Incredible Women in Science who Shaped Our World

To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’d like to honour the exceptional females who have helped shape our world against the odds… 

If you look back at the achievements in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, you won’t be surprised to find mostly white males dominating the history books. That’s why it’s more important than ever to celebrate the powerful and inspirational women who have gone against the odds to make their mark in what was ultimately a man’s world…

Women have made significant contributions to science, technology and mathematics since as far back as ancient times. However it was only in the late 1800s when women became more involved with these fields that they started receiving recognition for their achievements – often having paved roads ahead by becoming “practitioners” – what is now known internationally as “women engineers.” 

You don’t have to look too deep into the past to see that there’s an absence of female presence on the achievement boards of science. But that didn’t stop some trailblazing ladies who made their way into the spotlight against the odds, names which are printed in ink today and commemorated all over the world. 

At WISE, we firmly believe in celebrating women, both past and present, who have helped make a change in STEM. This International Day of Women & Girls in Science, we put the spotlight on some of the incredible women who paved the way for a better world…

Maria Sklodowska-Curie – Chemist and Physicist (1867-1934)

Arguably the most prominent and honoured female scientist of all time – Maria Sklodowska-Curie is known for her pioneering research in radioactivity. Her discovery of radium and polonium went down in history along with her major contribution to the treatments of cancer. 

Maria Sklodowska-Curie also created techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and building mobile radiography units which gave hospitals in WW1 a chance to have X-ray services. 

Not only was this pioneering lady the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she was the only person ever to win twice, making her one of the most famous scientists of all time. 

A statue of the Polish-born physicist now stands proud in the heart of Warsaw, Poland, and her name is still spoken worldwide to date. A powerful inspiration whose name we’ll hear for years to come. 

 

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Mary Anning is a fascinating person who spent her life locating and preparing fossils, including the first ever ichthyosaur skeleton. Born in England in the late 1700s, she went on to become an early fossil collector and palaeontologist, where she made a number of important finds and contributed a significant amount to early science. 

Her findings also included the first plesiosaur, which is said to be the turning point at which she became a legitimate fossilist who was acknowledged by other scientists. 

Despite her talents, Mary’s gender and social class prevented her from receiving the recognition she deserved. But numerous authors wrote about her success and managed to bring her name back to the surface, where it remains today.

Ada Lovelace – Computer Programmer (1815 – 1852)

The world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician who wrote the first ever machine algorithm for a machine with computing capabilities. 

Her contributions to the Charles Babbage mechanical general-purpose computer, or the Analytical Engine as it was known, placed her as the first person, never mind woman to be what is now known as a programmer. She started working in this machine at the tender age of 16, and made predictions of what it would do decades later – including the composition of music. 

Augusta Ada King, as she was also known, lived until the age of 36, by which time she had gone down in history as one of the most aspired-to women of science. 

 

Elsie Widdowson – chemist & dietician (1906-2000)

Elsie Widdowson’s childhood was spent during the First World War in London. She studied chemistry at Imperial College and took two degrees, one after the other within two years! 

Having become an honours graduate, she went on to become a pioneer scientist and dietician, where she created the first food composition tables ever to be used in the UK. 

Widdowson’s findings on food analysis that would lead to some incredible insight into nutrition patterns throughout human history. Her specialist knowledge in diet before and after birth and the effects in development revolutionised the way the world approached nutrition and diet. 

Rachel Carson – Marine Biologist & Conservationist (1907-1964)

Rachel Carson possessed an impressive combination of talents. Not only was she a successful marine biologist, she was a talented nature writer who wrote what became one of the most important environmental reads of the 20th century. 

The book, called Silent Spring, documented the adverse environmental effects caused by chemical pesticides, and is said to have prompted the grassroots movement which led to the creation of the American EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Rachel is remembered not only as one of the early female scientists, but as a powerful activist whose work to improve and protect the Earth is still discussed today. 

Chien-Shiung Wu – Physicist  (1912-1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu earned herself the nickname of the “First Lady of Physics”, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Born in China in 1912, moved to the USA where she became a particle and experimental physicist, making significant contributions to nuclear physics. Having received her doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1940, Wu worked on the Manhattan Project, where she helped develop the process for separating uranium into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion.

She later went on to join Columbia University during World War II, working on a secret project developing the atomic bomb.

In the wake of World War II, Wu continued her research at Columbia where two male colleagues proved that a law called “conservation of parity” was false. They went on to receive Nobel Prizes while Wu’s contributions went unacknowledged.  

Wu is world-renowned today as a powerful figure who overcame difficult racial and gender issues to make great achievements in science. 

Celebrating women in STEM today

At WISE, we believe it’s crucial to celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The necessity for gender diversity in these fields is still apparent, as we are passionate about the work we do to help steer change and inclusion in these fields. 

What we do at WISE

The Ten Steps Framework is one way WISE works with organisations to achieve gender balance. Read more about the Ten Steps here. 

WISE has membership packages to support any organisation, and our members include companies such as Network Rail, Amazon, BBC and Pfizer. 

See our catalogue of WISE members here, or explore our membership packages to see how you can improve gender balance in your organisation. 

COVID Unsung Heroes Awards

Using an open nomination process, the COVID Unsung Heroes Awards – Celebrating Women in STEM (#CUHA22); will bring recognition to women who are making a positive difference through STEM. 

By spotlighting STEM roles that have been essential to our society during the pandemic, the awards will recognise the importance of STEM and the women who are making a real impact through their work.

Celebrating a variety of STEM roles, backgrounds and industries, the awards will include high-level endorsement from leaders in the STEM industry 

Read about the WISE COVID Unsung Heroes Awards.

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