• Jessica Evans

5 women scientists to admire

The 11th of February is the UN’s international day of women and girls in science. If you’re an avid reader of Bite-sized Sci you might recall us mentioning that science as a career has often left women on the wayside. Even now that’s true.

So the 11th is for all the women who have gone, and continue to go, unrecognised or under-appreciated in scientific history.

In the spirit of that, we bring you 5 women to remember this week. Now remember, these are just five of the countless women who have played an integral role in getting us to where we are today. In your spare time, why not do some of your own research and look up some incredible women in science – we’d love to see who you manage to find.

1. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Biologist

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim became the president of Mauritius in 2015. As she had always loved plants and spent her life studying them, she took the opportunity to bring to public attention the issue of biodiversity. She is known for her talk called “Humble plants that hide surprising secrets” in which she talks about the vital standing of plants and biodiversity to humanity.

2. Ann Makosinski, inventor

When Ann was just 16, she won the Google Science Fair for inventing what is called a thermoelectric flashlight, a flashlight that runs on body heat. She did this in the hopes of providing an electricity source in places where electricity is scarce or absent. Now, at the age of 21, Makosinski has five TEDx presentations, several awards, and the title of Popular Science Young Inventor of the Year 2016 on her CV.

3. Grace Hopper, computer scientist

Grace Hopper is one of a handful of people who made computers what they are today. She began her career in computers in 1944, when computers consisted of whole rooms of buttons, knobs, and pulleys. She was part of the team that constructed the Harvard Mark I, an early computer that specialised in calculations. Later in her career, Hopper began working with coding (computer language or DNA) and developed a computer that could take English words and turn them into code.

4. Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini was a neurobiologist and medical doctor from Italy. In 1938 Mussolini started passing laws that inhibited people with Jewish ancestry, like Levi-Montalcini, from having certain jobs, so she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and used sharpened sewing needles as surgical instruments for her research. She spent World War II dodging bombs and continuing her work, even when she had to flee with her family. After the war she was a doctor at a refugee camp before returning to her studies. While studying in America, Levi-Montalcini, along with a colleague, Stanley Cohen, managed to isolate a protein called nerve growth factor. This might sound insignificant but as science is advancing nerve growth factor is becoming more important because it can aid in treatment of Alzheimer’s, cancer, and infertility.

5. Maureen Coetzee

Maureen Coetzee is a medical entomologist and the director of the Malaria Entomology Research Unit. She won the Kwame Nkrumah science award in 2011 for excellence in scientific research and is a malaria consultant to the World Health Organisation. She was working in the field in the 70s when it wasn’t a thing women did. She’s investigated insecticide resistance in mosquitos and this research helped South Africa in a severe malaria epidemic.

These were just five women scientists who had triumphed in adversity and shaped science today. Remember their names just as you would Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison. They deserve it.

Honourable mentions:

  • Jane Goodall, primatologist

  • Jill Tartar, astronomer

  • Margaret Hamilton, computer scientist

  • Mae Jemison, astronaut and doctor

  • Margherita Hack, astrophysicist

  • Maria Sibylla Merian, naturalist

  • Marie Curie, Chemist

  • Nettie Stevens, geneticist

  • Rita Levi Montalcini, neurobiologist

  • Sylvia Earle, marine biologist

  • Wang Zhenyi, astronomer

  • Ada Lovelace, Mathematician

  • Hypatia, mathematician and philosopher

  • Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor

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©2018 by Bite-sized Sci | Jessica Evans