Most of these ladies were and are pioneers that have to fight for the acceptance and recognition of their achievements in science. They are an inspiration and great models to be follow by every little girl and future scientist.
Katharine Burr Blodgett (January 10, 1898) was an American chemist and physicist. She was always interested in science and received a masters degree in science; investigating the chemical structure of gas masks and found that carbon can absorb most poisonous gases. She went to become the first women to be awarded a doctorate degree in physics at Cambridge University. Back in the States she started her research in science and concentrated in surface chemistry. One of the most important contributions to science was the development of non-reflecting glass use now a days in optics; for picture frames, eye glasses, microscopes, camera lenses, and other uses in metallurgic. The other contribution was the production of smoke screens, this was used for the protection of soldiers during the second world war. She published many papers, is the inventor on eight patents, and received many awards including the induction into the National Inventors hall.
Dian Fossey (January 16, 1932) was an American zoologist, well known for her work on the behavior of the mountain gorilla. She started as an occupational therapist in a children’s hospital in Kentucky. After a visit to Kenya where she met the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, she became interested in the mountain gorilla. Leakey was interested in human evolution and thought that in order to understand our own evolution, the study of our closest evolutionary relatives would be important. After she returned to the states, under Leakey’s advice, she decided to go back to Africa and studying the gorillas in their own habitat. The gorillas eventually got used to her presence and she was able to live among them, to gather data, and record their behavior, communication, and social structure. Fossey took a break in her research to get her doctoral degree in zoology at Cambridge University, and then she went back to Rwanda to establish a research center on the mountain gorilla. Fossey become more and more interested in protecting the endangered gorilla, she become vocal and generated international attention on her fight against poachers. In 1986, she was assassinated, her body was found close to her camp in Rwanda, the culprits were not found. Because of her efforts several protections were instituted and now even though the gorillas still endangered, the number are slowly increasing. Her most famous book, which was made into a movie, is ‘Gorillas in the mist’.
Elizabeth Blackwell (February 3, 1821) was born in England, United Kingdom and as a teenager immigrated with her family to the USA. Early in her career she opened a school for girls. After teaching in several other schools, she became interested in medicine and decided to go to medical school. Blackwell was denied entry to many medical schools because at that time medical schools accepted only men. Finally she was accepted to a medical school, in Geneva New York. It was a difficult time of Blackwell; due to discrimination and harassment form her male peers and professors. However she was persistent and obtained top marks in her class, becoming the first woman to receive a medical degree in the USA. In order to obtain experience, she furthered her training in France and England fro a couple of years before searching for a medical position in hospitals. Back in the States it was very difficult because no-body would hire her, so she opened her own practice that grew and eventually become a hospital; the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. This institution became the first medical college for women and become successful in training nurses. Eventually Blackwell moved back to England were she opened a medical practice and lectured in medicine. She wrote several books and articles advancing the idea that hygiene is paramount to prevent disease.
Mary Leakey (February 6, 1913) was a British paleoanthropologist that discover the fossils many early hominids and their artifacts in Africa. She starter her career as an illustrator of archaeological digs, this prepared her for the future illustrations of her own diggings. She met the anthropologist Louis Leakey to illustrate his archeological dig and became his wife and partner. She was very successful in finding hominid fossils. Mary Leakey’s two important early fossils, Proconsul africanus (Australopithecus Africanus) and Australopithecus boisei (Paranthropus bosei), showed that hominids were present in Africa 1.75 million years ago, long before what it was thought. She also found the remains of Homo habilis, called the tool user because of the tools found at Olduvai Gorge. Mary documented the Olduvai Gorge stone tools and followed their development through time showing how they become more advanced. One of her most important contributions was found South of the Gorge, in Laetoli, Mary Leakey and her team found the footprints tracks of two hominids preserved in volcanic beads. This clearly showed that these hominids, about 3.5 million years ago, were bipedal and probably belong to the genus Australopithecus. Mary un-earth many other hominids and their artifacts during her career, after retirement she gave many lectures and published her findings.
