Shattering Stereotypes & Sowing Seeds of Innovation: Celebrating Women in Science

Honoring and celebrating women in science

As the world celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, observed on February 11, we embark on a journey through time and space to honor the incredible achievements of women who have defied odds, challenged norms, and left an indelible mark on the world of science. From pioneering astronauts and groundbreaking physicists to trailblazing biologists, innovative engineers, and climate activists, their stories inspire girls and women to dream bigger, reach higher, and embrace a limitless potential.


Early Pioneers: Women Who Set the Stage 

These early pioneers paved the way for women in science with their groundbreaking discoveries and by overcoming challenges in male-dominated fields. These women’s unwavering determination continues to inspire generations of female scientists.


Alice Augusta Ball

Meet Alice Ball, a remarkable American chemist from the early 20th century. At just 23 she created the revolutionary “Ball Method” for treating Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Before her innovation, the traditional remedy, chaulmoogra oil, was challenging to use. Alice’s brilliance came to the fore as she made the oil injectable and easily absorbed by the body by isolating ethyl ester compounds from its fatty acids. Although she couldn’t publish her findings, her method became the standard until the 1940s. Alice Ball’s legacy as a pioneering woman in science who transformed medicine lives on, inspiring future generations.

Rosalind Franklin

Meet Dr. Rosalind Franklin, the unsung hero in unraveling DNA’s mysteries. Her iconic Photo 51, captured through 100 hours of work, was vital in revealing DNA’s double helix in 1953. Despite adversity in a male-dominated field, Dr. Franklin persisted with her math skills and dedication. Sadly, her contribution went unnoticed for nearly 50 years. Her story inspires resilience and determination against bias. Dr. Franklin’s legacy profoundly impacts health and inspires new generations in the quest for equality and well-being.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

Meet Dorothy Vaughan, an extraordinary African American mathematician and human-computer whose contributions made a lasting impact at NACA and NASA’s Langley Research Center. In 1949, she became the acting supervisor of the West Area Computers, breaking barriers as the first African American woman to lead a team there. Over her remarkable 28-year career, Vaughan prepared for the era of machine computers in the early 1960s through self-learning and teaching her team FORTRAN programming. Her leadership extended to heading the programming section of the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD) at Langley, leaving an indelible mark in mathematics and computer science.

Modern Marvels and Space Explorers

Moving forward in time, we explore the accomplishments of contemporary women in science. Astronauts like Valentina Tereshkova and Mae Jemison boldly ventured into space, proving that the sky’s no limit. We also celebrate the achievements of a trailblazing physicist, Chien-Shiung Wu, who reshaped our understanding of the universe.


Chien-Shiung Wu

Meet Chien-Shiung Wu, a pioneering scientist known for her contributions to physics and the Manhattan Project. Despite her significant impact on particle physics, she was overlooked by the Nobel Prize committee in 1957. She became a full professor at Columbia University in 1958 and in 1973 became the prestigious Michael I. Pupin Professor of Physics. Breaking barriers, she achieved pay equity in 1975 and ventured beyond physics, exploring biology and medicine, particularly sickle-cell disease. While she didn’t receive the Nobel Prize, Wu earned various accolades, including becoming the first woman to preside over the American Physical Society in 1975 and receiving the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978. Her enduring legacy includes an asteroid named in her honor in 1990 (2752 Wu Chien-Shiung).

Valentina Tereshkova

Meet Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. In 1963, she orbited Earth 48 times during a 70.8-hour mission on Vostok 6. Her journey began as a parachutist and factory worker, leading to her selection as a cosmonaut due to her expertise in parachuting. Among the first four women chosen, she was the sole one to complete a space mission, earning her the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. While she didn’t go to space again, she became a prominent spokesperson and received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace. Today, she serves as Deputy Chair for the Committee for International Affairs in Russia, remaining active in the space community, even expressing her willingness for a one-way trip to Mars.

