Women’s History Month: Women in STEM

By Samantha Perez

Humble, Texas

Tu Youyou, Evangelina Villegas, and Ellen Ochoa (Photo Credit: Nobel Prize / Seedquest / Wikipedia)

We can recall our years in primary school and introductions to the many historical male figures in science, like James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick, who discovered the double-helix in DNA. What we didn't learn was how the female scientist, Rosalind Franklin, was the first in her field to identify and demonstrate the basic dimensions of DNA strands in 1953. We didn’t learn that, if not for Franklin, Watson and Crick would’ve never discovered the double-helix, nor won the Nobel Prize eleven years later. In a generation of societal progression, we are starting to uncover and admire women and minorities who made huge impacts in our everyday lives. Let’s take a look at some amazing discoveries and contributions brought by women in STEM.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

A Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.

Valerie Thomas (1943-)

American scientist who invented imaging processing systems used in satellite technology. Her scientific developments allowed NASA's LANDSAT programs to maintain real-time observation of satellites.

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)

An African American woman whose cervical cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, which is the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research.

Sarah Stewart (1905-1976)

Mexican-American researcher who discovered a link between viruses and cancer, which paved the way for the development of cancer vaccines. During the time of her discovery, the medical community dismissed her idea that cancer-causing viruses can be passed from animal to animal.

Jane Goodall (1934-)

English primatologist and anthropologist who discovered that chimpanzees hunt, make tools, and have certain social behaviors. With this, Goodall was able to find a link between chimpanzees and humans that suggests that many behaviors once thought to be exclusively human could have been inherited from common ancestors that we share with chimpanzees.

Tu Youyou (1930-)

In 2015, Youyou became the first woman from the People’s Republic of China to receive the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her and her partners’ groundbreaking work in developing artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, the drugs that treat malaria.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

English mathematician from the early 1800s who discovered that a computer could follow a sequence of instruction—a program. She wrote the world’s first machine algorithm that existed only on paper. Her work is regarded as the world's first computer program.

Ellen Ochoa (1958-)

Astronaut and first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to go into space, completing four space missions and logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit.

Mary G. Ross (1908-2008)

First Native American female aerospace engineer, working in Lockheed’s Advanced Development Program and assisted in developing the plans for missions flying by Venus and Mars. Though originally hired as a mathematician in 1942, she ended up training to become the only female engineer in her field.

Edith Clarke (1883-1959)

American pioneer in electrical engineering who used math to improve the understanding of power transmission. She was the first female electrical engineer to be professionally employed in her field and the first full-time professor of electrical engineering in the United States.

Evangelina Villegas (1924-2017)

Mexican cereal biochemist whose work with maize and whole-grain led to the development of quality protein maize. With the genetic engineering of wheat and maize improving nutritional content, Villegas helped fight malnutrition around the world.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1835) and Dorothy Lavinia Brown (1919-2004)

Physician, nurse, and author who, after studying at the New England Female Medical College in 1864, became the first African American woman to become a practicing doctor of medicine in the United States. Only 80 years later, African American legislator, surgeon, and teacher Dorthy Lavinia Brown became the first Black female surgeon, later becoming chief of surgery at Nashville’s Riverside Hospital.

Susan La Fleche Picotte (1865-1915)

First Native American woman to earn a medical degree. She attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889, now known as Hampton University, graduating as valedictorian. She became a physician and devoted her life to providing medical care to the Omaha tribe.

These are only fourteen women whose discoveries in their careers helped shape our realities today. As we continue to progress in science, math, and technology, we must acknowledge the contributions made by the many women who established themselves in male-dominated fields.

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