Women’s contribution to the field of science is undoubtedly invaluable. Some of them gained recognition for their work, while some were left ignored. Here, we tell you about the famous women scientists around the world.
Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Egypt. She taught philosophy and astronomy at the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, which she was also the head of. She lived around 370 to 415 CE, and is one of the oldest female scientists.
This ScienceStruck article gives you a list of the very famous as well as some of the relatively lesser known women scientists whose role in their fields cannot be overlooked. Some of them belong to the time when women were denied the right to education and some of them come from families where women were looked down upon. However, difficulties could not deter their spirit. Many had to fight discrimination and their path to fame was not easy.
Over time, the world view towards women changed, and these women in science received the recognition they deserved. Some of them were honored with prestigious awards like the Nobel Prize, or several institutes, scholarships, and awards were named after them. Here is our compilation of some famed female scientists (enlisted in the alphabetical order) and their work.
Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852)
She was an English mathematician who is best known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her work led her to devise what can be considered as the first algorithm that could be carried out on a machine. She is regarded as the first computer programmer. She was interested in the brain’s working and intended to develop a mathematical model to demonstrate the generation of thoughts and feelings by the brain. She did some work on the link between mathematics and music.
Ada Yonath (born June 22, 1939)
She is an Israeli crystallographer known for her work on ribosomes, for which she received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She is the first woman from the Middle East and the first Israeli woman to receive this honor.
Alice Wilson (August 26, 1881 – April 15, 1964)
She was a Canadian geologist and paleontologist who took part in studies on rocks and fossil fuels in Ottawa. She was a member of the Order of the British Empire and the first female Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Anita Roberts (April 3, 1942 – May 26, 2006)
She was a molecular biologist who was instrumental in the discovery of the protein TGF-beta. This protein has the potential of playing a dual role of blocking as well as stimulating cancer and it helps in the healing of wounds and fractures. Anita Roberts is one of the most-cited scientists in the world.
Annie Easley (April 23, 1933 – June 25, 2011)
She is an African-American computer scientist who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Lewis Research Center. She was a part of the team that developed the software for the Centaur rocket stage.
Barbara Askins (born in 1939)
She is an American chemist. She invented a method to enhance underexposed photographic negatives. This earned her the title of National Inventor of the Year in 1978, making her the first woman to earn it.
Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992)
She was an American scientist who won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983. She led the development of the maize cytogenetics and studied the changes that the chromosomes in maize undergo during the process of reproduction. She discovered the process of transposition and used it to demonstrate how genes are associated with the presence or absence of certain physical characteristics in human beings. She is one of the most famous cytogeneticists of the world.
Chien-Shiung Wu (May 31, 1912 – February 16, 1997)
She was a Chinese American experimental physicist known for her work in radioactivity. She was a part of the Manhattan project where she helped develop the process of making uranium-235 and uranium-238 from uranium using the gaseous diffusion method. Her Wu experiment established that weak interaction did not follow the law of conservation of parity. She was a winner of the first Wolf Prize in Physics and was often compared with Marie Curie, giving her nicknames like the Chinese Madame Curie.
Christiane Nusslein-Volhard (born on October 20, 1942)
She is a German biologist who conducted a successful research in mutagenesis to demonstrate the embryonic development in fruit flies. For her research on the genetic control of embryonic development, she won the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1991 and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995.
Dian Fossey (January 16, 1932 – c. December 26, 1985)
She was an American zoologist who completed an extensive study of eight gorilla groups by closely observing their lives in the mountain forests of Rwanda. Her work was similar to Jane Goodall’s research on chimpanzees.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (May 12, 1910 – July 29, 1994)
She was a British chemist who worked in the field of protein crystallography. She was instrumental in determining the structure of penicillin and vitamin B12. This work earned her a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She also discovered the chemical composition of insulin. Passionate and peace-loving by nature, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin is one of the most notable scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography.
Eugenie Clark (May 4, 1922 – February 25, 2015)
She was an American ichthyologist, famous for her research on poisonous tropical sea fish and shark behavior. She was also among the first few to research on scuba diving. She is called the Shark Lady and many fish species have been named after her.
Elizabeth Blackburn (born on November 26, 1948)
She is an Australian American biological researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. She co-discovered telomerase with Carol Greider. For this, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Greider and Jack Szostak.
Émilie du Châtelet (December 17, 1706 – September 10, 1749)
She was a French mathematician, physicist, and author. Her most noted work is the translation and commentary on Newton’s Principia Mathematica. She is also known for her writings in science and philosophy.
Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg (December 18, 1922 – November 11, 2006)
She was an American microbiologist and among the first few to work in the field of bacterial genetics. She is famous for her discovery of the bacterial virus Lambda phage, the bacterial fertility factor F, specialized transduction for gene transfer between bacteria, and replica plating, a microbiological technique that she developed.
