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Amazing Women in STEM

By Katrin Gross

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have been dominated by men throughout history, but along the way there have also been many amazing women in STEM who are largely unrecognized. Here are some incredible women who have changed the world!

Mary Anning

Have you ever seen dinosaur bones or rocks with tiny, ancient fish inside them? These are called fossils, and Mary Anning collected and analyzed them in the 1800’s when the study of fossils was just taking off. She discovered the first complete skeleton of a dinosaur in 1811! She was also the first to study fossilized poop, called coprolites. Mary Anning accomplished all of this without any formal education; instead, she taught herself geology and anatomy. Her discoveries were hugely influential to the growing field of paleontology–the study of ancient life on Earth through fossils–and contributed to the increased public interest in this field.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish scientist who, alongside her husband Pierre Curie, conducted research on radioactivity – the process through which nuclei of unstable atoms spontaneously break down and release particles. She also discovered two elements, polonium and radium. During World War II, Marie Curie used her discovery of radium to improve X-rays and made them more portable to help wounded soldiers. For her amazing accomplishments, she was awarded two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and one in Chemistry. She was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize!

Alice Ball

Have you ever heard of Leprosy? It’s a bacterial disease that causes huge lesions on your skin and was widely feared throughout history. Alice Ball, who was a gifted chemist, developed a groundbreaking cure for leprosy when she was just 23 years old! This treatment, called “the Ball Method” is named after her. Alice Ball’s work was so incredible that Hawaii, the place where she conducted her research, recognizes February 29th as Alice Ball day.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a scientist and writer from Pennsylvania who found her passion studying nature. Her groundbreaking book Silent Spring called attention to the dangerous side effects of chemical pesticides which farmers often use to protect crops from pests such as insects. Rachel Carson opened people’s eyes to the ways that certain dangerous pesticides were harming wildlife. Thanks to her, use of one of the most harmful pesticides, DDT, is banned in the United States.

Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu was a physicist known for her work on the Manhattan project. The Manhattan project was a top secret program in the 1940s for the development of the atomic bomb (picture the biggest, most powerful bomb you could possibly imagine). While the Manhattan project’s results were devastating, the science that went into it was incredible, and Chien-Shiung Wu was a big part of that scientific effort. She also helped prove an exception to a physics law called the law of parity, which states that objects that look the same or are mirror images of each other will act the same. This discovery won a Nobel Prize in physics, but sadly, Chien-Shiung Wu was not credited.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who worked at NASA and made huge contributions to space exploration. She solved complicated equations about space flight by hand! Her calculations were instrumental for the mission Freedom 7 which sent the first American to space, and she also worked on the Apollo Program which sent people to the moon. There is even a movie about her and two other influential African American women who worked at NASA called Hidden Figures.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a chemist who specialized in X-ray crystallography, an early technique that allows scientists to see structures on a micro (very small) scale. Using this technique, she took a groundbreaking picture of DNA–the blueprint for our bodies–which led to the discovery of its structure. Uncovering the structure of DNA revolutionized our understanding of biology and the way that science is studied today. Unfortunately two other scientists by the name of James Watson and Francis Crick stole Rosalind Franklin’s data and were credited with the discovery of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick won a Nobel Prize for this discovery, while Rosalind Franklin was not recognized.

Many of these incredible women–and many more not mentioned here–made important contributions to their fields without receiving the credit they are due. But by learning about them today, we can recognize their brilliant discoveries and inspire future generations of amazing women in STEM.


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