Mae Carol Jemison

Meet Mae Carol Jemison, the first African American woman in space. In 1992, she journeyed on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, making history. Inspired by Sally Ride, she applied to NASA in 1983, and in 1987 was selected from among 2,000 applicants. Aboard Endeavour, she conducted vital bone cell experiments. After NASA, she delved into the fusion of social sciences and technology as a Professor at Cornell University. Jemison’s impact transcends space, making her a symbol of courage and scientific excellence.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in STEM

We turn our attention to women who have broken through barriers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and by doing so have transformed industries and changed the world.

Dr. Gladys West

Meet Dr. Gladys West, a STEM innovator, who started her career in 1956 at the Naval Proving Ground, where she was one of only four African American employees, and only the second African American woman. Over her remarkable 42-year career, Dr. West played a crucial role in shaping the Global Positioning System (GPS). Her expertise in complex math and computer programming propelled her through the ranks at NSWCDD where she made significant contributions to satellite geodesy and other advanced satellite measurements, greatly improving GPS precision. Dr. West’s impact is felt worldwide through her influential papers and presentations.

Dr. Grace Hopper

Meet Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, a pioneer in STEM, who stood out as a computer expert and a naval officer with advanced degrees from Yale. She was one of the first computer programmers and made important contributions to computer languages. Her sharp intellect and determination shone in fields dominated by men, both in the U.S. Navy and in private companies. Hopper’s success was remarkable during a time when women had new opportunities. Despite facing initial rejections, she joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943, worked on the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University, and programmed the early computer, Mark I. She even wrote its user manual, leaving a lasting legacy in STEM.

Barbara McClintock

Meet Barbara McClintock, a pioneering biologist who studied how characteristics, like the color of corn kernels, are passed down from one generation to the next. Her important research in the 1940s and 1950s revealed something new: that parts of genes could move around on chromosomes and affect other nearby genes. Even though many scientists didn’t pay much attention to her work at first, she kept going, believing in what she saw through her microscope. Her discoveries have had a lasting impact on the field of genetics.

“No two plants are exactly alike. They’re all different, and as a consequence, you have to know that difference. I start with the seedling and I don’t want to leave it. I don’t feel I really know the story if I don’t watch the plant all the way along. So I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately. And I find it a great pleasure to know them.”

Future-Forward Focus: Today’s Rising Stars

To conclude our journey, we shine a spotlight on the promising young scientists and researchers making waves in today’s world of science. From climate activists to tech innovators, they are carrying the torch of progress forward, showing that the future of science is indeed in capable hands.

Isra Hirsi 

Meet Isra Hirsi, a high school student from Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a devoted advocate for climate and racial justice, she co-founded and serves as the Co-Executive Director of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, organizing numerous nationwide strikes for change. Isra’s journey into climate activism began in high school, driven by her involvement in the environmental club. She’s a strong advocate for diversity and intersectionality in the climate justice movement. Alongside her environmental work, she’s active in debate and theater, using her background to fuel her advocacy for a more inclusive and equitable world. Isra’s passion and dedication exemplify the potential of emerging scientists and activists in today’s evolving scientific landscape.

Autumn Peltier

Meet Autumn Peltier, a remarkable 19-year-old clean water activist from Ontario, Canada, who is part of a new wave of young scientists and advocates making a difference today. Since she was 8, Autumn has passionately fought for clean drinking water for Indigenous communities. At 14, she became the Chief Water Commissioner for Anishinabek Nation. She’s spoken at global events like the United Nations General Assembly and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to highlight clean water’s importance. Her dedication earned her three nominations for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Autumn symbolizes the potential of young activists shaping the future of scientific advocacy.

“I believe that no matter what race or color, (or) how rich or poor we are, everybody deserves clean drinking water,” she says. “You don’t have to be indigenous to respect (water) or raise awareness for it.”

Kimberly Bryant

Meet Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer with leadership experience at pharmaceutical and biotech companies like Novartis and Merck. She noticed the lack of Black women in STEM fields, especially in computer science. In 2011, she founded Black Girls Code, a nonprofit with 16 chapters in the U.S. and one in South Africa that introduces girls of color ages 7–17 to STEM. Their goal is to teach 1 million Black girls coding by 2040. Bryant’s leadership is shaping the future of STEM education and diversity.



{Bookmarks} Honor and Uplift Women Making Waves in Science

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