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Influential Women in Science Who You May Not Know

When you hear “influential women in science”, many immediately think of Marie Curie — not without good reason, though! She did discover two elements and is the first person to receive not one, but two Nobel Prizes. So, to expand your appreciation for the contributions made by women in science this Women’s History Month, here are some other notable bad-ass ladies:

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin is well known for her groundbreaking discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. However, Franklin never received a nomination for the Nobel prize for her momentous work; in fact, the prize is shared between three men who heavily relied on her work to create a model of the double helix. Franklin, who utilized x-ray crystallography to capture her infamous “photo 51”, passed away at age 37 from ovarian cancer — some attribute her early death to the radiation exposure she endured during her feat to revolutionize the field of genetics.

Margaret Belle Dayhoff

Margaret Belle Dayhoff is known as one of the pioneers of bioinformatics. Her most notable accomplishments include her development of a large computer database of protein structures, authoring of the Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure, and her development of the single-letter amino acid code. Outside of her major accomplishments that aided geneticists around the world, she also was the first woman to hold a position at the Biophysical society.

Irène Curie-Joliot

No, it’s not a coincidence she shares a last name with one of the most infamous women in science. Following in her parent’s footsteps, Irène also took up a great interest in chemistry. In fact, she managed to discover artificial radioactivity as part of her research on the structure of the atom. For this discovery, she received a Nobel prize (making her and her mother the first parent-child duo to ever independently receive Nobel prizes)! Similar to Rosalind Franklin’s passing, Irène’s death from leukemia is largely contributed to the amount of radiation exposure she endured during her research.

Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock’s experience in the scientific community is one that many women know too well: her findings were ignored because they didn’t agree with the status quo of genetic research. Her theory was of the existence of “jumping genes”– essentially, the idea that genes can move within/between chromosomes. Inspired by her observation of coloring patterns in maize cells, she pioneered the study of said cell’s genetics (which then produced this unconventional theory). It wasn’t for years after her research on “jumping genes” that the scientific community would actually accept her research (in part due to technological advancements that pointed them in her direction). McClintock received a Nobel prize for her discovery.

Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner was met with hatred for her identity as an Austrian Jewish woman in the early 1900s. However, she did not let prejudice and discrimination keep her from pursuing her passion for chemistry (fun fact, she even wrote to Marie Curie but there was no room for her in her lab!). Only allowed to complete her research in a basement, which was interrupted when she was forced to flee from the Nazis, she pressed on to collaborate with her lab partner and eventually made the discovery of “nuclear fission”, a concept that led to the development of the atomic bomb. Although this discovery led to mass destruction, she set things straight in 1945 that “You must not blame scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries,”. Sadly, due to the overwhelming amount of discrimination she faced for being an Austrian Jewish woman, she was overlooked by the Nobel prize committee for her discovery of nuclear fission, and the prize was granted to only her lab partner.

There you have it: five other notable bad-ass ladies to expand your appreciation for the contributions made by women in science. Happy Women’s History Month!

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Hi! I am currently a Senior at Boston College studying for my B.S. in Biology on the PreMed track. I am the Social Media Co-Chair for our HC chapter at BC, and I’m also the publicist for the American Red Cross of Boston College.
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