Famous women scientists have long fascinated us, for they have been few in number. Even fewer are total women in science, but the ones who get into it have ensured their great success. Women have made some remarkable discoveries, done great research and scientific work to their credit. It is true during olden times it has been much tougher for women to make a mark, especially in science and related fields like mathematics.
In this article, we are going to celebrate famous women scientists who had and have the best brains in the world. We cover women scientists or female scientists from history, more recent mid-late 20th century and the ones sought after currently. Women in science have always brought a different perspective to the thought process, resulting in glorious outcomes that have and continue to benefit the humanity.
Famous Women Scientists In History
Marie Curie – Madame Marie Curie is perhaps the most famous of famous female scientists in the world. She is famous for discovering Polonium and Radium. She is also responsible for analysis and discovering the nature of radiation and Beta rays. She is also referred to as ‘Mother Of Modern Physics’.
A pioneer in the study of radioactivity, she did exhausting research in this field allowing her to win 2 Noble prizes for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911. Marie Curie is, in fact, is the first woman to win a Noble prize and the first to win Noble prize in 2 disciplines. Curie was also the first woman to be awarded a PhD. in research science in Europe.
Marie Curie born in Warsaw, youngest of 5 children was left without a mother at the tender age of 11. Completed early schooling in honors, went to Paris to complete graduation in Physics in 1st place. Returned home to complete a degree in mathematics in 2nd place on a scholarship. Slowly this brilliant journey led to a marriage and in 1903 was awarded Nobel prize along with her husband Pierre and Henry Becquerel. In 1911, Curie again won a Nobel prize for mathematics.
Maria Agnesi – Maria Agnesi also known as Maria Gaëtana Agnesi or Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was a mathematician whose was the 1st woman to write a mathematics book that survives to this day. Maria Agnesi was also the first woman to be appointed as a mathematics professor at a university.
After Maria’s mother died, her father married twice, making her eldest of 21 siblings. Her father thrust upon her the responsibility of educating her siblings. This led to Agnesi teaching her brother latest in mathematics and she compiled the best in mathematics at the time and presented in 2 books.
Maria Agnesi covered topics such as arithmetic, calculus, trigonometry, infinite series, algebra and analytical geometry. She was first to document the works of Issac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz in her books. She has also studied diverse topics such as philosophy, science, celestial mechanics, elasticity and gravitational theory and written and gave speeches on them.
Rosalind Franklin – Rosalind Franklin, also known as Rosalind E. Franklin, Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a female scientist famous in the league of famous women scientists for her role in discovering the helical structure of DNA. Her new breaking study on DNA and its structure remained largely unaccounted for during her lifetime. Rosalind is one of the most famous women scientists who also has had tremendous respect from her fellows.
Deciding to become a chemist by the age of 15, Rosalind had to overcome opposition from her father and went on to complete her Ph.D. in chemistry in 1945 from Cambridge. Went to Paris and worked with Jacques Mering, and developed X-ray crystallography techniques to study atom structures in molecules.
Rosalind Franklin worked on DNA molecules from 1951 to 1953, where she used X-ray crystallography to take pictures of DNA molecules, which was instrumental in defining the helical structure of the DNA. Franklin was left out on the Nobel Prize due to a bad relation with a colleague and women were discriminated in research that time.
Sophie Germain – Sophie Germaine, was a french mathematician. She decided at an early stage to become a mathematician. Despite her family’s opposition to her studying mathematics, and that women were not accepted in such fields. She submitted her paper into a contest that worked on Chladni figures, which are patterns produced by vibrations in numbers.
Sophie Germaine’s work at that time was very instrumental and very important as women were not accepted into the scientific community. This forms the basis of the construction of skyscrapers and was an important progress in mathematical physics. Sophie mostly did her work on number theory and made some progress on a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.
Once accepted she became the first woman to allowed in sessions at Institut de France. Sophie used a pseudonym, “M. le Blanc” initially so she could be accepted as a male during her correspondence with other mathematicians. Germaine’s work contributed to mathematical physics, construction of skyscrapers, the study of acoustics and elasticity.
Caroline Herschel – Caroline Herschel was an avid astronomer and a trained musician and one of the most famous female scientists. She is famous for being the 1st woman to discover a comet. She was also instrumental in helping her brother Willam Herschel in discovering Uranus. She was trained in mathematics and astronomy by her brother William Herschel.
Born to Isaac Herschel, who was a court musician and an amateur astronomer, she was home schooled and trained in music like her brother William Herschel. After William moved to England working as Orchestra leader and a hobbyist astronomer, Herschel followed suit and began helping him in astronomy as his assistant by doing calculations, paperwork and grinding and polishing mirrors.
