As today is the International Women’s Day, we decided to compile a short list of ten women who dedicated their lives to Science. Science grows from day to day, and everyone can make a difference, and so here on Ultimate Science, we decided to celebrate this day with these interesting facts about these ten great women!
10 – Emilie du Chatelet (1706 – 1749)
Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, daughter of the chief of protocol of the French court, married the Marquis du Chatelet in 1725 to whom she gave birth to three children. But at the age of 27, she decided to start studying mathematics with a commitment and later became interested in physics, an interest that increased when she lived an extramarital relationship with the philosopher Voltaire, who was also in love with science. Their romance lasted less than their scientific experiments together, and her most enduring contribution to science was the French translation of the book Principia de Isaac Newton, still used today She finally died at the age 43, during complications in the child’s birth resulting from a relationship with a young military officer.
9 – Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)
Due to her high curiosity and a problem she had once read in a women’s fashion magazine, Mary Fairfax decided at the age of 14 to explore the study of algebra and mathematics, thus challenging her father who was against her aspirations. In 1804 she turned her attention away from studies to marry a Russian navy captain, but after his death she returned to Edinburgh and became involved in intellectual circles, associating herself with people such as the writer Sir Walter Scott and the scientist John Playfair, when she returned to his studies in mathematics and science. She married again in 1812 with William Somerville, who supported the woman’s ambitions, then became the host of her own intellectual circle and began to make tests on magnetism, producing a series of writings on astronomy, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Somerville was one of the first two women, along with Caroline Herschel, to be named honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society.
8 – Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)
The aspiration of Mary Anning began early when her brother found a skeleton of a crocodile, and commissioned his sister, then 11 years of dealing with the recovery of it. Then she, with high commitment and dedication, managed to process the skull and 60 vertebrae of the animal, and later sold the skeleton to a private collector for 23 pounds, but what she did not know, was that it was not a crocodile, but a Ichthyosaurus, known as “lizard-fish”. This was only the first step in Anning’s extensive career as a fossil hunter. Later she also found long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and thousands of other fossils that helped scientists to create an image of the prehistoric marine world during the Jurassic period.
7 – Irène Curie-Joliot (1897-1956)
Irène followed in the footsteps of her parents Pierre and Marie Curie and became a scientist, her Ph.D. thesis having as its theme the alpha rays of polonium, one of the two elements discovered by Marie Curie. She married Frédéric Joliot, one of her mother’s assistants at the Radium Institute in Paris, and together the two continued the work of her parents, seeking to discover more about the structure of the atom. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together, and Irène died in 1956 of leukemia, probably due to the long exposure to radioactivity during all the years of studies.
6 – Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)
Maria Mitchell learned to look at the stars at a young age from her father, and at the age of 12, she helped her father to record the time of an eclipse. By the age of 17, she had already set up her own school for girls, teaching them science and mathematics. But it was in 1847 when she saw one comet through her telescope that she really stood out and was honored worldwide, winning a medal from the King of Denmark and having become the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Later, in 1857, she traveled to Europe, where she visited observatories and met with other scientists, including Mary Somerville. Mitchell became the first astronomy teacher in the United States when she was hired by Vassar College in 1865.
5 – Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)
Herschel had a childhood in which she was treated almost as a servant by her parents in Hannover, and later when her older brother, William, took her to England in 1772 and embarked on his Astrology career, Caroline followed his footsteps, helping his brother in his observations and on the construction of telescopes, having become an excellent astrologer on her own merit, discovering new nebulae and clusters of stars. She was also the first woman to discover a comet and the first to see her work published by the Royal Society. She was also the first British woman to be paid for her scientific work. She died in 1848 at the age of 97 after receiving numerous honors in her field, including a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.
4 – Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992)
While studying botany at Cornell University in the 1920s, Barbara McClintock got her first steps in the field of genetics, becoming a fervent adept of this area. And while studying and earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she pioneered the study of the genetics of corn cells. In New York’s Cold Spring Harbor, after observing the staining patterns of corn grains throughout the generations of plants, she determined that genes could move in and between the chromosomes. The finding did not fit into conventional genetics thinking, and it was largely ignored, and only later, with the improved molecular techniques that became available in the 1970s and early 1980s, that they did confirm her theory and these “genes jumps” were found in microorganisms, insects and even humans, McClintock received a Lasker Prize in 1981 and Nobel Prize in 1983.
3 – Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)
When Lise Meitner finished school at age 14, she was unable to go receive higher education, as were all girls in Austria. But she was determined to study radioactivity and by the time she reached the age of 21, women were finally allowed to attend Austrian universities. When she became 23, she enrolled at the University of Vienna and there, excelled in mathematics and physics and obtained her doctorate in 1906. In Berlin, she collaborated with Otto Hahn in the study of radioactive elements, but as an Austrian Jewish woman, she was excluded of major labs and lectures and could only work away from the public eye. In 1938 she was forced to flee Nazi Germany, continuing her work in Sweden and later Hahn discovered that uranium atoms were divided when bombarded with neutrons, calculated the energy released in the reaction and called the phenomenon “nuclear fission”. The discovery yielded to Hahn the Nobel Prize in 1944, but Meitner, was neglected by the commission of the Nobel prizes.
2 – Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)
James Watson and Francis Crick are credited for determining the structure of DNA, but their discovery was based on the work of Rosalind Franklin. As a teenager in the 1930s, Franklin attended one of the few girls’ schools in London that taught physics and chemistry, but when she told his father that she wanted to be a scientist, he rejected the idea but later gave in and allowed her to enroll in the University of Cambridge, having completed a doctorate in chemistry and physics. She learned X-ray crystallography techniques in Paris, returning to England in 1951 to work in John Randall’s laboratory at King’s College in London. There, she created DNA X-ray images. She had almost discovered the structure of the molecule when Maurice Wilkins showed one of Franklin’s X-ray images to James Watson, who quickly discovered that the structure was a double helix and, with Francis Crick, published the discovery in the journal Nature. Watson, Crick and Wilkins won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery and Franklin, however, died of ovarian cancer in 1958.
1 – Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Born Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the award twice. The work of Marie and her husband Pierre Curie led to the discovery of polonium and radio and, after Pierre’s death, the development of X-rays. Fascinated by the work of Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie took her work further, and conducted her own experiments on uranium rays and found that they remained constant regardless of the condition or form of uranium. The rays, she theorized, came from the atomic structure of the element and this revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics. Curie created the word “radioactivity” to describe the phenomena, later in 1898, discovered the polonium element, named after Poland, Marie’s native country.