7 World-Changing Female Scientists You Should Know About

The Scientists Who Rocked/Are Rocking The World

We often hear about the likes of Einstein, Darwin, Newton, Hawking and Watson. They’re all famous male scientists who have left a huge impact on the world. From creating electricity, to conjuring up the theory of relativity, most of us would be able to identify immediately what these male scientists are known for. 

However, when it comes to reeling off the names of female scientists who have made an impact on the world, it’s more than likely that many of us would struggle to list more than 1 or 2. In fact, stats show that more than 50% wouldn’t be able to. 

And it seems that Google is leading the trend of highlighting mostly male scientists in its searches. After typing ‘famous scientists’ into Google, 4 of the 50 images sprawled across the top of the search are all men. Which doesn’t do the amount of game-changing female scientists any justice. 

So, are there more male scientists than there are female? Not necessarily. Current statistics show that in the US “according to the National Science Foundation, women comprise 43 percent of the U.S. workforce for scientists and engineers under 75 years old. For those under 29 years old, women comprise 56% of the science and engineering workforce. Of scientists and engineers seeking employment 50% under 75 are women, and 49% under 29 are women.”

Although worldwide women are still underrepresented in STEM fields and have been for centuries. Staggeringly in the UK, there is no mention of any female scientist in the national curriculum for GCSE science. 

Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing the work of a handful of female scientists who shook the world. 

Let’s begin. 

  1. Sara Seager 
  • Astronomer & Planetary Scientist

Seager unearthed 715 planets whilst working with the Keplar Space Telescope and her work on extrasolar planets has contributed greatly to our knowledge of space.

Not only is Seager a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but also a Professor of Planetary Science, Physics and Aerospace Engineering.

Her biography says:

“Her research has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. She was part of a team that co-discovered the first detection of light emitted from an exoplanet and the first spectrum of an exoplanet.”  

Seager’s research now focuses on:

  • Theoretical models of atmospheres and interiors of all kinds of exoplanets.
  • Novel space science missions. 
  • Spearheading the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite program.

2. Mary Anning

  • Palaeontologist

Pioneering Anning was born in Lyme Regis and discovered Jurassic remains along the coastline of her hometown, from the age of 12. 

The first remains she found was of a reptile named the Ichthyosaurus. 

Her name is unheard of because at the time of her discoveries (and 50 years after her death) women were not allowed to be part of the Geological Society of London or other similar societies. The society did not and would not acknowledge her whilst she was alive.

However, The Natural History Museum in London refers to Anning as the “unsung hero of fossil discovery.” 

3. Rosalind Franklin

  • Biophysicist 

Rosalind Franklin was a British biophysicist. She was known for her ground-breaking work discovering DNA which helped to improve science and medicine in unimaginable ways.  

DNA From The Beginning describes how Franklin joined King’s College in London to “set up and improve the X-ray crystallography unit” with Wilkins, a fellow DNA-er. When they first met, Wilkins assumed she was an assistant not a fellow researcher, which didn’t bode well for their relationship. 

“Working with a student, Raymond Gosling, Franklin was able to get two sets of high-resolution photos of crystallized DNA fibers… From this she deduced the basic dimensions of DNA strands and that the phosphates were on the outside of what was probably a helical structure.”

She presented these findings at a lecture in King’s College, where James Watson, another founder of DNA structures, was present.” In his book, The Double Helix, Watson admitted to not paying attention at Franklin’s talk and not being able to fully describe the lecture and the results to Francis Crick (another DNA-er). 

It was Wilkins who showed Watson and Crick the X-ray data Franklin obtained. The data confirmed the 3-D structure that Watson and Crick had theorized for DNA. In 1953, both Wilkins and Franklin published papers on their X-ray data in the same Nature issue with Watson and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA.

4. Daphna Joel

  • Neuroscientist 

Joel’s continued work on the brain has boosted many areas of research. In particular, the so-called ‘female and male brain’. 

Through her research, Joel looks to prove that brains are in fact genderless and are mostly impacted by the environment and a person’s upbringing. In an interview with Harvard University, she describes her latest study’s findings: 

“Similar to other studies, we find differences between females and males in characteristics (e.g., volume, cortical thickness) of single brain regions… What we find is that although there are group-level differences in some features, they do not add up to create two types of brains, one typical of females and the other typical of males, but rather the brain types typical of females are also typical of males, and vice versa, and large differences exist only in the frequency of some rare brain types.”

She is sharing her knowledge with the world via Ted Talks, published studies and by launching a gender studies course at Tel Aviv University.

5. Ada Lovelace

  • Mathematician & Writer
  • World’s First Computer Programmer

Ada Lovelace is often referred to as the world’s first computer programmer. In the 1840s Lovelace wrote the very first machine algorithm, for an early computing machine, which existed just on paper. 

She was also a top mathematician, with a clear focus on creating computer programs. In fact, her collaborative work with inventor Charles Babbage meant that the first suggestion for an “Analytical Engine” was formed. Google, eat your heart out. 

Lovelace also created a process used in today’s computer programs, which allows a machine to use something called ‘looping’. ThoughtsCo describes looping as: 

“A loop in a computer program is an instruction that repeats until a specified condition is reached.” 

6. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

  • Astrophysicist

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist who, at a very young age in 1967, whilst at Cambridge University, co-discovered the first radio pulsars. 

Women In Science In Scotland describes how Burnell was credited with “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century.”

They go onto describe how “the discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics. Despite the fact that she was the first to observe the pulsars, this was not recognised by her male colleagues and she was not one of the recipients of the prize.”

However, many years later after being passed over for the Nobel prize, she won what is described as “the most lucrative award in modern science.” 

Burnell was picked to win the $3m (£2.3m) special Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics, for her work on pulsars and for her inspiring leadership within the scientific community. 

7. Barbara Sahakian 

  • Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Co-inventor of the CANTAB

Sahakian co-invented the CANTAB, often referred to as “the most sensitive and validated cognitive research software available.”

The machine allows for cognitive assessments “for understanding the role of specific brain functions across a range of disorders and syndromes; giving insight into underlying causes, identifying ways to detect the earliest symptoms and evaluating the effects of interventions designed to improve brain health.” 

Sahakian also worked with Peak and designed and developed our brain training game called Decoder. The design and development purpose was to “target cognitive training of visual sustained attention.”  

With many awards under her belt, there’s no guessing where her research will lead. 

Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll feel a little more clued up on the impact just a few female scientists have had. So, when you next get asked to name some scientists, why not choose one of these pioneering women who changed and are still changing the way we live today. 

Sources Cited:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/06/jocelyn-bell-burnell-british-astrophysicist-overlooked-by-nobels-3m-award-pulsars

https://www.cambridgecognition.com/cantab/

https://www.saraseager.com/personal-biography/

https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/gendersci/joelqa

https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-loop-958105

https://www.rse.org.uk/wis/guide/prof-dame-jocelyn-bell-burnell.html

Maisie Bygraves

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