A Brief Women’s History Lesson

The hot topic of sexism in the scientific world that we so fervently discussed during class prompted me to ponder if I knew any famous female scientists. After years of biology and chemistry courses, not to mention a few women’s history classes thrown in here and there, I could only come up with Marie Curie, and I’m pretty sure her discovery led to her own slow death. This sad fact led me to realize the underrepresentation of women in science history. I knew there had to be great women in the books, unless everytime a Rosalind Franklin came along, so did an Honest Jim, so I did some research, and thought I would present an abridged list of great female scientists. Underappreciated and unrecognized by our society today, these women may not be household names but they are most definitely trailblazers that should be appreciated and honored.

Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer, and the first woman to discover a comet (she totaled eight in her lifetime) Herschel learned from her brother, and was the first woman to have her work published by the Royal Society, furthermore, she was the first British woman to get paid for scientific work.

Maria Mitchell was the first woman to be elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and focused her work on the cosmos just as Herschel did. Later, she became the first female professor of astronomy in America.

Lise Meitner has a story similar to Rosalind’s. She worked with Otto Hahn studying radioactivity. Their discoveries led to the understanding of nuclear fission, and to a Nobel Prize in 1944 for Hahn, however, just like Franklin, Meitner was overlooked by the committee. Their discovery led to the creation of the atomic bomb, and Meitner would later become famous for saying, “You must not blame scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries.”

Irene Curie-Joliot was the daughter of Marie Curie who followed in her footsteps and studied radioactivity. She too died of leukemia due to her extensive research with the lethal substances, but not before she won her own Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1935 for discovering artificial radioactivity. This made Marie and Irene the first mother-daughter pairing to have won Nobel prizes independently.

Dorothy Hodgkin studied X Ray crystallography at Oxford, where she spent the grand part of her life working and teaching. She discovered the chemical structure for Vitamin B12, insulin and penicillin and was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry in1964. 16 years following her death, the British Royal Mall created a stamp collection that featured ten of society’s most coveted and well known members. In a list that included such household names as Isaac Newton and Ben Franklin, Dorothy Hodgkin was the only woman featured.


~ by siobhangcoad on March 20, 2012.

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