Biographies of Women in Science
We have gathered some information about famous women in science that might interest you.
If you'd like more information about women in science have a look at these sites:
- Smithsonian collection of famous women in science on Flickr
- Famous contemporary women in science
- The San Diego Supercomputer Center Presents: Women in Science
- Celebrating Women in the Plant Sciences
- 4,000 Years of Women in Science
Florence Bascom (1862-1945)
She was the first women and first geologist to be awarded a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. In 1896, she became the first woman scientist hired at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and pioneered the use of microscopes in the study of minerals and rocks.
She is also accredited with contributing greatly to the understanding of how the Appalachian mountain range had been formed through her studies with the research process of petrology. Dr. Bascom was a professor of geology at Bryn Mawr College for 33 years where she influenced and taught most of the women geologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and establishing her impact on the future of geological research in the United States.
Margaret Gray Blanton (1887-1973)
Margaret Gray Blanton was a professor at many institutions which include the University of Tulane, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, and Vassar College. A prolific writer, she was among the first in this country to publish in the field of speech pathology.
She was a founding member of the American Speech and Hearing Association. She also is accredited with contributing greatly to the field of speech pathology by developing an articulation test and speech and literacy tests which were widely used. She is also considered an authority on child development.
Rachel Carson (1907-1962)
Although she is known to be an innovative and creative marine biologist, she is primarily known to be a writer. After completion of her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins, she joined the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries writing about fishing and the sea for radio programs.
Life in the oceans was the subject of most of her writings with her most popular book being The Sea Around Us but her fifth and final work was what she is most noted and which had a monumental historic impact titled Silent Spring. This book was published in 1962 as a warning about the danger of pesticides, especially DDT, to the environment. Because of her work exposing the dangers of these chemicals, lethal pesticides have since been banned in the United States.
Yvonne A. Clearwater (1968-Present)
Dr. Clearwater’s work is as a design research psychologist, applying formal research methods, findings and theory from social sciences to the design of complex, often highly specialized human systems and settings ranging from challenging architectural problems to advanced informational environments and products.
She works with NASA in managing and conducting projects as a senior principle investigator and research psychologist, testbed development manager, government industry liaison, and as information designer. She serves as one of NASA’s top international authorities on the psychological implications of long duration space flight and has conducted extensive research and advised mission planners and designers on the human performance and environmental design determinants of living and working in isolating and confining settings.
Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-Present)
After receiving her master’s degree and doctorate in cell physiology from New York University, Cobb entered the National Cancer Institute for a postdoctoral fellowship. Her research involved designing new experiments to compare the in vivo effects of chemotherapeutic agents with in vitro effects on the same tissue obtained from the patient.
She returned to New York University and entered an exciting phasic cell research in the cancer chemotherapy program. Her research on normal and malignant pigment cells continued for 22 years. Her publications in this field include 50 books, articles, and other scholarly reports.
She became an influential promoter of programs which increased girls’, women’s and minority students’ interest in scientific careers. She has been awarded 18 honorary doctoral degrees.
Irene Joliot Curie (1897-1956)
Irene Joliot-Curie was the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. After having started her studies in Paris, she served as a nurse radiographer during the First World War. She became Doctor of Science in 1925.
She did important work on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1935 in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements.
In 1938 her research on the action of neutrons on the heavy elements was an important step in the discovery of uranium fission. She became Professor in the Faculty of Science in Paris in 1937, and afterwards Director of the Radium Institute in 1946 and had honorary doctoral degrees of several universities. Her death from leukemia resulted from radioactive exposure.
Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934)
Physicist and Chemist
Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and remains the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes, each in different fields.
Along with her doctoral advisor at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), and her husband, she won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research on radiation phenomena. Her discover of radium and polonium (named after her native country of Poland) brought her the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Curie’s decision to not patent the radium-isolation process allowed radiation research to flourish. Although her ground-breaking work in radiation research greatly improved medicine, she never fully realized its potentially destructive power. Ironically, she died of aplastic anemia, a consequence of exposure to massive radioactive materials.
