Science and technology are often considered to be the forte of men. Nevertheless, the contribution of women to the progress of these areas cannot be disregarded. There have been numerous gifted and far-famed women scientists in history who made crucial discoveries and inventions in the world of science.
The universe has greatly witnessed the legacy of extraordinary female scientists’ who broke boundaries and made important discoveries. Throughout history women have faced systemic barriers and gender discrimination. Despite these challenges, however, they have played a key role in humanity’s scientific advancement. This March “Women’s History Month” let us take some time to learn about women’s accomplishments and celebrate their scientific achievements.
Today on our Science Blog, we’ll take a look at some of the most famous women scientists and their achievements.
1. Marie Curie (1867–1934)
Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist who conducted critical research on radioactivity. She discovered two new chemical elements: radium and polonium. Curie led the first research project on the impact of radiation treatment on tumours. She also headed the Curie Institute formerly the Radium Institute which is a leading medical research centre in Paris, France, focused on cancer research and radiation therapy. She was the first person and the only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice.
Curie is also the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields: physics and chemistry.
2. Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958)
Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist. She is best known for discovering the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Using a technique called X-ray crystallography, she revealed the helical shape of DNA.
While Rosalind made a critical impact on science, her work and contributions to the field are still rarely acknowledged. Two men — James Watson and Francis Crick — are still most often credited with discovering DNA’s structure.
3. Tu You You (age 91 years) 30 December 1930
Tu Youyou is a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist and malariologist. She discovered artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, used to treat malaria, a breakthrough in twentieth-century tropical medicine, saving millions of lives in South China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.
For her work, Tu received the 2011 Lasker Award in clinical medicine and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura. Tu is the first Chinese Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and the first female citizen of the People’s Republic of China to receive a Nobel Prize in any category. She is also the first Chinese person to receive the Lasker Award. Tu was born, educated and carried out her research exclusively in China.
4. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997)
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American particle and experimental physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of nuclear and particle physics. Wu worked on the Manhattan Project, where she helped develop the process for separating uranium into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion.
Wu herself was awarded the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978. Her expertise in experimental physics evoked comparisons to Marie Curie. Her nicknames include the “First Lady of Physics”, the “Chinese Madame Curie” and the “Queen of Nuclear Research
5. Katherine Johnson (1918–2020)
Katherine Johnson was a Black mathematician and one of the first African American woman to work as a NASA scientist. As a mathematician, she calculated and analysed the flight paths of NASA spacecraft. She is best known for making the calculations that allowed the first Americans to enter Earth’s orbit and set foot on the moon.
The 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” chronicles Johnson’s life and work at NASA.
6. Flossie Wong-Staal (1946 –2020)
Flossie Wong-Staal was a Chinese-American virologist and molecular biologist. She was the first scientist to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes, which was a major step in proving that HIV is the cause of AIDS. From 1990 to 2002, she held the Florence Riford Chair in AIDS Research at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
She was co-founder and, after retiring from UCSD, she became the chief scientific officer of Immusol, which was renamed iTherX Pharmaceuticals in 2007 when it transitioned to a drug development company focused on hepatitis C and continued as chief scientific officer
7. Barbara McClintock 1902 –1992
Barbara McClintock was an American scientist and cytogeneticist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. McClintock received her PhD in botany from Cornell University in 1927. There she started her career as the leader in the development of maize cytogenetics, the focus of her research for the rest of her life.
In 1947, McClintock received the Achievement Award from the American Association of University Women. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959. In 1967, McClintock was awarded the Kimber Genetics Award and three years later, she was given the National Medal of Science by Richard Nixon in 1970. She was the first woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science.
8. Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906–1972)
Maria Goeppert Mayer was a German-born American theoretical physicist, and Nobel laureate in Physics for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. She was born in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then Germany. She was the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics, the first being Marie Curie. In 1986, the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award for early-career women physicists was established in her honour.
A graduate of the University of Göttingen, Goeppert Mayer wrote her doctoral thesis on the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. At the time, the chances of experimentally verifying her thesis seemed remote, but the development of the laser in the 1960s later permitted this. Today, the unit for the two-photon absorption cross section is named the Goeppert Mayer (GM) unit.
9. Jeniffer Duodna February 19, 1964
Jennifer Anne Doudna is an American biochemist who has done pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing, and made other fundamental contributions in biochemistry and genetics. She received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Emmanuelle Charpentier, “for the development of a method for genome editing.”
She is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1997
10. Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier (1758–1836)
Marie-Ann Paulze Lavoisier is regarded as the mother of modern chemistry. She was the wife of the chemist and nobleman Antonie Lavoisier and served as his laboratory assistant, and contributed to his work.
Fluent in Latin, English, and French, she helped translate several scientific works for her husband to review. Lavoisier’s translation led to the discovery of oxygen gas. She was also instrumental in the standardisation of the scientific method.
Today, many colleges and universities aim to create opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Institutions now realise they need to provide the necessary support and mentorship to ensure women’s success in science. But in order to advance women in STEM, we need to remember and acknowledge women’s historic contributions in the field of science. This Women’s History Month, celebrate the scientists who made discoveries and broke down barriers for future generations of women in STEM.
From epidemiology to CRISPR, influential female scientists are leading pioneering work in developing breakthroughs for the future of healthcare. As well as this, talented female leaders are continuing to emerge in the most prominent spaces within life sciences; some are running global life science companies while others are founding innovative start-ups. But all are tackling today’s biggest opportunities and challenges in life sciences head on.
You can also check out our other blogs on creativity on the website.
Sign up for the Fuzia community today and give your talent wings with us.