Fiona Melanie Wood (born on February 2, 1958)
She is a plastic surgeon famous for her patented invention of spray-on skin, a culturing treatment for burns, which is still being developed.
Grace Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992)
She was a computer scientist and a naval officer in the United States. She developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She pioneered the idea of writing computer programs in a language close to English. She was instrumental in the establishment of testing standards for computer systems and components. She made an excellent naval career while also making important contributions to computer technology.
Gertrude B. Elion (January 23, 1918 – February 21, 1999)
She is a notable American biochemist and pharmacologist who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She is credited with the discovery of many drugs, the most significant one being the AIDS drug, AZT. She received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988 followed by the National Medal of Science in 1991 and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. She was inducted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was the first woman to receive this honor.
Gerty Theresa Cori (August 15, 1896 – October 26, 1957)
She was an American biochemist and the proud winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which she shared with her husband. The Cori couple was awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of glycogen. She was the third female Nobel Prize recipient and the first American woman to receive it in science.
Harriet Brooks (July 2, 1876 – April 17, 1933)
She was the first Canadian female nuclear physicist, best known for her work in nuclear transmutations and radioactivity. Her guide during graduate work was Ernest Rutherford, who considered her to be next to Marie Curie.
Hedy Lamarr (November 9, 1914 – January 19, 2000)
She was an Australian and American inventor and also an actress. She is known for co-inventing the spread spectrum and frequency hopping technologies. She has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Helen Flanders Dunbar (May 14, 1902 – August 21, 1959)
She has made important contributions to psychosomatic medicine and psychobiology.
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (July 4, 1868 – December 12, 1921)
She was an American astronomer who began working at the Harvard College Observatory as a woman ‘computer’ to record the brightness of stars. She was among the first few to note that variable stars followed a pattern. She deduced that the brighter ones have longer periods. This relationship proved to be helpful to measure distances in the Universe. Due to her research the world knew of the presence of many galaxies outside the Milky Way. The Leavitt crater on the Moon was named in her honor.
Hertha Marks Ayrton (April 28, 1854 – August 23, 1923)
She was an English engineer, mathematician, physicist, and inventor. She worked in the fields of mathematics and electrical engineering. She invented the line-divider, which could be used by artists to enlarge and diminish images. Her patents included those on mathematical dividers, arc lamps, and electrodes, and on the propulsion of air. She is also known for her research work on the electric arc and on sand ripples.
Ida Noddack (February 25, 1896 – September 24 1978)
This German chemist and physicist was the first to mention the idea of nuclear fission in 1934. She and her husband jointly discovered the element rhenium. She was nominated thrice for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Irene Joliot-Curie (September 12, 1897 – March 17, 1956)
She was a French scientist who started as a teacher of laboratory techniques for radiochemical research to Frederic Joliot, who later became her husband. Their joint accomplishment of the discovery of artificial radioactivity earned them a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Jane Goodall (born on April 3, 1934)
She is an English UN Messenger of Peace as also an anthropologist who is renowned for her study of the chimpanzees. She spent long years in studying the social and family interactions between chimpanzees and went on to found the Jane Goodall Institute.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born on July 15, 1943)
She is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland. She is best known for discovering the first radio pulsars. Though she was the first to observe pulsars, the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery, was given to Antony Hewish, her supervisor and Martin Ryle. Her omission was not well-taken by the scientific community.
Lera Boroditsky (born around 1976)
She is credited with the discovery of empirical examples of syntactic and lexical differences between languages leading to cross-linguistic differences in thinking and perception.
Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth (May 24, 1878 – January 2, 1972)
She was an American psychologist and industrial engineer and among the first working female engineers with a Ph.D. She is regarded as the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She was the first American engineer to combine psychology and scientific management.
Linda B. Buck (born on January 29, 1947)
She is an American biologist who has made a noteworthy contribution to the research on the olfactory system. In 2004, she won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Lise Meitner (November 7, 1878 – October 27, 1968)
Born in Austria, Lise Meitner was a Swedish physicist who worked in the fields of radioactivity and nuclear physics. She was a part of the team that discovered nuclear fission and was one of the potential winners of the Nobel Prize. Element 109, meitnerium has been named after her.
Mae Jemison (born October 17, 1956)
She is an American physician and NASA astronaut and the first African-American woman to travel to space.
Margaret Burbidge (born on August 12, 1919)
She studied galaxies, especially B stars and galaxy structure. She, with three other scientists, formed the B2FH group. Their studies showed that nuclear processes inside stars lead to the formation of most chemical elements (except the lightest ones). This study earned the group a Warner Prize. Burbidge, in her later studies, measured the masses and rotation curves of galaxies and was the first one to do so. Also, she was among the first few to study quasars. She worked on the development of the faint object spectroscope in 1990 for the Hubble Space Telescope. She works as a professor emeritus of physics at UCSD.