Gertrude B. Elion (1918-1999)
Chemist and Pharmacologist
She studied at Hunter College and graduated with honors at age 19. After rejection from 15 graduate programs because she was a women, she took a position as an unpaid lab assistant.
Later in 1944, she was hired by Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceuticals to work with nucleic acids. During her 39 years there, she developed a drug, 6-mercaplopurine, used in chemotherapy to treat children with leukemia. She developed other drugs such as azathioprine to aid in anti-rejection after organ transplant surgery.
She received the 1988 Nobel Prize in medicine. She has honorary doctorate degrees from several universities and is a professor of pharmacology at two. She is known for her contributions to not only leukemia but also to rheumatoid arthritis, herpes virus and kidney disease.
Dian Fossey (1932-1985)
Anthropologist and Primatologist
She received her PhD from Darwin College, Cambridge, for a thesis entitled 'The behaviour of the mountain gorilla' in 1976. Between 1981 and 1983 Dian Fossey lectured as Professor at Cornell University in New York.
After attending a lecture by Dr. Louis Leakey (a Kenyan paleoanthropologist), Fossey became interested in the Mountain Gorillas of the Virunga Volcano region of Rwanda and began to study them. In her work, she established very close and intimate contact with both young and adult gorillas.
Fossey’s studies provided the basis for our understanding of the behavior and social life of gorillas. Her constant struggle to protect the gorillas and the Volcanoes National Park against both poachers and government officials culminated in her tragic murder.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Franklin went to Newnham College, Cambridge and graduated in 1941, but was only awarded a degree titular, as women were not entitled to degrees from Cambridge at the time; in 1945 Franklin received her PhD from Cambridge University.
Franklin’s x-ray diffraction photographs led to the understanding of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Her colleague, Maurice Wilkins, without obtaining her permission, made available to Watson and Crick her then unpublished x-ray diffraction pattern of the B form of DNA, which was crucial evidence for the helical structure of DNA.
Aside from her x-ray work with DNA, she also work with x-rays of lipids and proteins, and also did x-ray crystallography with the tobacco mosaic virus.
Birute Mary Galdikas (1946-Present)
In 1966, Galdikas earned her bachelor's degrees in psychology and zoology, her master's degree in anthropology and her doctorate in anthropology, from UCLA, in 1978. It was there, as a graduate student, she first met famed Kenyan paleontologist Louis Leakey and expressed her desire to study orangutans in their natural habitats.
What Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey were to chimpanzees and gorillas, respectively, Galdikas is to the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo. Since 1971, Galdikas has studied and observed the orangutans in their natural environment and emerged as the world’s leading authority on the subject. Galdikas has campaigned tirelessly to save the orangutans from extinction and to preserve their habitat from illegal logging.
Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979)
She studied at Cambridge as an undergraduate but was not awarded a degree because the university didn’t grant degrees to women at that time. After meeting Harlow Shapley, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory, who had just begun began a graduate program in astronomy, she left England for the United States in 1923.
Payne-Gaposchkin became the first person to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe (now part of Harvard). By studying the spectra of stars, Payne-Gaposchkin determined that hydrogen and helium were the most abundant elements in stars. She was the first woman to receive the rand of full professor at Harvard and also the first woman chairperson of a department at Harvard University.
Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972)
Lillian completed her dissertation for her Ph.D from the University of California but did not receive the degree because she didn’t complete the residency requirements. In 1915 she earned a Ph.D from Brown University in industrial psychology. She also received 22 honorary degrees from other schools.
Gilbreth’s researched and developed much of what today is called industrial engineering and human resource development. Along with her husband, she developed time and motion studies to help production workers function most efficiently, which lead to the development of management techniques for the modern workplace. She published extensively in the field of industrial engineering of which many works encouraged women to enter the industrial engineering field.
Jane Goodall (1934-Present)
Goodall's interest in animals prompted notable anthropologist Louis Leakey to hire her as his assistant and secretary. He invited her to accompany him to dig at Olduvai Gorge in eastern Africa. He asked Goodall to study the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park. She arrived at Gombe in July 1960. Leakey arranged for her to return to the United Kingdom where she earned a doctorate in ethology from the University of Cambridge in 1964.
