Featured here are accomplishments of some of the women who have contributed to advancing STEM fields.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
The only woman to study physics at her college, where there was a “tradition” amongst students that whenever a woman walked into a lecture theatre, they “stamped and whistled and called and banged the desk”. This happened in every class that she entered for two years. Discovered the first four pulsars (spinning stars made of neutrons) using a large radio telescope she had helped build and analyzed the data for. Her observations were published with her male supervisor’s name appearing before hers. He and a colleague went on to win the Nobel Prize for the discovery, while she was snubbed. It is now accepted that she was the first person to make the discovery, despite the lack of formal credit. Was created commander of the order of the British empire in 1999, and dame in 2007. She also was a member of the royal society, served as president of the royal astronomical society, and was the first female president at the institute of physics.
Annie Jump Cannon
Created the definitive system of classifying hundreds of thousands of stellar spectra. Went completely deaf after being stricken with scarlet fever. Classified over 225,000 stars and was able to categorize up to three stars a minute. Discovered 300 variable stars, in addition to 5 novae, a class of exploding stars. First woman to hold an officer position in the American Astronomical Society, where they still award the honor she established, the Annie J. Cannon award.
May Edward Chinn
Physician pioneering black and Native American doctor and advocate for early cancer screening in low-income communities. 1st Black woman to graduate from Bellevue Medical College. Was the 1st Black woman to hold an internship at Harlem Hospital, where she was the 1st woman to ride with the ambulance crew. Blacks were barred from formal association with hospitals, so she opened her own practice and she treated patients who didn’t have access to medical care. Was seriously considered for a research fellowship at the rockefeller institute until they discovered that she was black. Was refused research information from hospitals, so she accompanied her patient to clinic appointments to learn about biopsy techniques. Her work with the Stang Clinic helped develop the Pap smear, which tested for cervical cancer. Started a society to help black women go to med school.
Physicist / Chemist
Pioneered research in the field of radioactivity. First woman to win a Nobel prize. She’s the first person and only woman to win the award in two different fields-physics and chemistry. She discovered polonium and radium, and aided in the development of x-rays.
Her work with x-ray diffraction imagery led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Published 5 papers on coal efficiency by age 26 and helped launch the field of high strength carbon fibers. Discovered that DNA has two forms, and invented a way of separating them. After DNA, she began studying viruses. Her group’s findings laid the foundation for structural virology. Without her knowledge, her data on DNA structure was shared with James Watson and Francis Crick. Franklin’s “photo 51” directly led to the pair’s discovery of the double helical structure. Four years after her death at age 37, Watson and Crick won a nobel prize for their work on DNA. Rosalind was famously left unacknowledged for her significant contribution.
Was unable to get a formal education because she was a woman. Her parents opposed her learning, and denied her fire and warm clothes at night to stop her from studying, but she would smuggle in candles and wrap herself in quilts to keep reading. She taught herself Latin and Greek so she could study classical mathematics texts. Was able to obtain lecture notes from a university and corresponded her work to a professor remotely under a man’s name. Her pioneering theories on elasticity helped build the Eiffel tower. Was the 1st person to progress in providing the proof for Fermat’s last theorem, which mathematicians had been struggling with for 200 years.
Known as “astronomy’s cinderella” first woman to discover a comet and the first woman to receive payment for scientific work. After a childhood case of typhus stunted her growth at four feet three inches, her family deemed her unmarriageable and raised to believe that the greatest thing she could hope to become was a scullery maid. After moving to England to live with her brother, she began assisting him in his endeavors in astronomy. Went on to discover 14 new nebulae on her own, including NGC 205, the companion to the Andromeda galaxy.