10 Women in Science you need to know about

Scientific discoveries have paved our understanding of the world as we see it today, which leads to its reputation as one of the most highly valued business sectors. We’ve all heard of the significant scientific milestones made by the likes of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton. But what about the women science? Did you know some of the most powerful discoveries were made by females?

Considering that STEM has been a male saturated workforce for hundreds of years, it’s unsurprising that most household names in science are sadly, not female. The women that managed to succeed in a career in science notoriously faced hardships throughout history, with their work being largely unrecognised or overlooked for many years.

To kick off Women's History Month this March, and given the continuous encouragement to embrace females in STEM, we want to pay tribute to 10 female pioneers who’ve contributed significantly to scientific discoveries throughout history:

Jennifer Doudna (1963 – Present): Biochemist, Pioneer in CRISPR Gene Editing

Jennifer is an American biochemist who made fundamental contributions in biochemistry and genetics, particularly with the development of CRISPR engineering. CRISPR, meaning ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat’, is a transformative genetic engineering technique widely adopted for the use of genome modification in the molecular biology industry. This is a significant milestone within science, and has led to the developments of promising CRISPR-based therapies for life threatening diseases, such as cancer.

Doudna received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of her method, and continues to work as a professor at present.

Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958): Chemist, X-Ray Crystallographer

As an expert in physics and biochemistry, franklin made dramatic contributions to many areas, most particularly with her discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. She deduced the basic dimensions of DNA and its helical structure, and used X-ray crystallography to confirm this.

Unfortunately, Rosalind had already died by the time a Nobel Prize was awarded. That being said, she is still widely known for her significant contribution to science. 

Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852): Mathematician, the first computer programmer

Ada's input on the 'Analytical Engine', also known as the world’s first digital computer, was unlike no other. Although the machine was never built during Ada's lifetime, she was a powerful driving force behind the invention.

Ada documented the idea of the modern-day computer over a century before it was invented, with her research leading her to be known as the first ever computer programmer.

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934): Physicist and Chemist, Pioneered research into radioactivity and radiotherapy

Also known as the 'Mother of Modern Physics', Marie Curie was quite obviously a phenomenal physicist and chemist. She discovered the two highly radioactive elements, Radium and Polonium, and continued her work on them to discover their use to fight cancer, the first stages of radiotherapy.

For this she received a Nobel Prize, however, her ongoing exposure to the two radioactive elements sadly resulted in her own radioactive poisoning, which eventually took her life.

Dame Sarah Gilbert (1962 – Present): Vaccinologist, Co-Developer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

This British vaccinologist is widely known in the modern world, specialising particularly in the development of vaccines for influenza and emerging clinical pathogens. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, her work enabled the development of a vaccine within 2 weeks of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.

The vaccine was authorised for use on 30.12.2020 and enabled more than 2.5 billion doses of the vaccine to be released by January 2021 to over 170 countries worldwide.

Gladys West (1930 – Present): Mathematician, Pioneered GPS Technology

This American mathematician made major contributions to the mathematical modelling of the shape of the Earth. Gladys also worked on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Despite her substantial contribution to GPS technology, the sexism and racism endured by Gladys lead to a significantly delayed acknowledgement for her work, which had gone largely unrecognised for many years. 

Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020): Mathematician, One of NASA’s “Hidden Figures”

Known as the 'human computer', Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the US crewed spaceflights. She worked at NASA for 33 years and obtained a reputation for solving complex manual calculations.

She was one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist, however achieved very little recognition during her time in the role.

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994): Chemist, Discovered the Structure of Penicillin, and Insulin

After fighting a system that only allowed boys to study Chemistry, Dorothy mapped the architecture of cholesterol and the structure of penicillin. Her determination further allowed her to unveil the structure of several other important biological molecules, including insulin. 

She was the fifth woman to receive a Nobel Prize and remains to be the only British woman to have received one.

Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912): Physician, Member of the “Edinburgh Seven”

Sophia was a British physician, and the creator of a strong movement that successfully fought legislation that would not allow women to obtain medical degrees in Britain. Her significant contribution led for women’s ability to hold a medical license, and a medical school for women subsequently opened in London in 1874, and in Edinburgh in 1886.

She was the leader of a group of like-minded women called the ‘Edinburgh Seven’, who together fought for women’s rights to study medicine.

Valentina Tereshkova (1937 – Present): Cosmonaut, First Woman in Space

Valentina is the first, and youngest, woman to have ever gone to space. After joining the soviet space program, Valentina flew solo on the Vostok 6 at the age of 26, in 1963. Valentina spent a total of 3 days in space, for a mission that had orbited the Earth a total of 48 times. To this day, she remains to be the only woman who has been into space on a solo mission.

Given the overt challenges women have faced throughout history, it’s important to celebrate those who broke societal boundaries in STEM, and paved the way for the women of today who continue their legacy.

Interested in pursuing a career in science? Get in touch with our recruitment team, who’d be happy to have a chat!  

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