When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take care of my sister and I once a week during the summers. He was a college anatomy, biology and zoology professor, so his ideas of play dates involved trips to the Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, the California Science Center or the Botanical Gardens. And I LOVED it. I was already a curious kid, but it was these trips and my family’s encouragement to learn and explore that solidified my path as a lifelong learner. My mom recently told me that she never scolded me about all the time I spent indoors on the computer or playing video games or reading because she knew that technology was the future, and could be a viable career choice for me. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut or a scientist—for the longest time I bounced between archaeologist and paleontologist. Of course, as I grew older, my path changed (I still consider being a writer as someone who wants to discover new things), but my love for science and technology has never faded.
As a woman, I have to look back and admire the pioneering women who made history in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Without them, I would have never been able to even consider entering into a scientific field. So in honor of March being Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science & Engineering Month, here are 5 women in STEM who made history and paved the way for little girls and boys alike.
Probably one of the most famous women in STEM, Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903 for her work in radioactivity (a term she coined). She shared that prize with her husband and fellow physicist Henri Becquerel, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry on her own in 1911. Curie is still the only woman to win in two fields and the only person, man or woman, to win in multiple sciences. She also discovered two elements, polonium and radium, and established the first field radiological centers during WWI. Unfortunately, her exposure to radiation during this time ultimately led to her death in 1934.
Rosalind Franklin was a British Jewish biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who is known for her work in discovering the DNA double helix. Franklin’s X-ray diffraction images of DNA were showed to James Watson and Francis Crick without her approval, which led to her contribution to the discovery being overlooked. After her work with DNA, she did groundbreaking studies on tobacco mosaic virus and the polio virus.
You know you have some talent when Albert Einstein himself calls you the “most important woman in the history of mathematics.” Emmy Noether had math in her blood— she was the daughter of a fine mathematician in his own right, Max Noether—and is known for her groundbreaking work in abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Noether was known for her ability to see problems from a fresh perspective, and despite living in a time when women were largely excluded from mathematics and academia, she studied and worked alongside some of the greatest mathematical minds in history.
Emilie du Chatelet
Emilie du Chatelet grew up among wealth and privilege, and exhibited exceptional intelligence from a young age. By age 12, she was fluent in four languages and used mathematics to develop advanced gambling strategies. Du Chatelet’s seminal works include research into the science of fire (which predicted infrared radiation and the nature of light), her research into kinetic energy, and her translation and commentary of Isaac Newton’s Principia.
Katharine Burr Blodgett
Katharine Burr Blodgett showed a penchant for mathematics from a very young age, and her private school education allowed her to get the same education as the boy’s at the time. She earned her B.A. at 18 and decided to write her Master’s thesis on the chemical structure of gas masks with the aim to try and improve the gas masks used by soldiers in WWI. At 28, Blodgett became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and was the first woman to work for General Electric. During her time as GE, she helped invent low-reflectance “invisible” glass.
For more women in STEM who made history, visit Wrong Button!
Who are the women in STEM who inspire you?