Things have taken the turn for the best in the 21st century for women as long as academics are concerned. Back in the days, women were kept away from subjects such as mathematics, engineering and science since those were considered the domain of men. Girls were traditionally assigned topics such as music, dance, teaching, art and home science that appealed to their “nurturing” feminine side. Social stereotypes have prevented women from realising their potential in the field of science. Even today, places like Silicon Valley exhibit a glaring shortage of women. Although many have tried to place the blame squarely on the “limitations” of female intellect, research has proved that it is the society that limits women from pursuing subjects that are associated with men. On the occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2019, we look back at some of the women of science, from Marie Curie to Sheryl Sandberg on whose shoulders womankind today stands on.
Marie Curie’s name has been forever linked with radium. Marie, born in 1867, was a Polish physicist and chemist who, along with her husband, discovered the elements polonium and radium.
She also graced the Nobel hall of fame by becoming the first female recipient of the prestigious award. Marie’s devotion to her subject eventually claimed her life in 1934 as she died years later due to the side effects of studying elements with toxic radiation.
Augusta Ada King or Countess of Lovelace the daughter of poet Lord Byron was among the first women to make a name for herself in the field of science. An English mathematician and writer, Ada is also the first computer programmer.
She translated Charles Babbage’s article on the Analytical Engine and added her own thoughts on how codes can be created for the machine to recognise letters, numbers and symbols.
Whoever said that beauty and brains don’t go together has not heard of Hedy LaMarr. She’s the one we should thank for WiFi, GPS and the Bluetooth! Born Hedwig Kiesler in 1914, she was known more for her sultry beauty (called the most beautiful woman in films) than her intelligence.
She finally got her dues in the winter of her life when her contributions to science were recognised and appreciated.
Valentina Tereshkova, born in 1937, gave flight to the ambitions of millions of women around the world when she became the first woman in space. The Russian cosmonaut and engineer spent three days in space in 1963.
All the female astronauts who followed in her footsteps have Valentina to thank who helped break stereotypes and paved the way for women in astronomy. When she returned, the Soviet government honoured her with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Indian Women Scientists Who Made Nation Proud.
Sheryl Sandberg the COO of social media juggernaut Facebook. She was named as the fifth-most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in the list that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton.
Recognising the dearth of women’s representation in science, Sheryl spearheaded the Lean In project to balance the gender gap in tech and bring more females in the field of computer science.
Software engineering is a field that is considered male-dominated. But did you know that it is a woman who coined the term in the first place? The person who invented the discipline is Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist.
Born in 1936, Margaret is responsible for the success of the Apollo space missions and her contributions for national and military technology of the United States.
Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, was the first marketing manager at Google. She didn’t know she would be changing the world one when she rented out her garage to the founders of Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
She is responsible for the growth of YouTube today when she suggested to Page and Brin that they buy the video-sharing website. She has played a vital role in the dizzying growth and development of Google.
Who said women couldn’t do math? German mathematician Emmy Noether, born in 1882, is credited with changing the face of physics. She won the admiration of her mostly-male colleagues when she solved a difficult puzzle in Einstein’s theory of gravity.
While she did that, Emmy discovered a revolutionary mathematical theorem that revolutionised the study of physics. She is also credited with founding abstract algebra that would come to the aid of physicists and crystallographers.
Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was a 1906-born American computer scientist who also served as a rear admiral in the US Navy.
She was assigned the programming of Mark I computer, which eventually led her to development of the famous computer language COBOL.
Physicist Gabriela Gonzalez was amazed by physics, which helped her explain the mysteries of the universe. The Argentinean physicist, born in 1965, studied a method to predict thermal noise that could muffle gravitational wave’s small signal.
Her discovery became very important for physicists who went on the study gravitational waves.
Chien Shiung Wu
The Shanghai-born American scientist Chein Shiung Wu’s contributions to the field of nuclear physics are significant. Inspired by Marie Curie, Wu went on to follow in her idol’s footsteps when the world made comparisons between the two, calling her the “Chinese Madam Curie.”
She developed the process that helped separate uranium metal into two different isotopes by gaseous diffusion. The eponymous Wu experiment, helped her bag the Wolf Prize in 1978 and the title of the “First Lady of Physics.”
Silvia Torres Castilleja
Mexican-born Silvia Torres Castilleja is an astronomer who discovered the chemical composition of nebulae.
Born in 1940 in Mexico city, Silvia won the L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, for making this landmark discovery, which helped the world understand the beginning of the universe.
These women have paved the way for millions of women worldwide in the field of science and technology. Girls around the world no longer have to stay tethered to “feminine” fields of academics and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men thanks to these iconoclastic women who changed the world.