William discovered Uranus, credited her contribution and was made Court astronomer by King George III with a paid stipend. Caroline Herschel made her own observations too and discovered new nebulae Andromeda and Cetus and 14 other new nebulae. William Herschel gifted Caroline Herschel a telescope and soon she discovered a comet being the 1st woman to do so. This lead to the king adding 50 pounds annual stipend for her. Caroline became the 1st woman in England with a paid government appointment.
Famous Women Scientists Mid-Late 20th Century
Esther Conwell – Esther Conwell was an important chemist and physicist in the 20th century. She is a woman scientist famous for her theory on how electrons move in silicon and other semiconductors, which set off the modern computing era.
Conwell did her B.A. from Brooklyn college, then an M.S. in Physics in 1945, and a Ph.D. under a Nobel Laureate in 1948 and remained an assistant to Enrico Fermi for some time. It was during her M.S that Esther came up with Conwell-Weisskopf theory, which determines how electrons flow in semiconductor materials. This formed the basis for further development in the computing era.
Esther Conwell further worked in the best companies in research like Bell Laboratories, Sylvania, and Xerox. She became a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Rochester where researched on the movement of electrons through DNA. Esther has 4 patents to her name, authored multiple textbooks, and filed over 270 research papers during her career. One of her book High Field Transport in Semiconductors became the de facto reference for study in the field.
Mildred S. Dresselhaus – Mildred S. Dresselhaus is also known as ‘Queen Of Carbon Science’ for her contributions to the study of carbon and its forms. Mildred is instrumental in deciphering the structure of electrons in graphite. She is also credited with the discovery of buckyballs and carbon nanotubes(CNT).
Mildred S. Dresselhaus has numerous distinctions to her name including being the 1st woman institute professor and professor emerita of physics and electrical engineering at the prestigious MIT. In addition, Dresselhaus has received numerous awards including the National Medal Of Science, the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, and the Enrico Fermi award amongst lots of others.
Mildred Dresselhaus is known for lots of contributions to science on topics like graphite, carbon nanotubes, low dimensional thermodynamics, graphite intercalation compounds. There are several physical theories named after her. Her research helped to develop technology on thin graphite which is used today in the embedding of electronics everywhere like clothing, devices, and smartphones.
Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic – Patricia Goldman-Rakic was an excellent neuroscientist, neurobiologist, psychologist and female scientist. She did pioneering research on the frontal lobe and effects of mental diseases on working memory. She also discovered how brain tries to repair itself.
Patricia was the pioneer in the study of prefrontal cortex whose study was thought to be outside of scientists scope. She was able to establish the workings and circuitry of prefrontal cortex and find its relation to the working memory. The constant firing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex makes up for the state of consciousness, allows for one event of time to connect with another.
This state of consciousness is lost in case of an injury, or substance abuse or brain disorders. Patricia Goldman-Rakic’s research is instrumental in helping scientists understand the breakage of circuitry in such cases in disorders like ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She also started the first studies on the effects of dopamine on prefrontal cortex.
Sandra Faber – Sandra Faber, also known as Sandra Moore Faber is an astronomer and astrophysicist. She is a female scientist famous in the league of famous female scientists or famous women scientists for her important discovery of the relation between the brightness of a galaxy to the speed of stars within it called Faber-Jackson Relation.
Sandra Faber is also a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was also instrumental in designing of the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii. After completing minors in Mathematics and Astronomy and majors in Physics, Faber did her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1972. During the 3 year gap in her research, she along with graduate student Robert Jackson formed the Faber-Jackson Relation about the brightness of galaxies.
Sandra further researched into how galaxies are formed and published a paper about the formation of galaxies from the Big Bang in 1984. The paper discusses evolution from Big Bang to the formation of galaxies and further. The paper still stands as an authority on the matter.
Elizabeth Blackburn – Elizabeth Blackburn is an Australian-American Nobel Laureate who worked most famously on telomere, a protection mechanism at the end of chromosomes. She discovered telomerase, an enzyme which replenishes the telomere. For this, Blackburn was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize which she shared with two of her colleagues. She is one of the current famous women scientists.
Upon cell division, chromosomes shorten a little bit. To protect genes from getting chopped off, telomeres at the end of chromosomes provide a protective capping along with DNA and protein. Telomeres are maintained by telomerase an enzyme whose production in healthy cells eventually stops with over a period of time, and telomeres disintegrate and the cell dies.
