There are and have been many brilliant female scientists who have brought about massive advances in their chosen scientific fields, altering the course of human history and advancing human technologies and civilisation.
Many of these women fought against sexism for their work to be taken seriously and some of these scientists did not see their work properly accredited in their lifetime because of their gender.
We take a look at 10 remarkable female scientists and detail how their works changed the world.
1. Mary Anning
Mary was a scientist in the 1800’s who had humble beginnings. She worked as a palaeontologist and fossil collector in her hometown of Lyme Regis in Dorset. She made a number of important finds during her lifetime in the Jurassic marine fossil beds on the UK’s south coast. Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be correctly identified and the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found. She is credited today with contributing towards fundamental changes in scientific theories on prehistoric life and Earth history. Sadly she was never fully accredited or respected as a scientist during her lifetime because she was a woman and a person of meagre social standing.
2. Marie Curie
Marie was a polish Physicist and Chemist who made significant discoveries in relation to Radioactivity. She worked with her husband Pierre on projects, and as a result of their studies discovered the elements Polonium and Radium. She also created a theory of radioactivity and was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in two fields of Science and the first female professor at the University of Paris. Her studies into Radioactivity adversely affected her health due to her exposure to x-rays as a radiologist and as a result of studies conducted in her shed which exposed her to further radiation.
3. Beatrix Potter
Beatrix is best known as the author and Illustrator of a collection of children’s books created in the late 1800’s and 1900’s featuring animals and tales of British Country life. She was also a natural scientist and conservationist who had a particular interest in Mycology- the study of Fungi. She is noted as being one of the first scientists to suggest that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.
She was not allowed to become a student at the Royal Botanical Gardens because she was a woman and her work was also rejected by scientific institutions because of this fact.
4. Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and conservationist. She was born on a small family farm in Pennsylvania where she enjoyed exploring her environment and writing stories, she was also inspired by the works of Beatrix Potter in her early years. She enjoyed reading and learning about the Ocean whilst at school and after studying Marine Biology, Zoology and Genetics she eventually accepted a position at the U.S Bureau of Fisheries.
She was a talented writer, her book ‘The Sea Around Us’ was a bestseller and awarded her recognition in the literary world. She was most famed for her book ‘Silent spring’ written after four years of research into the dangers of toxic chemicals in water and in mother’s milk. The book was incredibly influential leading to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the US and the banning of DDT. Her works inspired many environmentalists.
5. Caroline Herschel
Caroline never grew taller than four foot three due to her having contracted Typhus at the age of ten. Because of this her family presumed that she would remain a house servant but she chose a different path becoming a notable astronomer – collaborating with her brother Sir William Herschel, a fellow astronomer on various projects. She is best known for discovering the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which carries her name. In 1822 after her brother’s death she was awarded a Gold medal by the Royal Astronomical Society for her efforts in producing a catalogue of nebulae which verified her late brother’s findings. It wasn’t until 1996 that another woman was awarded a gold medal by this society.
6. Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind produced a body of work during her career which contributed towards the determination of the double helix structure of DNA by the Scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick in the 1950’s. She also made contributions to the understanding of viruses, RNA, coal, and graphite.
She died aged 37 in 1958 from ovarian cancer and was never nominated for a Nobel Prize due to the nomination criteria but she was recognised by a number of Professional establishments after her death and her name is still well known by scientists today.
7. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
As an Astrophysicist Dame Burnell is famed for discovering the first radio pulsars whilst working with her thesis supervisor Anthony Hewish. Hewish shared the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics thanks to this discovery but Jocelyn was not included in the award, causing controversy at this time.
Dame Burnell’s work has been acknowledged by many organisations and to date she has received a number of awards for her work as an Astrophysicist.
8. Sophie Germain
Sophie Germain was a French mathematician, physicist and Philosopher who lived in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. She was forced to stay indoors after the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and during this time she educated herself using books from her father’s library. She read many books covering the subject of mathematics and she taught herself Latin and Greek. At first her parents didn’t support her interest in Mathematics although her mother is reported as secretly supporting her after some time. She is known as one of the pioneers of the elasticity theory and her work on Fermat’s last theorem was useful to mathematicians exploring the theorem years later.
9. Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy was a British Chemist born in Egypt in 1910. She improved and furthered the technique of X-ray Crystallography developing the process of Protein Crystallography. She is also remembered for confirming theories relating to the structure of Penicillin and for discovering the structure of vitamin B12 which earned her the Nobel peace prize in Chemistry in 1964. She also developed research projects dealing with the Insulin molecule and travelled the world giving talks about the importance of Insulin in Diabetes.
10. Anne McLaren
The Hon. Dame Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren was a leading Scientist in the field of developmental biology and Genetics. Her work was instrumental in bringing about the practice of human in vitro fertilisation (IVF). She was quoted as having said that she was interested in “everything involved in getting from one generation to the next”.
She received many honours for her work and she was made an officer of the royal society in 1991.
Tragically she and her ex husband Donald Michie were killed in a car accident when their car left the road on the M11 motorway in 2007, she was aged 80 and Donald was 83.