From 1901 to 2022, only 61 women have ever won one of the Nobel Prizes in science and mathematics. Does your daughter hope to one day become one of these elite few?
Female scientists may be a relatively rare breed. Yet, the contributions women have made to science and research can not be understated. Today, we wanted to highlight just a few of these women and their inspirational work.
From well-known scientists like Marie Curie to lesser-known scientific geniuses like Janaki Ammal, we have rounded up the top five most inspirational women in STEM. Learn more about them below.
1. Chien-Shiung Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu was a 20th-century Chinese-American physicist. She is a Wolf Prize recipient (1978). Her work on the so-called Wu Experiment earned her male colleagues, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, the Novel Prize in 1957.
Wu is best known for her incredible contributions to nuclear and particle physics. She studied at prestigious universities like the University of Michigan and earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
In 1944, Wu started work on one of her most prestigious research endeavors: the Manhattan Project. This World War II-era program brought in the brightest minds to collaborate on the design of an atomic weapon for the US.
Wu is inspiring not only for her contributions to physics but also because she was an immigrant to the US. She came to the US from China in 1936. She is a great role model for all young immigrant women who are aspiring scientists.
2. Marie Curie
Marie Curie was a Polish-French chemist and physicist. She is arguably the most famous female scientist of all time. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and made groundbreaking contributions to medical science.
Curie was the scientist who came up with the term "radioactivity," and she invented the theory of how it works. More importantly, Curie and her scientist husband, Pierre, also discovered that radiation could kill off tumor cells.
But Curie did not stop at just one Nobel Prize. In 1911, she also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is still the only woman in history to do so twice. She received the award for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium.
The legacy Marie Curie left behind paved the way for female scientists today. Without Curie, women's contributions to science may not have ever been taken as seriously as they are today.
3. Janaki Ammal
Janaki Ammal was an Indian botanist. She may have been one of the first women to receive a botany degree. She is a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy.
Like Chien-Shiung Wu, Ammal received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Her work focused on plant breeding. She also studied the fields of phytogeography (plant geography) and cytogenetics.
Ammal's most significant work was in breeding. She helped cultivate hybrids of two plant species we still enjoy today: sugarcane and eggplant. You can check out some of her work in the book Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Ammal is that she was also an activist. She worked to educate Indian people about the benefits of protecting the country's biodiversity. She is an inspiration for all aspiring environmentalists.
4. Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist. While she never won a Nobel Prize during her lifetime, Franklin's work on DNA led to her male colleagues winning the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine a few years after her passing.
She received a chemistry degree from Cambridge University, a prestigious school in the UK. Interestingly, Franklin never actually received an advanced degree, graduating with what we would consider a Bachelor's degree today.
Franklin made major contributions to the field of genetics. Specifically, she helped us understand the double helix of DNA, as well as the structures of other important chemicals like RNA, graphite, coal, and certain viruses.
In a life cut way too short most likely because of the radiation she worked with, Rosalind Franklin made her way to the top of her field.
5. Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson was a NASA scientist and research mathematician. She was one of the first female African American NASA scientists in history. You can learn about her in the 2017 film, Hidden Figures.
Along with fellow scientists Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, Johnson worked on orbital mechanics. The work of these women helped the US successfully launch crewed ships into space.
Another first for Johnson, she was the first African American woman to graduate from West Virginia University. She later went on to receive her graduate degree from the same school.
Johnson faced many setbacks growing up as an African American woman in the 1900s. She is an inspiration for all young African American girls who want to make their mark in the fields of science and math.
Rocket Girls Inspires Young Female Scientists
These five women faced significant hurdles, yet they achieved great things in their lifetimes. Inspire your science-loving daughter to dream big by teaching her about the women scientists who paved the way for her.
Want to learn more about these female scientists and other STEM ladies who changed the world? Rocket Girls can teach your daughter the inspiring female scientist stories she may not be learning in school.
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