The I.D.E.A.S. that forever changed the world.
“From today, I very much hope that I will be called a scientist rather than a woman in science, and to be recognized by my achievements rather than by gender” – HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, 11 February 2016, UNHQ
The ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’ (#IDWGS) was original started by the remarkable HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, a true champion for women in STEM around the world. The theme for this year, I.D.E.A.S (Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance. Sustain), is all about bringing together the international community and women in science to bridge the gap and use their knowledge and expertise in discussions for identifying conditions and tools that will help put science, technology, and innovation at the heart of everyone’s future plans.
Here at Word Monster, to celebrate #Feburary11 we have gathered several stories of resilience, determination and ambition, to shine the spotlight on eight women who forever changed the world.
Katherine Johnson – NASA computer
Katherine Johnson is one of the most celebrated women in space science – the early recognition of her curiosity and brilliance with numbers, allowed Johnson to pursue mathematics in college at just 15 years of age. Jumping ahead through the years of breaking down the barriers that kept being put in front her, she became a NASA mathematician who ultimately played a key role in the Space Race missions of the 1950s and ‘60s, calculating the trajectory needed to get the Apollo 11 mission safely to the moon and back. Moreover, she authored or co-authored 26 research reports during her 33 years of service at NASA, working on the Space Shuttle and Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS). At age 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour by President Barrack Obama for her achievements in NASA. A true pioneer advancing the space race!
Marie Maynard Daly – Biochemist
Born in Queens, New York, Daly’s interest in science sparked at a young age, inspired by her father’s own passion for the field. Sadly, due to economic reasons Daly’s father was unable to pursue his love of chemistry, however this only strengthen her ambition. Daly went on to be the first African American woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in the United States. Her research led to some very important discoveries regarding cholesterol and heart health; she established the link between high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. In commitment to developing programmes to increase the enrollment of minority students in medical schools and elevating the next generation, she established a fund for African American students at Queens College in New York, in honour of her father.
Jennifer Doudna – Biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate
Jennifer Doudna is a biochemist known for the discovery of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 molecular tool, alongside microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier. This discovery provided the foundation for gene editing, allowing scientists to make changes to DNA sequences in a more efficient, and technically simpler, way. In response to growing ethical concerns, in 2015 Doudna requested a moratorium on human genome editing, calling for immediate action to safeguard the genomes of human embryos against genetic modifications. Five years later, in 2020, Doudna and Charpentier became the first two women to share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery. Their ground-breaking genomic innovation has changed and will continue to change the world.
Tu Youyou – Chemist and Nobel Prize laureate
Tu is known for the isolation and study of artemisinin – one of the most effective malaria-fighting drugs. Born in Ningbo, China, in 1930, she studied pharmaceutics at Beijing Medical College and was chosen to join the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1955. During the Vietnam war, she was asked to lead Project 523 – a covert effort to discover a treatment for malaria that had become resistant to standard chloroquine therapy. Using ancient Chinese medical texts, Tu and her colleagues identified over 2,000 remedies with potentially antimalarial activity; however, it was an extract obtained from sweet wormwood plant that showed the greatest promise. Clinical studies were soon carried out after refining the extraction process, and they were a success! In 1972, the active compound was isolated and named artemisinin. In the early 2000s the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of artemisinin-based therapy as a first-line treatment for malaria and, in 2015, Tu and her team were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Tu became the first female citizen of People’s Republic of China to receive a Nobel Prize in any category, and the first Chinese Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine. This breakthrough forever changed the medical field, demonstrating the important of female diversity in science.
Rita Levi-Montalcini – Neuroembryologist and Nobel Prize laureate
Born in 1909, the Italian neurologist was raised by an authoritarian father who strongly disapproved of women’s education. At age 20, Rita would no longer abide by her father’s strict rules, and she began studying medicine at the University of Turin. At the start of the Second World War, however, she was forced to halt her studies in neurology and psychology. Inspired by an article written by embryologist Viktor Hamburger, she built a laboratory in her bedroom, creating scalpels from sewing needles and using a watchmaker’s forceps to study chick embryos and their motor neurons under a microscope. Her discoveries during this period laid the foundation for what would later be known as programmed cell death during embryonic development. Years later, Viktor Hamburger himself would invite Rita to the Washington University in Missouri, where she would stay for 30 years. It was here that she would discover the nerve growth factor, giving scientists a new way to potentially battle dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery led to Levi-Montalcini being awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1986. Rita demonstrated that in the face of adversity, perseverance can lead to big change!