She is notably the world’s foremost primatologist, and has spent decades closely observing and studying the behavior of the Gombe chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her work has revolutionized the field of primatology. Her numerous awards and honorary degrees include the UNESCO Gold Medal and the Medal of Tanzania. In 2002, Goodall was named a United Nations “Messenger of Peace.”
Sara Mae Stinchfield Hawk (1885-1977)
She was the first Ph.D. to graduate from a program with a major emphasis in speech in the United states and earned her degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1922.
A prolific writer, her research centered on developing diagnostic taxonomies of speech disorders in order to measure various aspects of speech. She was one of the founding members of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA). She became an ASHA fellow in 1925, an honorary life member in 1950, and received the association's highest honors in 1953.
Much of her career was spent as a faculty member in various colleges and universities throughout the country where she encouraged schools to develop course programs in speech and hearing.
Olive Clio Hazlett (1890-1974)
After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1915, Hazlett is cited as being the most prolific of all the American women working in mathematics before 1940.
Hazlett’s graduate career was in the area of linear associative algebras. The development of these algebras was the result of a gradual enlargement of the concept of numbers from integers, to rational numbers, to real numbers, complex numbers, to quaternion, to the more general ‘hyper-complex numbers.’ After her doctoral work she spent a year at Harvard where she continued working on invariants of nilpotent algebras and eventually left Harvard and shifted her work to the field of modular invariants and covariants. Her career led her to the University of Illinois where she was able to pursue her ideas. It is here where she earned honors and prominent positions.
Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992)
Hopper received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1934. She then became a mathematics professor at Vassar College. Since her family had a strong military background, she resigned her post at Vassar in 1943 to join the U.S. Naval Reserve.
By the end of World War II, Admiral Hopper had completed a manual detailing the basic operating principles of computers. She is noted to have been a remarkable woman who grandly rose to the challenges of programming the first computers. During her lifetime as a leader in the field of software development concepts, she contributed to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated compilers.
Ida Hyde (1857-1945)
In the face of relentless sex-bias, in 1896 Hyde heroically completed a coveted Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg, the first woman to receive one for her work. Because of her the academic experiences with adversity due to her gender, she devoted her life to activism to gain equal opportunities for women in science. Dr. Hyde became the first woman to do research at the Harvard Medical School; her 1902 election to the all-male American Physiological Society was also another first.
Her research was in both invertebrate and vertebrate animals and physiology of circulation, respiration and nervous functions to the development. Her most notable accomplishment is the development of a stimulating electrode small enough to insert into a cell and could simultaneously inject or remove material which revolutionized neurophysiology.
Shirley Ann Jackson (1946-Present)
She was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in 1973 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in physics.
Dr. Jackson studied and conducted research in subatomic particles at the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois where she studied hadrons and AT&T Bell Laboratories examining the fundamental properties of various materials. She also conducted research at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland where she explored theories of strongly interacting elementary particles.
She was appointed as the chair of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1995. She is current president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for her significant contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for science education.
Mae Carol Jemison (1956-Present)
Chemical Engineer, Physician, Astronaut
She graduated from Stanford University in 1977 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a medical degree from Cornell University Medical School in 1981.
She joined NASA’s astronaut training program in 1986 and was the first African American woman to travel to space in the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. Jemison conducted experiments in life sciences and material sciences and was co-investigator in bone cell research experiment the space laboratory module. She developed and participated in research projects with the NIH on hepatitis B vaccine, schistosomiasis and rabies. Dr. Jemison also speaks Russian, Japanese and Swahili.
Reatha Clark King (1938-Present)
King received her doctoral degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago. After her graduate education, she worked with the National Bureau of Standards doing fluorine flame colorimetry research.
After 6 years of working in industry, she returned to an academic setting as professor of chemistry at York College. She later left her position there to pursue a master’s degree in business and accepted the presidency of Metropolitan University in Minnesota. Her design for the growth of that institution included opportunities for minorities and women in higher education.
