Asked to depict a scientist, too many children draw a white man with ‘mad professor’ hair. Former primary school teacher Abby Harper of education resource experts PlanBee says, why not show them that science and technology has always been the domain of brilliant, creative women.
10 women trailblazers in science
Mary Anning: geology rocks
Anning was a palaeontologist and a fossil collector. She was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset. She collected fossils with her father. When he died, Mary sold them to help her mother pay off debts. Among the fossils Anning discovered were:
● A 5.2 meter-long skeleton of an Ichthyosaur, the first to be found.
● A Plesiosaurus skeleton initially considered too good to be genuine.
An interesting fact about Mary Anning
Even though she found lots of fossils and was an expert in the subject, she was often not credited with her finds. Women were not allowed to be members of the Geological Society of London until 1904, 57 years after she died. Anning is now starting to get the recognition she deserves: a statue of her is to be erected in Lyme Regis after a successful campaign by 13-year-old local teenager Evie Swire, and a film about the life of Anning, ‘Ammonite’, starring Kate Winslet, is due out later this year.
Ada Lovelace: switched-on programmer
The daughter of poet Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, Lovelace was born in 1815 in London. She became interested in Charles Babbage’s machines, which were designed to calculate mathematical tables mechanically, removing the errors that can appear when calculations are done by humans. Although Babbage’s machines were never built, Lovelace’s notes are an important part of early computer programs.
An interesting fact about Ada Lovelace
She has a computer programming language named after her: Ada.
Marie Curie: prized Nobel laureate
Marie Curie was a Polish-born physicist and chemist. She is well known for working with her husband Pierre as they discovered the radioactive elements Polonium and Radium. In 1903 Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her involvement in research on radiation. In 1911, she became the first person to win a second Nobel Prize, this time for her work towards the discovery of Polonium and Radium. It is believed she died from the effects of long-term radiation exposure.
An interesting fact about Marie Curie
One of Curie’s daughters, Irène Joliot-Curie, also won a joint Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband – for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.
Rosalind Franklin: DNA discoverer
Franklin was an English chemist whose work was essential to understand the complex structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the molecule in the cells of all living things that contains the genetic code. The code can determine things like skin, hair and eye colour as well as other traits which we inherit from our parents.
Franklin took the first X-ray picture showing that the DNA molecule was shaped like a double helix. This photo was used by other scientists to discover the structure of DNA, without clearly naming her as a contributor. The work that led to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1962 – but the award went three men, and Franklin’s work went unacknowledged.
An interesting fact about Rosalind Franklin
Australian astronomer John Broughton discovered an asteroid and named it ‘9241 Rosfraklin’ in tribute to Franklin.
Jane Goodall: primate pioneer
Born in London, Dame Jane Goodall is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and is best known for her life-long study of chimpanzees and their social interactions in Tanzania. Through hours and hours of careful watching, sketching and note-taking, Goodall was one of the first to observe a chimpanzee using tools to fish termites from their mounds. She was also one of the first to observe chimpanzees hunting for meat and gnawing on animal bones, debunking the theory that chimps were herbivores.
An interesting fact about Jane Goodall
Instead of numbering the chimpanzees as was the custom at the time, Goodall named the chimps. David Greybeard was one of the first she named. Others included Gigi, Mr McGregor, Goliath, Flo and Frodo who eventually kicked Goodall out of the troop when he became the leader.
Mae C. Jemison: out of this world
Mae Carol Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space in 1992. Born in the US, Jemison graduated from university with a degree in chemical engineering before earning her medical degree. Jemison was part of the 1992 STS-47 mission during which she orbited the Earth 127 times! She was in space for almost 200 hours during which she conducted experiments on the effects of weightlessness on herself and the crew.
An interesting fact about Mae C. Jemison
Jemison is a huge Star Trek fan. Whilst she was in space, she would often open communications by saying “Hailing frequencies open” which is a quote from the show. She even appeared on an episode of Star Trek in 1993.
Maggie Aderin-Pocock: star quality
Maggie Aderin-Pocock was born in north London in 1968. She is a space scientist and has a passion for sharing and educating both adults and children about space and other areas of science.
She co-presents “The Sky at Night” as well as appearing on many children’s TV shows too!
An interesting fact about Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Aderin-Pocock was diagnosed with dyslexia at age eight. She struggled at school but was passionate about science.
Mary Somerville: astronomical achiever
Somerville was a Scottish scientist who studied mathematics and astronomy. She was jointly admitted as the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Her work focused on the sun’s radiation effects on Earth’s substances and many have agreed that her later works and books lead to the discovery of the planet Neptune. She was passionate about supporting women in education and fighting for their civil rights. At one point she was Ada Lovelace’s tutor and friend.
An interesting fact about Mary Somerville
She features on the new Scottish £10 note.
Sarah Gilbert: Covid vaccine hero
Sarah Gilbert is a British vaccinologist and professor of vaccinology at Oxford University. She specialises in the development of flu vaccines and has been working on new ways to create vaccines for over 10 years. During the 2020 COVID19 pandemic, she co-developed a much-needed vaccine with the Oxford Vaccine Group.
An interesting fact about Sarah Gilbert
Gilbert would often work from very early in the morning (4am) to late at night.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: medical marvel
Elizabeth Garret Anderson was the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and a surgeon. Born in London, Garret was initially taught by her mother, as there was no school nearby. When she was sent to boarding school at age 13, Garrett was upset by the lack of science and mathematics at her all-girl boarding school. It is said that Garrett was inspired by an entry in the English Woman’s Journal which talked about the first female doctor in the US, Elisabeth Blackwell. This spurred Garret into meeting with Blackwell and opening up the path to medical careers for women. Through private study, Anderson obtained a certificate in anatomy and physiology. She finally obtained her licence to practise medicine in 1865.
An interesting fact about Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Garrett was not allowed to work in a hospital, so in 1865 she opened her own practice in London.