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25 Female Scientists to Celebrate This Month


The Teslas and Newtons of history have already received enough attention, thank you very much. Ever since science started being a thing, the ladies have always played an integral role in keeping human knowledge marching forward, they just lacked the same social and political standings as their male contemporaries, therefore ranking far lower on the public relations hierarchy. Every March marks Women’s History Month, which honors the oft-marginalized demographics within math, science, technology, engineering, and (obviously) disciplines beyond. When wanting to rock some theorums and hypotheses, turn to some of the following females for inspiration.

  1. Ada Lovelace

    Charles Babbage may have given modern computing its body, but Ada Lovelace contributed the voice. This eagerly intellectual countess invented the world’s very first computer program and translated numerous game-changing mathematical and scientific publications into English.

  2. Chien-Shiung Wu

    When history and science buffs think of the Manhattan Project, they usually default to J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein – although plenty other men and women contributed to the initiative. Heavily decorated physicist Chien-Shiung Wu stood among them (as the only Chinese participant, no less), though her resume contains far more than that; for example, her book Beta Decay has been lauded as an industry standard since its 1965 release.

  3. Marie Curie

    The first woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize also happened to be the first to earn two – one in physics, the other in chemistry. Along with husband Pierre Curie, the internationally-regarded science superstar completely revolutionized humanity’s understanding of radioactivity.

  4. Agnodice

    Historians and classicists continue debating over Agnodice’s (sometimes spelled Agnodike) existence, but if she genuinely did walk the streets of Athens, that would make her the very first legally sanctioned doctor. Stories of her mostly speak of obstetric assistance, though she also practiced more general medicine.

  5. Mae Jemison

    When she served as a Mission Specialist aboard Endeavour in 1992, this inspiring Renaissance woman – a scientist, engineer, dancer, actress, and educator – became the first black woman in space. On the ground, the now-retired Mae Jemison has also worked with the Peace Corps, as a professor, a physician, and outspoken advocate for women in science and a merging of arts into more technical professions.

  1. Rita Levi-Montalcini

    Senator and scientist, the neurology and physiology world has this Nobel Prize winner (and her colleague Stanley Cohen) to thank for the discovery of and inquiries into nerve growth factor. As a direct result of their research, millions of patients suffering from nerve conditions eventually received the care necessary to forge the happiest, healthiest lives possible.

  2. Margaret Cavendish

    The Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne used her position and fought 17th century sexism to deliver the highly influential Observations upon Experimental Philosophy in 1666 – among other works. She became one of the most prominent (and, of course, controversial) names in natural philosophy at the time, and even managed to whip up some of literature’s first examples of science fiction.

  3. Gertrude Belle Elion

    Pharmacologist and Nobel Prize recipient Gertrude Bell Elion developed drugs for gout, malaria, herpes, leukemia, meningitis, infections, organ transplants, and plenty of other conditions. Watching her grandfather die of cancer propelled her to devote her prodigious talents in the service of all who suffer.

  4. Hawa Abdi and Deqo Mohamed

    Two generations of physicians currently provide a loving, peaceful community for Somali refugees – mostly women and children – based around free-to-low-cost healthcare and education. Starting with a hospital and working up to a full-blown network, Hawa Abdi and Deqo Mohamed show what science and a genuinely love of humanity and justice can do for marginalized, ravaged peoples.

  5. Stephanie Kwolek

    While working for DuPont, this chemist struggled with polymers for improved tires and wound up inventing Kevlar in 1964, an accomplishment which saw her decorated with the National Medal of Technology and induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and National Inventors Hall of Fame. Although she retired in 1986, she continues encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in science despite prevailing gender stereotypes.

  1. Enheduanna

    Like Agnodice, scholars are not entirely certain the Akkadian princess-priestess-poet-philosopher Enheduanna was a real person, but she’s still amongst the first to ever be named in historical texts. Astronomy fueled much of her art and theology, although today most tend to know her for the dedicated verses to Inanna.

  2. Elizabeth Blackwell

    Elizabeth Blackwell smashed the glass ceiling preventing women from completing medical school in 1849 when she became the first to complete her degree, and followed this up as the first on the UK Medical Register. With her amazing position, she served as a mentor to other ladies hoping for doctor careers, an abolitionist, and healthcare advocate for the poor.

