Female scientists who changed the world

Date:6 March 2020 Author: Leila Stein Tags:,

For much of history, women’s contribution to science have either been erased or written over. It is perceived that science and mathematics were the realm of men up until very recently, but it is becoming clear that women played a bigger role in the growth of science than was previously known.

Here are some of the women who have changed the face of science, and our world:

Marie Curie

Probably the most well-known on the list, Marie Curie was a physicists and chemist who is known for her research in radioactivity. She was the first women to win a Nobel Prize, which she shared with her husband in 1903.

Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer who lived between 1750-1848. She was the first woman to discover a comet and was employed to work for King George III in 1787 as her older brother William’s assistant. This made her the first woman to be paid for scientific work. Her entire body of work included discovering 14 new nebulas, eight comets and adding 561 new stars to Flamsteeds Atlas.

Katherine Johnson

Another better-known name, after her story was featured in the Oscar nominated movie Hidden Figures. Johnson worked as a computer for NASA’s predecessor National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and then for NASA. Johnson calculated the trajectory for the 1961 space flight by Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She also calculated the launch window for his Mercury Mission. Later, when NASA used digital computers to calculate trajectory, astronaut John Glenn refused to undertake his mission to orbit the Earth unless Johnson checked the computers calculations.

Maria Goeppert Mayer

It took 60 years for Maria Mayer to become the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the nuclear shell of the atomic nucleus. Mayer was a German immigrant to the USA who studied at Johns Hopkins. Despite no university’s being willing to employ her, culminating in her discovery. She shared the 1963 win with  J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner.

Barbara McClintock

Another Nobel Prize winner, Barbara McClintock studied the unusual research area of corn. Through her fascination with the food staple, she was able to discover genetic transposition, which is the ability of genes to change position in the chromosome. Despite her work being considered “junk DNA” by much in her scientific community, McClinktock continued her work. She discovered that these jumping genes could determine which of the genes in cells are switch on which is part of creating differences between cell types. Following her Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, her work gained more prominence and recognition.

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini was an Italian neurologist who lived a full life, dying at the age of 103. She won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for discovering the Nerve growth factor. Levi-Montalcini was Jewish and fled with her family south when the Germans invaded Italy. In hiding under a false identity, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in the home they were hiding in. In 1952, she isolated the nerve growth factor from observations of certain cancerous tissues. She served as an Italian Senator for Life to honour her contributions.

Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Elion was a biochemist and pharmacologist who developed a method of rational drug design that helped with the development of key live-saving drugs. Her new method focused on understanding the target of the drug rather than trial-and-error. She won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988.

Jennifer Doudna

CRISPR has become a key innovation in genetic science. Jennifer Doudna helped develop this groundbreaking method which has been tested for use in treating sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and HIV.

Katherine Freese

Dark matter is a relatively new area of science, and Katherine Freese is one of those at the forefront. She was one of the first to propose new ways to discover dark matter. Currently, her idea of indirect detection in the Earth is being tested along with the “wind” of dark matter particles felt as the Earth orbits the Milky Way. Her most recent work was the proposal of a new theoretical star, called a dark star, that is powered by dark matter annihilation.

Tiera Guinn

At only 24 years old, Tiera Guinn is already a rocket scientists. She has helped NASA build a rocket which will be one of the most powerful ever made. She works as a Rocket Structural Design and Analysis Engineer for the Space Launch System that aerospace company Boeing.

Image: Nobel Prize/Twitter

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