Agnes Arber (February 23, 1879) was a botanist born in London. Early in life her artist father teach her to draw and illustrate plants, she used this to illustrate her own scientific publications and books. Her studies as well as her research were always center on the study of plants. While attending the University of Cambridge, she studied the anatomy and morphology of gymnosperms. She wrote several books, all in different aspects of land and water plant morphology, anatomy, life cycles, and classification. She was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of the Linnaean Society of London. After she had to close her lab due to the Second World War, she produced several philosophical publications on the unity of all living things.
Jane Goodall (March 4, 1934) is an English ethologist whose research on chimps, pan troglodyte, revealed a lot about their behavior and cleared up many misconceptions about our evolutionary cousins. Ethology is the study of animal behavior under natural conditions. Goodall was always interested in animal behavior; eventually she went to Africa for a holiday and met Louis and Mary Leakey. She joined the Leakey’s anthropological expedition at Olduvai Gorge but instead of studying fossils, Goodall decided to study extant primates, the chimps. She spent many years in close proximity with chimps in Tanzania; from her observations we discovered that chimps are not aggressive. Like any animal, chimps are aggressive when feel threaten but Jane persisted until the animals learned to accept her presence. Goodall also documented chimps playing, in social activities, and using tools to get food form termite mounds. The National Geographic society sponsored her research and thus her story got out to the world. Goodall have written many book about her research and make documentaries about her time in Africa. She won the 1974 Walker Prize. Later Goodall got involved in promoting the conservation of wild chimpanzees and their habitat and continues speaking about conservation and environmental issues. Goodall has written many books for adults and children, among the most influential are; Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe (1990), Africa In My Blood (2000), and Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants (2014). The Jane Goodall institute is an organization set to study, protect, and conserve the species.
Lynn Margulis (March 5, 1938) was an eminent American evolutionary biologist. Her most significant contribution was the study of the role of symbiosis in the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. She proposed that evolutionary novelties not only happen by DNA mutations selected by evolution but that there are other processes involved in producing new characteristics that help create new organisms and promote diversification. Margulis advanced the idea that major rearrangements occurred in cells including the incorporation of an organism inside another or the merging of two organisms, endosymbiosis. She proposed that the mitochondria and chloroplast are descendants of bacteria that were engulfed by another cells. She went further in proposing that also the nuclei and the cilia were also products of endosymbiosis. Her ideas were met with skepticism until molecular data was available. Technological advances in DNA sequencing revealed that the mitochondrion is a descendant of an alpha-protobacterium and the chloroplast came from a cyanobacterium. Later in her career Margulis proposed, in conjunction with James Lovelock, the Gaia hypothesis that said that Earth is a self-regulatory organism where inorganic and organic matter are interdependent at all levels. Margulis wrote many scientific and popular books explaining her theories and ideas about early cellular evolution. She received many prizes like the Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnaean Society of London in 2008 and honors such as elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.
Amalie Emmy Noether (March 23, 1882) was a German mathematician, who made very important contributions in physics and mathematics specially the Noether theorems. In spite of her brilliance at school, she had a very difficult time being accepted to university because she was a woman. Eventually she was accepted to a university and received her doctoral degree in 1907 from Gottingen summa cum laude. This did not help her obtain an academic position; she had to lecture under a male collage and mostly do research as a junior investigator. Noether developed two important theorems in 1915 she showed a connection between the conservation laws and symmetry. For instance a system invariant under translation of time, space, or rotation must obey the laws of conservation of energy, linear momentum, and angular momentum respectively. Eventually her greatness was acknowledged, Noether was invited by eminent physicists Klein and Hilbert to assist them in understanding the law of conservation of energy in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. She became a very respected mathematician and with the help of scientist like Hilbert and Einstein, the university allowed her to lecture under her own name. She continued to make many contributions especially in abstract algebra. In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany; difficult times for scientists in Germany made her moved to the USA. Sadly Noether career was cut short for she died in 1935 a few days after complications from surgery.