  3. Dorotea Bucca

    Starting in 1390, University of Bologna allowed Dorotea Bucca to chair the department of medicine and philosophy as her father’s successor. Her career spanned about four decades, and she spent most of this time educating Italy’s future physicians and thinkers.

  4. Herrad of Landsberg

    Because she dedicated her entire life to religion and scholarship, this Alsatian abbess was able to print up one of the most important scientific treatises of all time, Horcus deliciarum (The Garden of Delights). The hefty volume cobbled together everything natural philosophers and scientists knew about the world at the time, providing them with a handy resource from which to build their own individual inquiries.

  5. Margaret Chan

    Politics and medicine collide in the Director-General of the World Health Organization’s thoroughly impressive resume. Her career began as Hong Kong’s Director of Health, where she worked tirelessly to curtail SARS and bird flu outbreaks, which earned international attention and acclaim.

  1. Hypatia of Alexandria

    Raised among mathematicians, natural scientists, philosophers, and other thinkers, Theon Alexandricus’ bright daughter carried out his legacy by heading up the Platonist school in their Egyptian stronghold. In addition, she published numerous texts pertaining to astronomy and mathematics, including The Astronomical Canon and commentaries and updates on the works of her father, Euclid, Ptolemy, and others.

  2. Wang Zhenyi

    Using 18th century mathematics and models, this oft-overlooked astronomer almost completely explained the physics behind gravity, lunar eclipses, and their intimate relationship, publishing her finds as “On the Explanation of the Lunar Eclipse” and “Of the Bell-Shaped Earth.” Wang Zhenyi also stood as an outspoken activist calling for equal educational and professional opportunities for women, particularly in the sciences.

  3. Sara Josephine Baker

    Public health in the United States underwent a massive, much-needed overhaul thanks to this physician’s horrifying discoveries regarding the whats and whys behind the high infant mortality rate. Because of her tireless campaigning, many of the nation’s economically deprived managed to avoid dysentery and other preventable illnesses, conditions, and diseases stemming from inhumane conditions.

  4. Tapputi-Belatikallim

    Scholars know little to nothing about Tapputi-Belatikallim’s life and career beyond the not-insignificant fact that she might very well be the first known chemist. Mesopotamian tablets speak of her as a perfume maker, who explored how different elements worked together to produce lovely little smells.

  5. Jane Goodall

    Much of what zoologists know of monkey and ape behavior stems from over four decades of primatologist Jane Goodall’s intimate work with Tanzanian chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park. Beyond these world-famous studies, she established a nonprofit promoting economic and environmental sustainability.

  1. Ada E. Yonath

    Crystallographer Ada E. Yonath completely overhauled the study of ribosomal structures and interactions with other stimuli, microbes, compounds, and more. For this and her operating Israel’s very first laboratory specializing in protein crystallography, she earned the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz.

  2. Hildegard von Bingen

    During the Middle Ages, a period not exactly known for its enlightened treatment of the ladyfolk, this abbess of the Benedictine order thrived as an intellectual skilled in numerous fields – including the natural sciences. Chemistry in particular held her fascination, and she wrote extensively about the healing arts and the blends of organic matter appropriate for different medical needs.

  3. Ingrid Daubechies

    Duke professor, physicist, and mathematician Ingrid Daubechies currently serves as the first female head of the International Mathematical Union, which joins such honors as a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pioneer Prize, a Steele Prize, and numerous more. Wavelets stand as her most notable sphere of influence, especially when it deals with compressing images in computing.

  4. Rosalind Franklin

    Without this multidisciplinary biologist’s X-rays of DNA’s crystallography, James D. Watson and Francis Crick probably would not have discovered the structure of life’s basic components or won the Nobel Prize for it. Rosalind Franklin received no recognition for her role in the completely game-changing research, which continues sparking controversy even today and stands as a particularly tragic example of what women in science once experienced.

  5. Maria Mitchell

    Denmark’s King Frederick VII awarded Maria Mitchell a gold medal for her discovery of a comet invisible to the unaided eye, which, in turn led to her installation as the first female member in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences American Association for the Advancement of Science. A distinguished astronomer, Vassar College named her its very first professor and placed her in charge of the observatory to inspire future stargazers.

March 25th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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