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10 Women in Science Who You Should Know, but Probably Don’t

10 Women in Science Who You Should Know, but Probably Don’t
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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.

1. Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)

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.

2. Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)

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.

3. Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)

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.

4. Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)

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.

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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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5:14PM PST on Nov 15, 2013

women are as talented and intelligent as men :) go figure

10:18PM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

I'd like to believe there's a few more to add on...I hope. Thank you

5:12PM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

The only one I'd heard of was Herschel. Thanks for the info on these amazing women!

12:44PM PDT on Oct 21, 2013


10:39AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

sheesh--The german slave was Caroline herschel---sorry

10:37AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

I will add that she was illeterite and treated and used as a slave by her mother. Her brother, William returned to Germany and saw her being beat and starved. He had to buy her from his mother, and pay for a maid to replace Caroline in the house. She quickly learned English, how to play a musical instrument, and do math. She received a pension from the king of England, and had a house on Windsor palace grounds. On her 90th birthday- the teen-aged princesses spent the day with her, took her in their carriage and she dined with the king. Through him she also received birthday gifts from German rulers. She also had an apartment in the Hanover castle for when she visited. She had to be a genius to have gone from an illiterate German slave to a literate English speaking mathematician/musician in about 3 years. Her father died in a French POW camp when she was quite young. Below-I forgot that Emilie translated the Aeneid into French from Latin when she was 10 years old.

10:22AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

Where is the physicist and mathematician Emilie Du Chatelet? She was a member of Frances royal court, a lady in waiting. She won awards from the French Academy of Science for her work on the causes of forest fires and that different chemicals and metals burn with different colors. What I like the most was that women were banned from coffee houses. She had a man's suit made for her, dressed up, marched in and cornered a mathematician.
She developed the dumb waiter, designed the first kitchen inside a mansion-kitchens often caught on fire-so they were in out buildings-she breast fed her babies-and the newspapers made fun of that. She also raised her children at home. She wrote physics text books that were used in European universities for 200 years. Oxford finally replaced her physics text books in 1954. She rode with Hussars and kept fit by sword fighting with the king's guard, the Musketeers. She had strawberry blonde hair, was 5' 8". Paintings show a beautiful woman. She spoke 8 languages, and had a larger library than any king in Europe. This is from the top of my head.

10:15AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

What about Ada Lovelace?

8:03AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

Thanks but I bet there are way more than 10 we should know about.

6:48AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013


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