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin – Chemist and Noble Prize laureate
Hodgkin’s love for chemistry and science made itself known at a young age, inspiring the creation of a personal laboratory in the attic room of her family home. Dorothy first obtained a chemistry degree from Somerville College where she investigated the crystal structure of dimethyl thallium halides, before gaining a PhD in the crystallographic investigation of steroid crystals. Soon after, Hodgkin would be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis), however this diagnosis fueled her determination throughout life. Though the disease began affecting Dorothy’s physical ability to work, the chemist refused to postpone her experiments — when she could no longer switch off the X-ray equipment required for her studies, she had a longer lever made for the switch; when the pain would become too difficult to manage, she would take aspirin and apply heat treatment to her hands. Dorothy was the first to determine the complete organic structures of cholesterol and penicillin by X-ray crystallography. Her work in X-ray crystallography culminated in her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Science in 1964. To this day, she remains the only British woman to ever be awarded the Nobel Prize for Science. A true hero to all women in science.
Mae C. Jemison – Physician, engineer, and astronaut
Mae Jemison has always been reaching for the stars — and in 1992, that dream came true when she became the first African American woman to travel in space. Born in 1956, Jemison grew up watching the televised Apollo airings, but would often be upset by the lack of female astronauts. In 1973 she went on to attend Stanford University, graduating in 1977 with two bachelor’s degrees: one in chemical engineering and another in African-American studies. Soon after, she enrolled in medical studies at Cornell, graduating with a Doctorate in Medicine in 1981. Her diverse skill set also includes being fluent in Russian, Japanese and Swahili, and so she joined the Peace Corps in 1983, serving as a medical officer for two years in Africa. In 1987 she applied for the astronaut programme at NASA and was selected to join the STS-47 crew as a Mission Specialist. Currently, Mae Jemison is leading the 100 Year Starship project, an initiative set out by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to ensure human space travel to another star is possible in the next 100 years. Mae is sustaining every little girls dream to reach for the stars!
June Almeida – Virologist
Almeida was born in 1930 in Glasgow and was driven by a passion for academic knowledge from the very beginning. Despite her dreams of pursuing university, she didn’t have the financial means to do so. Therefore, she left school at the age of 16 and trained as a laboratory technician in the histopathology department at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, a large teaching hospital at the time. In 1956 she moved to Canada, to take on a research assistant position with Allan Howatson, an immunologist with expertise in electron microscopy. Almeida was quickly able to master the rather complicated technique and, in combination with negative staining, it allowed her to observe virus particles with sufficient clarity to classified them according to their shape. By 1963, she wrote a paper setting out a virus classification framework, whereby images of viruses obtained with the electron microscope were categorized based on their shape and origin. She would go on to produce the first known images of noroviruses, the human immunodeficiency virus, and rubella virus. Importantly, she identified a new family of viruses, which Almeida and her team named ‘coronaviruses’ – you may have heard of it? Almeida forever changed the field of virology through her passion for knowledge and innovative thinking.
This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, join us by celebrating some of the most influential scientists of our time (who happen to be women!). Their brilliance, determination and power truly changed the world for the better. To commemorate their achievements and find out more about the history and mission of this celebration, visit https://www.womeninscienceday.org/index.html
- International Day of Women and Girls in Sciences. ‘IDEAS: Bringing everyone forward’. Available at: https://www.womeninscienceday.org/index.html [Accessed February 2023]
- Shetterly ML. ‘Katherine Johnson Biography’. Available at: https://www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography [Accessed February 2023]
- Science History Institute. ‘Marie Maynard Daly’. Available at: https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/marie-maynard-daly [Accessed February 2023]
- Rogers K. ‘Jennifer Doudna’. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jennifer-Doudna [Accessed February 2023]
- Rogers K. ‘Tu Youyou’. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tu-Youyou [Accessed February 2023]
- The Nobel Prize. ‘Women who changed science: Rita Levi-Montalcini’. Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/rita-levi-montalcini [Accessed February 2023]
- The Nobel Prize. ‘Women who changed science: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin’. Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/1964/hodgkin/biographical/ [Accessed February 2023]
- Alexander KL. ‘Mae Jemison’. Available at: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mae-jemison [Accessed February 2023]
- Marks L. ‘June Almeida | Biographical summary’. Available at: https://www.whatisbiotechnology.org/index.php/people/summary/Almeida [Accessed February 2023]