Key Women in Science
Created on August 3, 2020
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Chemist who discovered Radium. The first woman to win a Nobel prize.
Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist whose conducted groundbreaking work on radioactivity, a term that she coined. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and she was the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris (1906). Curie discovered the elements polonium and radium, which we use today for many medical procedures including x-rays and radiation therapy.
Chemist whose images allowed for the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA
Rosalind Franklin studied chemistry at a time when few women were respected members of the scientific research community. She is most famous for her work on imaging DNA. She took the famous "Photo 51" which showed the double-helix shape of DNA. Male scientists Watson and Crick later used her image in their award winning model without her knowledge. However, it is now widely recognized that it was Franklin's work which allowed them to create their model, and she has been given credit for her imaging work. The knowledge of the shape of DNA was crucial to the understanding of replication and transcription (the process which allows DNA to create proteins). We know more about how our bodies work and why they are similar to our parents because of her discoveries.
The woman attributed with writing the first coding langauge.
Ada Lovelace was a math prodigy who is often called "the first computer programmer" for her work writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the 1800s. She befriended mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage when she was just 17 years old, and translated an article he had written on invention for him. However, she added so many of her own thoughts and ideas that the final translation was three times longer than the original article. In her notes, Lovelace wrote about how codes could be created for the machine to handle letters and symbols in addition to numbers. Lovelace also theorized a method for the machine, called the Analytical Engine, to repeat a series of instructions. This process is known as looping, and computer programs today use it. Because of her work, Lovelace is called the first computer programmer.
One of the mathematicians who made space travel possible.
Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose calculations were critical to NASA’s first crewed spaceflights. From a young age, Johnson was talented in math and skipped several grades. She was in high school by the age of 13, and later graduated from West Virginia State College, where she had continued to excel in math. She went on to work as a teacher before working for NASA, where she started out analyzing data from flight tests. Johnson went on to do the trajectory analysis for the 1961 mission Freedom 6, which was America’s first spaceflight with a human on board. Johnson did her most famous work in 1962 when she was called to check the equations that had been programmed into the computer by hand for the Friendship 7 mission. The astronaut would not fly unless Johnson herself checked the equations by hand. The flight was a success, and Johnson went on to help with various missions and author 26 research reports. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Obama.
A brilliant physicist who led the Wu Experiment on radioactive decay.
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American physicist who conducted important work in the field of nuclear physics. She worked on the Manhattan Project, the research program during World War II which produced the world’s first nuclear weapons. With the project, Wu helped develop the process of separating the element uranium into different isotopes. She is best known for the Wu experiment, a nuclear physics experiment which resulted in important contributions to physics. Her two male colleagues received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work, but Wu was not honored until nearly 20 years later when she was awarded the first ever Wolf Prize for her work. She is often called the “First Lady of Physics.”