All of us have probably heard for Einstein, Tesla, Newton or many of of the other great scientists and inventors. But what about women in science? There are several women who’s contribution to the science has just been discovered recently and many, many more who’s achievements still remain unrecognized. In this article, we will present you 5 brilliant women in science. These women dedicated their lives to science and gained tremendous success, each in its own area of research.  

Through history…

Through history, we have can see that the women in science have been much less praised than the men.  No matter how talented they were, it was tough for them to be recognized and valued in any of the scientific areas. Nevertheless, some brilliant minds like Marie Curie couldn’t be overlooked or be anonymous. Unfortunately, there is a vast majority of the ones that were not recognized. For example, the brilliant mind of Mileva Marić, spouse of the great Albert Einstein, never got recognized nor did she receive any price for her work and contribution to the Theory of relativity. She renounced all her discoveries in the name of her husband, Albert. Maybe in exact way or any in any other way, a lot of women never become recognized for their discoveries.

Women in science

Let’s have a look at some of the most important women in science figures through history.

Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria was one of the great thinkers of Alexandria. She was the first historically known woman who studied and teached mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. We can say that she was the world’s first woman in science. Hypathia established herself as a philosopher in the Neoplatonic school, where she taught astronomy and philosophy. None of her writings have been saved and there is little known of her personal life. However, the historians believe she wrote several books in mathematics. The Suda lexicon, a 10th-century encyclopedia of the Mediterranean world, describes her as being ¨exceedingly beautiful and fair of form…in speech agriculate and logical, in her actions prudent and public-spirited¨.

women in science

Did you know…?

So, how did Hypatia enter male-dominated academia and thrive in it? The fact is that she never married and presumed to be a virgin until death. Considering that ancient Greeks prized celibacy as a virtue, both men and women accepted and respected her.  Sadly, one of the most famous things about Hypatia’s life was actually her death. Although there are two versions of her death, what seems indisputable is that she was murdered by Christians. They felt threatened by her scholarship, learning, influence she had and her scientific knowledge. Her life captivates the attention still today and in 2009 the movie Agora telling her story in big screens.

Ada Lovelace

Did you know that the first computer programmer in the world was a woman who lived in 19th century? It was Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, later came to be known as simply Ada Lovelace. Her father was the renowned poet Lord Byron. Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, was a highly-educated baroness with a strong knowledge of science and mathematics. Ada actually never met her father, who divorced her mother when Ada was just  five weeks old. Ada was raised by her mother, who was bent on eradicating any trace of her father’s influence by immersing her in science and math from the time she was four.

women in science

Ada’s work

She worked with legendary English polymath, Charles Babbage. She had a role as a vocal champion of his ideas, at a time when society questioned them as ludicrous. However, er most important contribution comes from her being an amplifier of their potential beyond what Babbage himself had imagined. Charles Babbage was impressed with her mathematical ability and came to know her as the “Enchantress of Numbers”. In 1843 she wrote a set of notes to Babbage’s Analytical Engine (actually longer then the memoir itself). There she outlined four essential concepts that would shape the birth of modern computing a century later. She explained the function of the machine and described how the engine would be able to compute a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Ada Lovelace was voted as the fourth influential women in history by BBC History magazine readers, just behind scientists Marie Curie, civil rights heroine Rosa Parks and suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Marie Curie

When we talk about women in science, we have to mention Marie Curie. She is the most famous Poland of all time and the “mother of modern physics”. Till this day she remains the only woman awarded two Nobel Prizes. Also, she is the only person ever to be awarded those prizes for achievements in two distinct scientific fields. The first one she was awarded in 1903 alongside her husband Pierre and French physicist Henri Becquerel for their work in radioactivity. Initially, her name was left off the winners’ list, however Pierre insisted she be included. In 1911, she was awarded the Chemistry Prize.

women in science

Curie’s legacy

Today, she is recognized throughout the world not only for her groundbreaking Nobel Prize-winning discoveries, but also for having boldly broken many gender barriers during her lifetime. She was also the first woman to receive a PhD from a French university. Additionally, she was the first woman to be employed as a professor at the Sorbonne. Not long after her second Nobel Prize, Sorbonne built the first radium institute with two laboratories: one for study of radioactivity under Marie Curie’s direction, and other for biological research into the treatment of cancer. Consequently, it is no wonder Curie represents one of the most important figure when we’re talking about women in science. Curie’s work continues to inspire the charity missions all over the world to support people living with any terminal illness, including cancer.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a brilliant scientists who, unlike Marie Curie, did not receive the Nobel Prize and her work passed pretty much unnoticed. She made a crucial contribution to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, but she never got any credit for it. In 1952, Rosalind was directing the work of her graduate student, Raymond Gosling, who took a photograph of the way a strand of DNA scatters an X-ray beam. Without Franklin’s permission or knowledge, her fellow researcher Maurice Wilkins showed the photograph to James Watson, who used it to develop a model of the chemical structure of DNA. This X-ray diffraction picture of a DNA molecule was Watson’s inspiration (the pattern was clearly a helix).

women in science

The (in)famous Nobel price

Using Franklin’s photograph and their own data, Watson and Crick created their famous DNA model. Watson and his researcher Francis Crick published their work in the journal Nature in 1953. A decade later, Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Watson and Crick for discovering the spiraling structure of DNA and its role in heredity. Franklin, whose lab produced the famous ‘Photo 51’ which helped unravel the mystery of DNA, received no credit for her role. Franklin had died of ovarian cancer in relative obscurity at the age of 37, four yeas prior to Watson and Crick’s Nobel Prize award. After Franklin’s death Crick said that her contribution was critical, but since the Nobel Prize committee doesn’t confer awards posthumously, it means that Franklin will never share in the scientific community’s highest honor for her work.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a scientists who discovered the first pulsar at a radio observatory based at Cambridge in 1968. Pulsars are whirling stellar corpses that sen beams of radio waves across the cosmos. They’re used by scientists to test some of the most fundamental theories in physics. Despite the fact that Jocelyn was first to notice the stellar radio source that was later realized to be a pulsar, her mentor, Anthony Hewish, went on to receive the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for it. Many others have pointed out the injustice of this, but Burnell herself remains cheerfully resigned. Josif Shklovsky, one of the preeminent astronomers of the era, told her, “Miss Bell, you have made the greatest astronomical discovery of the 20th century.” Fred Hoyle, a famous British astronomer, accused Anthony Hewish of stealing Burnell’s data, which was a remark that made headlines around the world. It left Hoyle facing a libel suit and additionally, he wrote to the Times, blaming the Nobel prize committee for this mistake.

women in science

Burnell’s latest work

Recently, Bell Burnell has been awarded a $3-million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. In her own fashion, she donated all of the money to a charity in the U.K. Whose mission is to support physics graduate students from under-represented groups. Jocelyn is a role model for young students and female scientists around the world. Her story was featured in the BBC Four’s Beautiful Minds, and BBC Two’s Horizon documented her discovery of ‘Little Green Man 1’.

Conclusion

We have mentioned just a few of the female scientists who changed the world. However, there are many many more who shaped the numerous fields of science. These women were pioneers who paved the way for future generations of women in science. Even though the achievements of vast majority of them isn’t recorded in the history books, the effects of their work remains indisputable.

If you want to know more posts like this, check out our other posts in the “MaDI  blog“.