Elizabeth’s research of telomerase has shown in the case of cancer, its production never stops and the cells become immortal. It happens in over 90% of tumor cells and is responsible for fast spread and resilience of cancer cells. This has lead to new research in cancer drugs which would target this property to prevent cancer cells from getting immortal.
Famous Women Scientists Current 21st Century
Cynthia Kenyon – Cynthia Kenyon also known as Cynthia James Kenyon is an authority on the subject of anti-aging and longevity. She is a famous female scientist for discovering a single gene that helped to double the lifespan of roundworms. She has had many breakthroughs in anti-aging research and has numerous awards to her name.
With a graduation in chemistry and biochemistry, Cynthia Kenyon did her Ph.D. at MIT, where she became the first person to research genes based on the activity profile. Kenyon discovered that a series of DNA repair agents set to work if DNA damaging materials attack in E. coli bacteria.
Now heading anti-again research as Vice President at Calico, Cynthia is taking her years of research forward with a goal to advance human age to over 100 years. She has had many breakthroughs in anti-aging research, with identifying which genes contribute to increasing the life span. Cynthia Kenyon’s research was also instrumental in identifying a single hormone controlled pathway that controls the aging process in several species of animals including humans.
Jennifer Doudna – Jennifer Doudna, also known as Jennifer Anne Doudna is a famed biochemist, microbiologist and one of the famous women scientists. She is famous in the league of famous women scientists for her contribution to developing CRISPR – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats – are short repetitive base sequences of Prokaryotic DNA. These form the basis of current gene editing technology.
CRISPR plays a key role in bacterial defense system and is pertinent to gene editing technology which allows for permanent gene modifications within organisms. This has lead to a big breakthrough with gene editing performed on a set of chimps successfully to eradicate a set of diseases passed genetically. Chinese scientists have gone a step ahead and done experimentation on human embryos.
Jennifer Doudna is a professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology. The research she has done would help in changing the face of diseases and potential cures with the help of gene editing. The technology developed has further spawned into numerous applications like Gene engineering, disease models, RNA editing, gene drive, biomedicine, and in vitro genetic depletion amongst others.
Katrin Amunts – Katrin Amunts is a German neuroscientist, Director of the Institue of Neuroscience and Medicine, and a professor at the University of Dusseldorf. She is currently one of the famous female scientists for her work in neuroscience research, and her efforts to build a 3D map of the brain.
Born in East Germany, studied medicine and biophysics at Moscow, Katrin Amunts completed her Ph.D. in neuroscience and anatomy at the Institute Of Brain Research in Moscow. She is one of the authorities in neuroscience currently in the world and one of the prominent scientists who are into brain mapping.
Currently leading a team of researchers in building a 3D brain map, Katrin completed a brain map with her team, that organizes different parts of the brain associated with different functions. This makes it easy for scientists to focus on what they need to research and also collaborates info from different sources for further use.
Nina Tandon – Nina Tandon is a famous biomedical engineer who rose to fame after founding Epibone with other colleagues. Epibone seeks to construction human bones from a person’s cells. This natural bone growth done in the lab could replace a bone in the body. The bone made in the lab is a living bone. Nina is making waves as a famous women scientists.
This is the first time such a feat will be achieved on a business scale with Nina heading the effort as the CEO. With a doctorate and post-doctorate in stem cells and tissue engineering, she has over 10 years experience in tissue engineering and 8+ years experience in bioreactor design. Nina Tandon now forms part of the effort at Epibone to be able to grow bones of exact shape and size needed, from a person’s cells.
This is a potential game changer for many people who face injuries and have had accidents and other issues, where bone replacement is the only answer or the right solution. This is going to take medicine and biology to the next level game.
Sara Seager – Sara Seager is a scientist, planetary scientist, and an astronomer. She became famous for her work on exoplanets and their atmospheres. She has discovered more than 700 exoplanets so far and the goal is simple to find life on a planet. She is one of the famous female scientists.
Seager has a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University, where she developed theoretical models of atmospheres on extrasolar planets. This helped to understand how atmospheres on planets located far off might work and how they could support life.
Sara Seager has also created Seager equation for detection of any life form from Earth. The equation lays emphasis on planets with biosignature gases. These gases are released by life forms and accumulate to levels that these can be detected with remote space telescopes. Seager has developed a fundamental method or procedure to finding the exoplanets with atmospheres with a possible alien habitable environment.
There are other numerous examples of women who have gone beyond the normal life activities to study, work hard and discover things for the benefit of humans. Famous women scientists have shown women are no less when it comes to hard work and providing a deep perspective to things like research and accomplishment of new discoveries and inventions. To read more you can buy books which discuss these great women.