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Celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science by Learning About These 5 Inspiring Women in STEM

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Happy belated International Day of Women and Girls in Science! Feb. 11 marked the United Nation’s sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly, with this year’s theme addressing women on the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science serves a dual purpose: to celebrate the accomplishments of women in science and to advocate for further strides towards gender equality in the field. It is both cause for celebration and reflection. As a woman studying science myself, this holiday holds a special place in my heart as I reflect on my identity as a woman in STEM and the influences that have led me here. I know it’s cliché, but I can’t picture myself in this field without inspiration from women in my life and in history that were brave enough to stake their claim in male dominated fields. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this holiday than to learn about some of these women, so here’s 5 women in science to celebrate this International Women in Science Day.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Having dreamt of science since age 15, Rosalind Franklin paved her way in the scientific world after receiving a prestigious scholarship to study at King’s College London. There, she became fascinated by X-ray crystallography. The first to demonstrate the double helix feature of DNA, Franklin discovered a property integral to all genetics research. Unfortunately, her data was used by two male scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick, who were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine. Though she did not formally receive the award, Franklin should be celebrated as a trailblazer and Nobel laureate for her pivotal contributions to genetics research.

Grace Hopper (1906-1992)

Grace Hopper flourished in the field of computer programming. Earning a master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from Yale, Grace Hopper was a pioneering programmer and is accredited with developing several computer languages. She is most notorious for her career in the U.S. Navy, where she calibrated minesweepers, calculated anti-aircraft gun ranges and mathematically verified the plutonium bomb.

Lise Meitner (1878-1968)

The first woman physics professor in Germany, Lise Meitner helped pave the way for women in academia. Her nuclear fission research allowed for a male collaborator Otto Hahn to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944, causing controversy, as the committee failed to acknowledge Meitner for her work. Still, she remains an accomplished and celebrates scientist, with the chemical element meitnerium named after her.

Tu Youyou (1930-present)

Accredited with the discovery of a new malaria treatment, chemist Tu Youyou’s contributions have saved countless lives. She drew inspiration from traditional Chinese medicines, discovering a malaria-inhibiting compound in wormwood. Her groundbreaking discovery earned her the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Without Katherine Johnson’s contributions to NASA, Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon walk may not have been possible. A summa cum laude graduate of West Virginia State College, Johnson began her work as a Langley Research Center human computer in 1952. Her calculations for NASA made the 1969 moon landing possible, earning her the 2015 medal of presidential freedom.

While it’s important to celebrate these groundbreaking women, it’s also important to note that there is still work to be done towards gender equality in STEM fields. Currently, less than 30 percent of worldwide researchers are women. In the spirit of these incredible women, let us continue to support our sisters in science as we celebrate this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

(Source: CNN)

Preeta Kamat

Northwestern '24

Preeta is a sophomore from Rochester, Michigan studying Neuroscience and Global Health Studies in the seven year med program. When she's not working on school, you can find her on coffee runs, exploring campus with friends, baking, or watching reality TV.