Marguerite Catherine Perey (October 19, 1909 – May 13, 1975)
She was a French physicist and a student of Marie Curie. She is best known for her discovery of the element francium. She was the first woman to be elected to the French Académie des Sciences.
Marie Curie (November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934)
Raised in Poland and a citizen of France, Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist and the only person to receive Nobel Prizes in two different sciences. She served the University of Paris as a professor and became the first woman to do so. She is credited with creating the theory of radioactivity and the discovery of polonium and radium.
Read more about the accomplishments of Marie Curie.
Mary Anning (May 21, 1799 – March 9, 1847)
She was a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist. Her major fossil findings include the first ichthyosaur skeleton, the first pterosaur skeleton, the first two plesiosaur skeletons, and fish fossils. Her work in the Jurassic marine fossil beds made her famous. She was instrumental in changing the way the world thought about prehistoric life and the Earth’s history.
Mary the Jewess
She is believed to have lived between the first and third centuries AD and the invention of different types of chemical apparatus has been attributed to her. She is regarded as the first true alchemist of the Western world. Though none of her writings have survived, they are believed to have had references to concepts in alchemy such as leukosis, xanthosis, and methods for making gold.
Margaret Eliza Maltby (December 10, 1860 – May 3, 1944)
She was an American physicist who measured high electrolytic resistances and conductivity of very dilute solutions. American Men of Science, published in 1906 acknowledged her as one of the top scientists of the country.
Marija Gimbutas (January 23, 1921 – February 2, 1994)
She was a Lithuanian-American archaeologist. She studied the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of Old Europe and is best known for her Kurgan hypothesis.
Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 28, 1906 – February 20, 1972)
She was a German-born American physicist and the winner of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics. She was the second woman scientist receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics, after Marie Curie. She received the Nobel Prize for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus.
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)
She was an American marine biologist and conservationist. She became a nature writer in the 1950s. Her book Silent Spring published in 1962 spoke about the harm that synthetic pesticides caused to the environment. Although chemical industries opposed the writing, it led to the implementation of a ban on DDT and other pesticides in the country. Her writing inspired the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Her other important literary works include The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea.
Rachel Zimmerman (born in 1972)
At a very young age, she came up with a software that made it possible to use Blissymbols that enable those with physical disabilities to communicate. She designed a printer that could translate symbols into the written language.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (April 22, 1909 – December 30, 2012)
For her discovery of the nerve growth factor, she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986. This Italian neurologist, aged 99, is the oldest living Nobel Prize winner.
Rosalind Franklin (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)
She was an English biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who contributed to understanding the compositions of DNA and viruses. She also contributed to understanding the structures of graphite and coal. Her most noteworthy work is that on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA.
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (July 19, 1921 – May 30, 2011)
She was an American medical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 with Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally for devising the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique. It enables measuring substances found in liquids and is specifically used to test donor blood for hepatitis. It can be used for detecting hormone-related problems. Apart from the Nobel Prize, she has also been honored with the AMA Scientific Achievement Award in 1975, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1976 (making her the first woman to receive it), the fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978, and the National Medal of Science in 1988.
Sally Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012)
She was an American physicist and astronaut, the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. She was involved in investigating the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters.
Shirley Ann Jackson (born on August 5, 1946)
She is an American physicist. She holds a Ph.D in nuclear physics and is the first African-American woman to obtain a doctorate from MIT. She has served as a scientist at CERN, Switzerland and is a visiting scientist at the Aspen Center for Physics. She is the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She has been inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and is the receiver of honors such as the Thomas Alva Edison Science Award, the Richtmyer Memorial Award, and the CIBA-GEIGY Exceptional Black Scientist Award.
Sophie Germain (April 1, 1776 – June 27, 1831)
This mathematician, physicist, and philosopher from France is known for her work in elasticity theory. Her essay on the theory earned her a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences. She is also known for her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem. She was posthumously honored with a degree from the University of Göttingen. A street and a girl’s school were named in her honor and the Academy of Sciences started giving The Sophie Germain Prize in her honor.
Vera Rubin (born on July 23, 1928)
She is an American astronomer, known for her work in galaxy rotation rates. She studied rotation curves of galaxies and brought out the fact that there are differences between the predicted and observed motions of galaxies. She obtained an evidence for the presence of dark matter.
Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909 – August 7, 1974)
She was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist. She worked in the fields of anesthesiology and studied birth defects. She introduced obstetrics to neonatology. She developed the Apgar score, a method to assess the health of a newborn from one to five minutes after birth. She promoted the need for vaccinations against rubella to prevent disease transmission from mothers to their children. She advocated the need and use of Rh testing to prevent miscarriage. He research work also included prevention and treatment of birth defects.
These were some of the famous women who have made a remarkable contribution to science. Some, through their inventions and others through their research work, have added to the knowledge that the world had about various fields of science. These women scientists have played an important role in making developments in science and technology.