Dorothy Hodgkin (May 12, 1910) won the 1064 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for determining the three dimensional structure of several important biochemical substances by using X-ray diffraction techniques. Some of these substances are the steroid cholesteryl iodide, penicillin, insulin, and vitamin B12. Hodgkin was the second woman to receive the Order of Merit, the first to receive the Copley medal, and she was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. She worked against social inequalities and the resolution of conflicts. In recognition to her work, the Royal Society created the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for early career researchers. There are several buildings and educational institutions bearing her name and her face appears in British stamps.
Cecilia Payne (May 10, 1900) was an English-American astronomer first to apply the laws of physics to the study of stellar bodies, specifically temperature and density. She concluded that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe. Her doctoral thesis showed that the sun’s spectrum consisted of 99% hydrogen and Helium and only 1% iron. This went against the accepted idea at that time that the sun composition of 65% iron and 35% hydrogen. Her superiors did not accept her results until after 20 years her results were confirm by Fred Hoyle.
Susan Elizabeth Blow (June 7, 1843) was an American educator who opened the first public kindergarten in the United States. She followed the ideas of the German philosopher Friedrich Froebel. Froebel thought that children should be educated by self-activity and play and that the teachers should encourage self-expression through individual and group play. Within a year of opening her kindergarten, Susan Blow opened a training school for kindergarten teachers and made Missouri a focal point of early education in the country. She lectured widely in the Northeast including Teachers College at Columbia University and wrote several books on kindergarten education.
Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902) was an American cytogeneticist. Earlier in her career she started to use histological techniques to map genes to the ten chromosomes in corn. During her investigations she discovered mobile genetic elements, transposable elements or ‘jumping genes” for which she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1983. She found that these transposable elements, controlling color, could change location and affect the gene expression of other genes. This is the basis of the different kernel color in corn. McClintock’s work, in the 1940s, was not appreciated by her male colleges. Eventually after the structure of DNA was solved and people corroborated her result by experimentation, her contributions were recognized and the noble prize awarded to her.
Mary Calderone (July 1, 1904 ) was an American physician, public health advocate, and founder of Planned Parenthood. She is best remembered for overturning the American Medical Association policy against disseminating birth control information to patients. She co-founded the Sex Information Education Council of the United States and served as directors of Planned Parenthood. She wrote many books that promote sex education and become and advocate for legalized abortion.
Rosalyn Sussman (July 19, 1921) was an American Physicist that developed radioimmunoassay techniques for which she received the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Radioimmunoassay is use to screen minute amounts of biological substances in body fluids. For example RIA is used to detect the hepatitis viruses and other substances in blood banks; and to calibrate the effective amount of drugs and antibiotics. She lectured in physics and became the assistant chief nuclear physicist in the radioisotope service at the Veteran Administration Hospital.
Vera Rubin ( August 23, 1928) was a famous American scientist who provided groundbreaking evidence for the existence of dark matter in the universe. She measured the rotation speed of about 60 spiral galaxies and found that those in the outer region of galaxies spun twice as fast as the ones closer to the inner regions. She proposed that the most reasonable explanation was the existence of dark matter. Her contributions were not accepted at the time, perhaps because of her sex. This concept of the existence of dark matter was know 50 years earlier, the observation that there is not enough matter in the starts of a galaxy to prevent it form breaking apart, so there must be matter that we can not see ‘dark matter’. Rubin was a relentless advocate for women in science. In 1981 she was admitted to the National Academy of Sciences.
Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870) was a famous Italian educator, who originated an educational system that focus of the believe that children have a creative potential that need to be nurtured and that each child need to be treated as an individual. She received her medical doctor degree and started working at a psychiatric clinic where she became interested in educational problem of intellectual disabled children. As her method was successful and she opened her first school for small children and extended it to normal children. She believed that children supplying specific materials and setting up situations conducive to learning allow children to develop their natural interest for learning. Self-direction and individual initiative is the hallmark of her educational technique. She took her ideas all over Europe and United States; these days there are many schools based on her methods and bear her name.
