From Hypatia to Christina Koch: 50 groundbreaking women of science
Women in science have always faced sexist challenges, and many have been forgotten by history. But since the beginning of science itself, women have been at the forefront of discovery. From hidden figures like computer Katherine Johnson to science superstars like chemist Marie Curie, women have made innumerable contributions to scientific research. Today, high-profile women are revolutionizing their fields and smashing records, such as NASA astronaut Christina Koch, who returned from the longest female spaceflight this February.
Early female scientists faced significant challenges. Many were denied entrance to graduate schools. Women lucky enough to be admitted were sometimes forced to sit behind a screen in the corner of class to avoid distracting their male peers. Some had credit for their work stolen by influential men, and others were criticized for findings considered too revolutionary to be believable.
Though the numbers of women in science have increased throughout the years, less than 30% of researchers throughout the world are women, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. In North America and Western Europe, only 32.7% of researchers are women. In the sciences, female researchers are also paid less, published less, and promoted less than men.
This inequality hasn’t stopped women scientists from success, and for advocating the success of other women. Many of those who have gained public recognition, such as NASA astronaut Sally Ride, used their sway to help educate girls in the sciences. Organizations such as Girls Who Code are also dedicated to teaching girls and young women tangible skills to help them succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 trailblazing women in science from news, historical, and government reports. Though minority women often face compounded challenges in scientific research, the women in this list represent many nationalities, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Read on to learn about female researchers who broke barriers in the world of science, such as a geologist who mapped the ocean floor and a computer scientist pioneering the field of artificial intelligence.
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Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt, was the first woman to make significant gains in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. A Pagan born in 370 C.E. to an increasingly Christian world, she was eventually mutilated and murdered by radical Christian monks. Several years after her death, her writings were destroyed in a raid of the Museum of Alexandria.
Mary the Jewess
Mary the Jewess is credited as the first alchemist, a scientist with the goal of turning lead to gold. She lived in Egypt sometime around the first century and taught alchemy in Alexandria. She also created several technologies, such as the Bain-Marie, a device that purifies liquids and is often used in chemistry and cooking.
A German astronomer born in 1670, Maria Winkelmann was the first woman to discover a comet, the Comet of 1702. She married the famous astronomer Gottfried Kirch, and together they made the Berlin Academy of Science a major player in astronomy research, though women could not study at universities.
Martha Daniell Logan
Martha Daniell Logan was a master horticulturist who ran a gardening business in colonial South Carolina and exchanged seeds with botanist John Bartram. For over 50 years, she edited and published many versions of her “Gardener’s Calendar,” which became a standard for gardeners in the state.
Jane Colden, born in 1724, is recognized as the first woman botanist in U.S. history. She documented 400 species of plants in rural New York, where she spent most of her life. Her manuscript, complete with drawings and descriptions of the plants, can be found in the British Museum in London.
Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis in Dorset, now nicknamed the Jurassic Coast, to a poor family of Protestants. She was a trailblazer in paleontology who began hunting for fossils as a girl alongside her amateur fossil collector father. She made several major dinosaur discoveries that supported the controversial concept of extinction.
Born in 1815 to English poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is now accepted as the first computer programmer. She wrote a program for Charles Babbage’s computer, the Analytical Engine, which was conceptualized but never actually constructed. Though her work was largely forgotten until the mid-20th century, Ada Lovelace Day is now celebrated on the second Tuesday of October each year to honor women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Eunice Foote was an American climate science pioneer who hypothesized the greenhouse gas effect in 1856. However, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist who made the same prediction three years later, received credit in the history books until Foote’s work was rediscovered in 2011. Foote was also involved in the women’s rights movement and was fifth out of approximately 100 people to sign the Declaration of Sentiments for women’s rights.
Born near Bristol, England, in 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. She was turned away from nearly every medical school she applied to and was only accepted to New York’s Geneva College as a practical joke. Despite facing sexism and her family’s pennilessness, Blackwell graduated at the top of her class and eventually established a women’s medical college.
In 1893, American geologist Florence Bascom became the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. She was forced to attend lectures from behind a screen to avoid distracting the men in the class. She went on to be the second woman to join the Geological Society of America and the first to be hired by the U.S. Geological Survey.
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