5 Inspirational Women in Science You Should Know

It is a well-known fact that women have historically been shut out of the sciences world. It is still evident today that men dominate fields such as engineering, mathematics, and computer science. It was not until 2017 that the number of women enrolled in medical school had outnumbered the number of men. While the statistics in all fields are becoming more equal, it is important to remember the women who opened up new doors for us aspiring scientists, despite the fact that they were not acknowledged while they were alive. 

Marie Curie is arguably one of the most famous female scientists, but do you know what she is actually famous for? She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice. Her work in conjunction with her husband led to the discovery of two elements: polonium and radium. She then worked on her own to develop X-rays. Her theories about the rays which uranium gives off created the academic field of atomic physics, and she herself coined the term “radioactivity”. This did not occur without difficulty though. Many of her husband’s colleagues found it very difficult to believe that a woman had come up with such intricate theories. It had to be recorded in her husband’s biography multiple times, and he issued multiple written statements confirming that she alone had developed the theories. She was also the first female professor at the University of Sorbonne.

Irene Joliot-Curie following in her mother’s footsteps, Irene Curie, daughter of Marie Curie, also pursued a life of science, and won the Nobel Prize in 1935 for Chemistry. With her husband, the pair discovered the ability to create man-made radioactive elements, which spurred a boom of biomedical research and cancer treatment. Not only was Irene an important figure in the academic world, but she was also a force in the social world, as a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council. The Comité National de l’Union des Femmes Françaises was a society which advocated for the advancement of women involvement in the science world.

Rosalind Franklin is a very overlooked female scientist, despite the fact that her work led to the crucial discovery of the structure of DNA. As a young woman, she pursued a degree in physical chemistry at Cambridge University. After earning her doctoral, she worked in labs, learning X-ray crystallography techniques, which enabled her to make X-ray images of DNA. When one of her images were shown to the scientists James Watson and Francis Crick, they quickly published “their” findings in the scientific journal Nature, regarding the double-helix structure of DNA, without crediting Rosalind Franklin. This publishing gained Watson and Crick a Nobel Prize, while Rosalind received nothing. She continued to make many contributions to understanding viruses and RNA structure, despite her lack of acknowledgment.

Lisa Meitner is a woman who can teach everyone, regardless of their interests, the importance of following your dreams despite the obstacles put in your path. Born in Austria, she was barred from higher education after the age of 14, as all other Austrian women were. That didn’t stop her from continuing to study mathematics on her own, and at the age of 21, when women were finally allowed into Austrian universities, she enrolled at the University of Vienna. There she excelled in math and physics, eventually receiving her doctorate in 1906. Afterwards, she began her work with Otto Hahn on radioactivity, but because she was Austrian and a woman, she was barred from all main labs, and forced to work in the basement. Due to this fact, her name was never included on any of the lab’s published papers, earning her partner, Otto Hahn, a Nobel Prize, despite the fact that it was her calculations which led to the discovery of nuclear fission. Despite all of these barriers, she continued to do atomic research into her late 80s.

Rachel Carson is a female scientist who has faced undying scrutiny from male colleagues, politicians, and businessmen alike. Although her research has not led to the discovery of new elements or breakthroughs in the medical field, the work which she has done has brought to light many issues which have vital impacts on the well-being of the world. Her most famous work is the book Silent Spring. After years of research and surveying natural ecosystems across America, she discovered that pesticides, such as DDT, have extremely harmful effects on the surrounding environment. Carson is often attributed with being the inspiration for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of her advocacy in the Senate for measures to be implemented which will protect our environment. Often, she was attacked by politicians and the chemical industry for being irrational and overly-cautious. However, her persistence has led to the ban of harmful pesticides, and a truly inspirational message that scientific research and advocacy can lead to change. 

These women have made unparalleled contributions to science despite the obstacles they faced. They are inspirations to women in all fields, for they pursued their passions in the face of discrimination and discreditation based off of their gender. Learning about these women and promoting knowledge of their contributions to science will further close the gap between men and women in science and technology fields, allowing us to work towards a world where everyone is respected and valued for their knowledge and contributions to the well-being of the human race, regardless of gender. 

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