10 Notable Women of History in Science

These women changed our world forever with their efforts.

Mar 27, 2018

The contributions of female scientists to the world are plenty and in honor of Women's History Month, we want to celebrate the often overlooked achievements of women to the incredible history of science and medicine.




1. DOROTHY HODGKIN

Did you take your vitamins today? Thank Dorothy Hodgkin. She won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for pioneering protein crystallography—which sounds obscure until you realize how important the discovery became for other scientific fields.

We wouldn’t have modern drug treatments or vitamins without Hodgkin’s work. Determining the structure of crystalline of molecules let us discover the size of atoms and the nuances of chemical bonds, and scientists continue to use her methodology to ascertain materials’ atomic structures.

Source: Walter Stoneman/National Portrait Gallery

2. ROSALIND FRANKLIN

It may have taken humanity much, much longer to discover the double-helix structure of DNA without Rosalind Franklin’s work. In fact, it has been suggested that she could have discovered the entire double-helix model on her own within a year, if a parallel discovery had not been made based (partially) on her research data. The discovery of DNA structure was rife with competition, so it’s important to give credit where it’s due: to the woman who took it upon herself to do the academic heavy lifting.

Source: Jewish Chronicle Archive/Heritage-Images/Wikimedia

3. BARBARA MCCLINTOCK

Were you born with a weird gene that skipped a few generations? Barbara McClintock can tell you why. Her study of corn revealed that genetic elements can change position on a chromosome, activating or deactivating other genes in turn. It changed the way we understand genetics and genetic diseases, in particular.

McClintock grew up in a traditional family of modest means, with more than a little pressure to find a husband instead of going to school. We’re more than a little grateful she followed her own path into genetics, because she made one hell of a discovery!

Source: Flickr/Smithsonian Institution

4. MARIA GOEPPERT-MAYER

If Edward Teller is the “father of the hydrogen bomb,” then Goeppert-Mayer is the mother. We can all gravity of nuclear technology, regardless how we might feel about it—it has changed the course of history.Maria pioneered the idea of a nuclear shell based on the most stable nuclei. Nuclei with a certain amount of protons were more stable than others, and she hit the nail on the head.

She worked through unpaid positions and part-time appointments for much of her life to make her ground-breaking contribution… and you thought today’s academic positions were bad.

5. JANE GOODALL

The ability to shape the world around us sets apart from animals, right? Well, not so much chimpanzees. That’s profound. Not only does it challenge the way we see ourselves in the universe, but it put primatology on the map—using anthropology to do it.

At 26 she travelled to Tanzania to study primates. She discovered the deep social bonds that define primates as a family… including us.

Source: U.S. Department of State/Wikimedia

6. GERTRUDE ELION

Have you known anyone with Leukemia or a herpetic virus? They’re treatable because of Gertrude Elion. She graduated from Hunter College in New York with honors at the age of 19, and worked as a supply teacher while completing a Master’s Degree. She holds 23 honorary degrees, even though she did not go on to do a PhD. Her work speaks for itself!

She also developed drugs to prevent bodies from rejecting kidney transplants, and holds 45 patents. Now think of all the people who spend their lives riding the wave of a single patent. Yep, we’re glad she became a scientist!

Source: Wellcome Images/Wikimedia

7. IRENE JOLIOT-CURIE

How do you fill the shoes of a Nobel laureate? You win one for yourself—and that’s exactly what Irene Joliot-Curie did with her husband in 1935. Joliot-Curie discovered that radioactive elements could be produced from other stable elements. This opened the door to research into practical (read: medical) applications that have saved millions of lives since.

It’s also worth mentioning that Joliot-Curie’s was far more affordable than older methods of separating radioactive isotopes from ore, making the related medical treatment accessible to far more people than ever before.

8. HEDY LAMARR

Statistically, you are reading this on your smartphone through a wi-fi connection. You have Hedy Lamarr to thank for that convenience!! Far more than just a pretty face, Hedy Lamarr was a serious inventor. She helped develop a method of manipulating radio frequencies in a way that protected Allied communications from Nazi decryption in World War II.

That “spread spectrum” technology underpins the wireless communication that we take for granted today, and she was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame as a result.

Source: MGM / Clarence Bull / Wikimedia

9. LISE MEITNER

One of the pioneers of nuclear power, Lise Meitner helped discover protactinium and nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is the release of energy, which is scary—but has also proven to be a productive form of generating electricity for the world Meitnerium is named after her, but it’s no consolation for being overlooked by the Nobel Committee. They ignored her contributions, without so much as a mention—awarding her colleague Otto Hahn for the discovery of nuclear fission instead.

10. MARIE CURIE

Not only did she become the first woman to hold the position of Professor of General Physics at Sorbonne University, but she was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 (and in 1911)! That’s a trailblazer. Her work advanced the study of x-ray technology, which is used in various medical and dental settings every day. She also coined the term “radioactivity,” and essentially created the field of atomic physics for the rest of us to benefit.

Source: Wikimedia

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