Irène Curie (September 12, 1897) was a French physicist and the daughter of the Nobel Prize winners Marie and Piere Curie She started as her mother’s assistant and eventually become a scientist herself. She won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 along with her husband for artificially producing isotopes. Their research included the bombardment of chemical compounds with alpha particles to artificially produce radioactive compounds of chemicals normally not radioactive. Her work on the action of neutrons on heavy elements was the seed for the investigation and discovery of uranium fission. She was a commissioner for atomic energy and oversaw the construction of the center for nuclear physics that housed a synchro-cyclotron in Paris. As a member of the National Committee of French women, Irene Curie promoted the intellectual and social advancement of women and she was an active participant in the World Peace Council.
Mae Jemison (October 17, 1956) is an American physician, a chemical engineer, and an astronaut. After practicing medicine in California, she became a medical officer for Peace Corps for Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa. Jemison was involved in biological research projects like the development of a vaccine for hepatitis B, schistosomaisis, and rabies. During this time she was active in training volunteer personal in public health and safety issues. After returning to the USA she was accepted to become a NASA astronaut. In 1992, Jemison orbited Earth for nearly a week in the space shuttle endeavor as a science mission specialist. She worked in a USA and Japan mission to study material processing were she was a co-investigator into bone cell research experiments in space. After she left NASA, Jemison taught at Dartmouth and established the Jemison group for research into advance technologies.
Marie Curie (November 7, 1867) was a Polish Physicist and the first woman to win two Nobel Prizes, one for Physics in 1903 and the other for Chemistry in 1911. She moved to the Sorbonne in Paris to study Physics and work in the laboratory. A few years after the discovery of radioactivity, Curie set to analyze many chemical compounds for radioactivity and found that thorium also have the same characteristics as the already known element uranium. She noticed that the uranium ore she was working with was a lot more radioactive that uranium metal and proposed that perhaps other more radioactive elements may exist within the ore. This work led her to discover the radioactive elements polonium and radium, for which Marie, her husband Pierre, and Becquerel received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Later in 1911, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry because of her work on radium. She obtained a pure enough sample of metallic radium so that its molecular weight could be measured. In addition her work was the seed for other important scientific advances like studies in using radioactivity for the treatment for cancer and the inspiration to more discoveries in Physics. Curie was not aware of the dangers of not using protection when working with radioactivity. She died of Leukemia, cancer to the blood, a disease know to be caused by penetrating radiation.
Rita Rossi Colwell (November 23, 1934) is an American Oceanographer and Microbiologists. During her early scientific career she focused on studying the presence of bacteria in the Chesapeake Bay, specifically the agent of cholera, vibrio cholerae. Colwell also did extensive work abroad showing a correlation between outbreaks of cholera and excess levels of nutrients in the warmer oceans in Blangadesh. Among several of her achievements, Colwell and her collaborators designed a simple water filtration method as a way to purify water from the microbes associated with cholera in poverty-stricken countries. The implementation of this cheap and effective preventive measure led to 50% reduction of deaths due to cholera. Back in the United States, she was the first woman to be the president of National Science foundation (NSF), where she promoted science education, the advancement of women and minorities in science, and spearheaded initiatives such as nanotechnology, bi0-complexity, and social and economic sciences. Colwell has also being a president of the American Association for the advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Association of Microbiology. She has written many books and science articles and is a currently a professor at the University of Maryland.
Grace Murray Hooper (December 9, 1906) was an American mathematician and Physicist involved in programing the first computers, specifically developing of software concepts. She took leave from her academic position at Vassar College to join the United States Naval reserve during the Great War and was assigned to work and do research on computing. Through out her career in academia, army and industry Hooper worked as a mathematician and in the field of engineering and applied physics. She wanted to make computers easier to program and to applied to tasks so that more people can use it. Hooper and her team developed the first complier, the A-O compiler that translated symbolic mathematical code into a computer code. She believed that the way to open computer usage to the regular population was to write user-friendly programs. Her second compiler was designed for automatic payroll calculation and automatic billing, the FLOW-MATIC and later the COBOL. She had a hard time convincing people to adopt her advances; eventually she convinced the army to use her program to great success. She received many awards and was a great speaker giving many lectures and talks.