9 Female Scientists Whose Names You Absolutely Should Know
Feb. 11 is the United Nations' International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A day designed to shed light on science's gender imbalance, and celebrate the achievements of female scientists, both past and present. While lots of people may be au fait with the likes of Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, there are plenty more names that are rarely given the spotlight. So here's a few more female scientists to remember.
Their names desperately need to be added to the history books, if recent research is anything to go by. A poll, commissioned by charity Teach First, found that only half of the British public can name a female scientist. And when asked the first scientist's name that pops into their mind, less than one in 10 named a woman.
If that wasn't enough to enrage you, Teach First also found that not one woman is featured in the GCSE science national curriculum. (That's not surprising, considering several prolific scientists conveniently forgot to credit their female colleagues in their work.)
But sadly, women are still under-represented in science today. As CNN reports, less than 30% of scientific researchers are female, and there is still a dearth of women in fields such as engineering and computer science.
With the following names (and plenty more where they came from), there's no excuse for people not to reel off a list of accomplished female scientists. Take note and remember.
1. Tu Youyou
Born in 1930 in China, Tu Youyou went on to discover a treatment for a disease that has killed millions: malaria. While poring over traditional Chinese texts, Youyou and her team noticed that wormwood had been used to treat one of malaria's symptoms, reports CNN.
Youyou volunteed to be the first human to test the substance her team had extracted in the 1970s. Despite 240,000 compounds failing to treat the disease at that point, her theory worked. Now, her discovery has saved millions of lives, she is the recipient of a Nobel Prize, all without even doing a medical degree.
2. Shirley Ann Jackson
73-year-old Shirley Ann Jackson has achieved several firsts, per the New York Times. She was the first black woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, and one of the first two African-American women to achieve a physics doctorate in the U.S. Plus, she holds the title of first African-American woman to helm a national research university.
Once qualified as a physicist, Jackson branched out into teaching the next generation and has long encouraged women and minorities to consider a career in the STEM field.
3. Jennifer Doudna
Jennifer Doudna, 55, is most well-known for being one of the biochemists to develop an innovative gene-editing method. CRISPR allows genetic material to be added and removed, and could fight a number of genetic diseases, per the Guardian.
Despite controversy over the technology being used to "design" babies, Doudna's work has already been used to treat people with cancer and blood diseases, reports the Financial Times. Trials are set to take place in 2020 for the treatment of rare liver and eye diseases.
4. Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell was overlooked by the 1974 Nobel Prize committee when her male co-researchers were awarded the prize for making a great discovery. Bell Burnell also discovered radio pulsars — "by-products of supernova explosions that make all life possible," per the BBC — but did not receive recognition until 2018.
That year, she was awarded the £2.3 million Breakthrough Prize, reports the Guardian. Instead of keeping the money, she donated it all to fund women, refugees, and other minorities who want to become physics researchers, reports the BBC.
5. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Born in 1836, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson — sister of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett — soon decided she wanted to be a doctor. But women were barred from British medical schools at that time, per the BBC. So Garrett Anderson found a way around it. She became a nursing student, eventually teaching herself French and gaining a medical degree in Paris.
Although Britain refused to recognise her new doctoral status, she founded a hospital entirely staffed by women. In 1876, women were finally allowed into the profession.
6. Lise Meitner
Another forgotten female talent, Austrian physicist Lise Meitner explained how nuclear fission — the process that paved the way for nuclear bombs and power plants — was possible in 1939, states The Conversation.
However, her male academic partner, Otto Hahn, was solely awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944; partly because Meitner was living as an exiled Jew at the time and wasn't included on Hanh's research paper. Her achievements weren't recognised until two decades later, The Conversation reports.
7. Alice Ball
Alice Ball was the first woman and first African-American to receive a Master's degree from the University of Hawaii, as CNN reports. The chemist, born in 1892, helped discover a treatment for leprosy at the age of 23. The treatment, which allowed people to easily inject an existing oil, was the most effective treatment for the disease until the 1940s.
However, Ball died before she could publicise her findings. Her university's president took credit for her work, and her efforts were only mentioned in a 1922 journal, per National Geographic. Thankfully, someone noticed. Now, Feb. 29 is known as Alice Ball Day in Hawaii.
8. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is one of the world's most renowned primatologists, and has spent almost six decades working in conservation. In 1960, she joined a friend in Kenya, per the Guardian. With no training, she met a scientist and began a journey of chimpanzee discovery.
In a forest in Tanzania's Gombe, Goodall immersed herself with chimps and was the first person to note that the primates made and used tools. Since that discovery, National Geographic reports, the now 85-year-old has started numerous chimpanzee sanctuaries, mentored upcoming scientists, and advocated for conservation wherever she goes.
9. Chien-Shiung Wu
Chinese physicist Chien-Shiung Wu spent almost all of her working life in America. She disproved a major law of physics that "stated that all objects and their mirror images behaved in the same way, symmetrically," reports CNN.
Two physicists, Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, asked for Wu's expert help with the research, but she was left out of the joint Nobel Prize the pair received in 1957, notes the Atomic Heritage Foundation. She did receive several awards and honours until she died in 1997, and, in 1973, became the first woman to take charge of the American Physical Society.