We adore Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, and Rosalind Franklin as much as you do, but there are many more incredible female scientists that deserve your attention.
Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)
Born in Germany, and an astronomer in her own right, Catherine was the first woman to discover a comet and the first woman to be paid for a scientific job. Although her name isn’t as widely recognized as her brother William Herschel’s, her contribution to our understanding of space has been lauded many times. She won a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1838, and a comet, an asteroid, and a space telescope have all been named after her. Catherine added 561 new stars to Flamsteed Atlas and discovered a total of 14 new nebulas and eight comets.
Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner was one of few women allowed to work in science back in the 1930s. In 1938, she figured out something her working partner in Germany missed in his study on the radioactive decay of uranium – that uranium was splitting in half and venting some of its abundant store of nuclear energy. Seven years later, that exact process of nuclear fission in uranium was activated inside a bomb called Little Boy and dropped over Hiroshima. Unlike Marie Curie who earned two Nobel prizes for her work in nuclear physics, Meitner’s Earth-shaking discoveries are sadly far less known. She never won a Nobel prize, but as Albert Einstein once said, she was Germany’s own Marie Curie.
Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
The dedication and commitment poured into the study of genetics by Barbara McClintock was nothing short of amazing. Her career was dedicated to the study of maize (or corn), allowing her to develop a staining technique that identifies and describes its specific chromosomes. Her research led her to discover the existence of jumping genes – sequences of DNA that jump between the genome. Her work was finally recognised when she was awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1983). This brilliant woman was also the first to suggest epigenetics (the study of changes of genes in response to external factors) four decades before it was formally adopted as a field of inquiry.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female doctor to empower other women to also achieve greatness. She was denied entry to England’s medical schools and was forced to study nursing alongside male peers whose fury at her inclusion resulted in her dismissal. The Society of Apothecaries banned female entrants, and all this sexism moved Garrett to earn her medical degree from the University of Paris. Finally qualified, she founded the New Hospital for Women. In 1876 female entry into the healthcare profession was legalized. After retirement from medicine, Dr. Anderson became the first female mayor in England and became a force to be reckoned with as part of the suffragette movement.
Jane Goodall (1934-present)
One of the most extraordinary scientists in the field of wildlife and conservation is Chimpanzee aficionado, Jane Goodall. She worked alongside renowned anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey on an important study of wild chimpanzees in Gombe. Jane’s friendly nature earned the chimpanzees’ trust and as a result, she was able to see behaviors (such as eating meat and using tools) that destroyed the existing assumption that chimpanzees were entirely vegetarian. Jane’s credibility earned her financial support from National Geographic, allowing her to establish the Gombe Stream Research Centre. She also founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation.