreds of years, beginning with Isaac Newton’s first experiments using light and prisms in the 1660s. Prisms can be used to break up visible light (“visible” meaning visible to the human eye) into its individual colors—the colors of the rainbow.

One of the most unique and fitting uses of the rainbow — and perhaps one some will remember from their early chemistry education in high school — is called absorption spectroscopy. The technique relies on measuring which wavelengths of light are absorbed when striking an object, most commonly used to determine the presence of different elements or compounds in a given sample. It turns out that each element in the universe has a unique fingerprint, producing a recognizable signature that differentiates it from everything else.

Take, for example, the figure below, where light from a star is used to detect sodium in the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet:

Example of absorption spectroscopy, where sodium is detected in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. Source: NASA

These unique fingerprints are made up of gaps in the rainbow, called Fraunhofer lines, where light is absorbed by the atom rather than transmitted to the observer. Comparing the absorption line spectrum we see from unknown objects against a spectral library of known materials allows for new discoveries and innovations on Earth and throughout the solar system.

Like the elements, each of us both in and outside the LGBTQ+ community is unique. We each possess an indelible fingerprint of talents and life experiences that allow us to bring unique perspectives to our work, our lives, and our personal and professional interactions. That fingerprint is just as recognizable and distinct as a distant world orbiting an unexplored star. What’s more, without each one of those diverse perspectives, humanity loses the chance to continue in its best traits of discovery and innovation.

The range of experiences between different gender identities and sexual orientations can be immense, and the more visible LGBTQ+ leaders are in STEM, the more interesting our discoveries will become. Unexpected connections across differing viewpoints are the hallmark of many breakthroughs throughout our history. Introducing more diverse perspectives and amplifying their voices to an equal platform, can only accelerate new innovations across industries.

STEM has always been about finding the best solution to the problem, no matter where that idea comes from. This basis in rational thought, the scientific method, and creativity must extend from technical issues to personal ones. Today the stakes are higher than ever; we lean on scientists and engineers to not just solve the problems we have today, but the existential issues we will face in the decades to come. Bluntly, we simply cannot afford the risk of excluding even one unique rainbow.

We continue to work hard at First Mode to create a culture that empowers LGBTQ+ employees to become visible leaders within the community — a challenge that we offer to others in STEM. By paving a path for the next generation of LGBTQ+ scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians, and explorers, to contribute to our entire species, I hope our most significant contribution at First Mode is not in hardware or software, but in people.

Happy Pride Month! 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈

The Emission Spectrum of Iron. Source: NASA

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