Earlier this month, the New York Times Magazine published a piece asking why there are still so few women in fields involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It’s incredibly sad that, in 2013, we still need to ask ourselves this. We know that boys and girls have the same math ability and that math anxiety can be taught. Nevertheless, women in science still face a less-than-totally friendly atmosphere. (Although it has undoubtedly gotten better since Watson and Crick stole Rosalind Franklin’s work on DNA.)
Even though there may be fewer women in STEM fields than men, that doesn’t mean women haven’t made staggering advances in science and math over the centuries. Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day devoted to recognizing women in science that is named after the woman who wrote the first computer algorithm in the 1840s. So in honor of all the women who blazed a trail for today’s girl science geeks, here are 10 incredible women who made lasting contributions in their fields. And trust me. There is way more where that came from.
Caroline Herschel was a German-born astronomer who moved to England with her brother, also an astronomer, to study music. Once she was there, though, she found herself acting as her brother William’s assistant. She and William compiled a list of 2,500 new nebulae and star clusters. She didn’t do everything with William, though. In 1786, Caroline became the first woman to discover a comet, and the next year she became the first woman to be paid for her scientific work. Caroline’s mad skills as an astronomer were recognized by prestigious scientific groups; she received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and an honorary membership into the Royal Society.
When the Natural History Museum in London calls you “the greatest fossil hunter ever known,” you know you’re good. Anning wasn’t trained as a geologist or an archeologist, but her discoveries have had an indelible impact on science. She discovered the fossil remains of an ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur, as well as the first pterosaur specimen found outside of Germany. Anning’s discoveries became evidence for extinction. (Believe it or not, until the 1820s lots of smart people thought extinction didn’t happen.) Despite her obvious awesomeness, as a woman she wasn’t allowed into the Geological Society of London.
Somerville was a Scottish science writer who had an interest in science and math from an early age. She wrote several books, including a book called Physical Geography (1848) that was so good it was used as a textbook until the early 20th century. She and Herschel became the first women inducted in the Royal Astronomical Society and she was awarded the Victoria Medal by the Royal Geographical Society.
Mitchell was an American astronomer and was the second woman to discover a comet. (Caroline Herschel was the first.) For her discovery she received a prize from the King of Denmark. Mitchell was also the first woman to be an astronomy professor in the United States when she was hired by Vassar College in 1865 and was the Director of the Vassar College Observatory. Mitchell was also the first woman to become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Read more: Ada Lovelace, Ada Lovelace Day, Caroline Herschel, Chien-Shiung Wu, Dorothy Hodgkin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Lise Meitner, Maria Mitchell, Mary Anning, Mary Somerville, Nettie Stevens, stem, Trotula of Salerno, women in science
Photo Credits: Ada Lovelace Wikipedia, Carnegie Institution of Washington, John M. Riddle, M.F. Tielemanm, Mr. Grey, Thomas Phillips, H. Dassel, Smithsonian Institution, Wikimedia Commons, Harry the Dirty Dog, Wikimedia Commons
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