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Inspirational Women in STEM

According to Million Women Mentors, women comprise only 26% of workers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. These numbers grow even smaller for minority women. Stereotypes exist that can deter women from pursuing these fields, and many women are exposed to these expectations from the time they are old enough to understand what science is. In the face of adversity, however, many strong women have defied expectations and made scientific contributions that changed the game forever. These women are shining examples of what it means to persevere no matter what the odds. While many of these women had their progress undermined by sexism and racism in science, they nevertheless committed themselves to discovery and mentorship.


Rosalind Franklin


Rosalind Franklin played an integral role in discovering the molecular structure of DNA. As an x-ray crystallographer, her photographs of DNA were crucial to Watson and Crick’s understanding of the molecule, though she was given little credit for her work compared to her male counterparts. Franklin died before Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize, but many sources have stated that she should have been a recipient if she was still living. 


Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson


The movie “Hidden Figures” tells the stories of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, three black women who made NASA’s first missions possible. Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematician and physicist, was known for her work in computerized celestial navigation. She was assigned to the West Area Computers section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics where she was supervised by Dorothy Vaughan. This section was composed entirely of black women due to segregation. Mary Jackson, an engineer who also worked at West Area, is known for working as a computer and ultimately NASA’s first black female engineer. Her career with NASA spanned an impressive 34 years.


Grace Hopper


Grace Hopper was a computer scientist known for working on the Harvard Mark I computer and creating the first compiler and language. Her work as a Navy contracted researcher awarded her the nickname “Amazing Grace.” In spite of numerous colleagues affirming that a programming language based off of English words was not feasible, Hopper chased her vision anyways, which revolutionized the field of computing itself. She is also known her her mentorship efforts, as she gave hundreds of speeches to young people over the course of her life, and considered mentoring youth to be her proudest achievement of all.


Vera Rubin



Vera Rubin was instrumental in discovering the existence of dark matter. As an astronomer, she studied the rotation of galaxies and hypothesized that some force must exist that holds galaxies together as they rotate. She ultimately calculated that six times as much dark matter exists as ordinary matter in the universe. Her discoveries initially faced doubts, but over the years significant evidence surfaced that proved Rubin correct. She was awarded a National Medal of Science for her work.

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