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Four Canadian Women in STEM That You Should Definitely Be Following

Edited by Lina Maragha

Curie. Franklin. Johnson.

These brilliant women are pioneers in their field, revolutionaries recognized for their invaluable contributions to the scientific world:

The chemist who discovered radium and polonium, and contributed to groundbreaking cancer research.

The scientist whose X-ray crystallography work captured the first-ever image of a DNA double-helix, opening the door to modern genetic research.

The mathematician whose astronomical calculations were essential in guaranteeing the success of some of the first-ever space flights — including the historic Apollo 11 mission.

Unfortunately, for every woman recognized for their scientific efforts, there are a dozen male scientists overshadowing their work. For every Marie Curie, there’s an Einstein, Planck or Bohr. In Grade 11 genetics, the name you’re told to memorize isn’t Rosalind Franklin — it’s Watson and Crick. And the “hero” associated with the Apollo 11 mission isn’t Katherine Johnson: no, the household name is Neil Armstrong (and maybe Buzz Aldrin, too, if you’ve really done some research).

I think it’s time that we give recognition to the unsung heroes. The ones of days past, yes — but also those still with us, continuing their research and calculations, changing the world as we speak.

I’m here to introduce you to four fierce Canadian women who are revolutionizing the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Take note — these are some names you definitely won’t want to forget.

Photo by Josh Rangel on Unsplash

#1: Donna Strickland, Physicist

Groundbreaking. Innovative. All-around brilliant.

Perhaps one of the most well-known women on this list, Donna Strickland is one of only four women to have ever won the Nobel Prize in Physics, an honour she was awarded in 2018.

Canadian-born and -raised, she received her Bachelor’s of Engineering from McMaster University, and is currently a professor at the University of Waterloo.

Her research primarily focuses on lasers and optical physics, and she was one of the influential researchers who introduced laser-oriented Chirped Pulse Amplification to the world: a concept where a laser pulse is majorly stretched, then compressed over and over again to generate high-intensity pulsations of ultrashort stimuli.

Within the past few years, she has been focusing on harnessing the non-visual spectra within her ultrafast optical experiments: infrared rays, ultraviolet waves, and the like. She has also been experimenting with the ability of a high-powered laser on the human eye, in the hopes of developing a mechanistic model to cure conditions like presbyopia, the loss of visual clarity that’s common in the aging population.

Dr Strickland’s past few years have been filled with incredible success, but that hasn’t dampened her curiosity (nor her ability to stretch boundaries) at all — I can’t wait to see her next great accomplishment!

#2: Kristen Facciol, Aerospace Engineer

It’s impressive enough to be an engineer. It’s even more amazing to be a literal rocket scientist.

Kristen Facciol, operations engineer at the Canadian Space Agency, happens to be both.

After graduating from the UofT Engineering Sciences program (go, True Blues!), Facciol moved to Montreal, where she spent each day learning the ropes of aerospace robotics systems. She’s trained on how to operate the Canadarm2 and Dextre, two Canadian robotic innovations which were — and still are — utilized to build, repair and improve the International Space Station.

In addition from her scientific brilliance and unbounded curiosity, she’s also unafraid to share her advice for budding young scientists. “Find something that makes you happy and gives you a feeling of purpose,” she’s stated, “but also challenges you. This will always drive you to improve and help ensure that you won’t let anything get in the way of your own success.”

Well, she sure hasn’t let anything get in the way of her success — and the future in front of her is as bright as the stars.

#3: Freda Miller, Molecular Biologist

A previous neurobiological researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (and a former UofT professor!), Freda Miller has made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of developmental neurobiology. 

Much of her research has centred around neuronal development, and the ability to regenerate lost or damaged brain cells — studies that could prove revolutionary in the human medical field., particularly when it comes to (previously-un-curable) neurodegenerative disorders.

One of her standout discoveries explored the stem cells found in the second layer of (human) skin, and the role they play in repairing injured skin. This finding revolutionized stem cell research: the knowledge that humans have a bank of stem cells right beneath the surface of their skin has opened the door to the discovery of other ground-breaking, regenerative stem cell abilities, contributing to one of the most widely-evolving scientific fields of the twenty-first century.

She’s even had a school named after her — the Dr Freda Miller public school in Calgary, Alberta!

Dr Miller’s findings have paved the way for cutting-edge stem cell research, particularly in the brain (one of our most important organs!), but also in systems all around the human body. Revolutionary and incredible, I have no doubt that we’ll be hearing Dr Miller’s name — and learning about her contributions to the medical world — for years and years to come!

#4: Nicole Buckley, (Astro)Microbiologist

“Keep your options open. The world has more opportunities than you can imagine.”

This is the principle advice of Nicole Buckley — microbiologist, Ph.D., and “Chief Scientist, Life Science and ISS Utilization” at the Canadian Space Agency.

(Ok, is that not the coolest professional title you’ve ever heard?!)

Since 2002, Dr Buckley has found a way to combine her two greatest passions, microbiology and outer space, into one brilliant occupation. She’s informed the public of space’s biological effects through passionate TED Talks and informative interviews. She’s conducted psychological experiments on astronauts floating 408 kilometres above our heads via her “At Home in Space” experimental initiative. She’s studied heart and bone health in short-and long-term space travellers. In short, her research has shed light on many of the biological effects afflicting our intergalactic travellers — and her findings are not only relevant to the advancement of space travel and astronaut health, but can be extrapolated to life on Earth, as well.

If you’ve ever dreamed of going to space, Dr Buckley’s in your corner. And if you prefer your feet to be planted on the cold, hard Terran ground… well, she’s making waves there, too.

view of Earth from Moon at an angle
WikiMedia Commons / NASA

These four women have all followed their dreams, indulged in their scientific interests and desires — and it’s led them to remarkable places. Through their groundbreaking research, they’ve revolutionized the scientific world. Through their brilliance and determination, they’ve proven that female scientists really can do anything.

So, search these women up. Give them all a follow. Let them inspire you — and keep looking to the stars. Who knows? One day, YOU might be the next revolutionary Canadian woman on this list!

For as long as she can recall, Eden has been a natural storyteller. She's a fantasy fanatic, a contemporary connoisseur, and an enthusiast of all things cinematic! She's also intrigued by the complexities of neuroscience and cognition, and how they intertwine with creativity. Eden has written bylines for The Strand and The Varsity, and has contributed numerous pieces to both scientific and literary blogs. When she's not writing for HerCampus, you can find her putting the finishing touches on her first novel, watching the latest Marvel movie, or jamming out to Broadway tunes.
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