King has received honorary doctorate degrees from many institutions, including Empire State College, Marymount Manhattan College, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rhode Island College, Seattle University, and Smith College. In 1988 she was named the Twin Citian of Year for Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
Inge Lehmann (1888-1993)
After having finished school, she studied, with some interruptions due to poor health, mathematics at the universities of Copenhagen and Cambridge. She became an assistant to a geodesist who assigned her the task of setting up seismological observatories in Denmark and Greenland. In 1928 she passed her exam in geodesy and accepted a position as state geodesist and head of the department of seismology at the Geodetical Institute of Denmark.
In 1936, Lehmann published a paper in which she theorized that the Earth’s center consisted of two parts: a solid core surrounded by a liquid outer core, separated by what has come to be called the Lehmann Discontinuity. Lehmann’s hypothesis was confirmed in 1970, when more sensitive seismographs detected waves deflecting off this solid core.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-Present)
In 1936 she graduated from medical school with a summa cum laude degree in Medicine and Surgery, and enrolled in the three year specialization in neurology and psychiatry. After which she pursued research on the growth of nerve fibers.
In a secret laboratory in her home she studied chicken embryos to determine the effect that amputation of limbs had on the nervous system. There she discovered what scientists now call the “trophic factor” that causes nerve fibers to spread. In 1946, she continued her research at Washington University where she was instrumental in the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF).
She received due recognition of her contribution to the neurobiology field when in 1986 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852)
Lovelace's interest in mathematics dominated her life for that reason mother taught Lovelace mathematics at an early age. Lovelace was privately home schooled in mathematics and science. Lovelace was arguably the world’s first computer programmer; the programming language “Ada” was named in her honor.
In 1834 she became interested in the plans for Charles Babbage’s proposed calculating machines. Her 1843 article on Babbage’s “analytical engine” included detailed instructions on how such a machine might be programmed, as well as how to calculate Bernoulli numbers. Over one hundred years after her death Lovelace's notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine were republished after being forgotten as is now recognized as an early model for a computer and as a description of a computer and software.
Eleanor Emmons Maccoby (1917-Present)
Maccoby earned her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1950. In 1949, the couple moved to Boston when Nathan Maccoby was offered a position as professor at Boston University. One year later she was offered a job, which she accepted, at Harvard University supervising fieldwork on the practices of child-rearing and taught a child psychology class at Harvard.
Maccoby is a notable psychologist in the areas of developmental and social psychology. Her discoveries on the socialization of young children and the methodology of measuring social behavior in infants and preschool children have greatly influenced research in this area. She has produced six books, two monographs, and more than one hundred chapters and papers. She has won numerous awards including the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award in 1988.
Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
McClintock earned her Ph.D. in botany from Cornell University despite her mother’s disapproval of spending money to send a “girl” to college. After earning her doctoral degree, she stayed at Cornell and taught until 1931.
After leaving Cornell, she spent 30 years conducting research in genetics, first at the University of Missouri and then at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory. Her research focused on the ten chromosomes in Zea mays which she had discovered. Her meticulous work on the transposition of genetic elements revealed that these genetic elements can move from one site on a chromosome to another.
Her work was first dismissed by the scientific community but she continued to research and science now understands much more about genes and how they work. For this, she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
Margaret Mead received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1929 and has since become the most famous anthropologist of the 20th century.
After receiving her doctoral degree, she embarked on fieldwork in America, Samoa, Bali and New Guinea, as well as among the Omaha Indians of Nebraska. The first anthropologist to study human development in a cross-cultural perspective, Mead’s provocative findings profoundly influenced anthropology and feminism. She was a prominent leader of the women’s movement in the 1960’s.
She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science which included president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976.
Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)
Growing up in the whaling town of Nantucket, Massachusetts Mitchell grew up learning about the stars and navigation. She could rate the chronometers for whaling ships and plot the movements of the planets.
In 1847, her discovery of a comet invisible to the naked eye won her international fame and a medal from the king of Denmark. After that, she went to work for the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office to compute ephemeredes of the planet Venus.
When Vassar College was founded in 1865, she joined the faculty as a professor of astronomy and director of the college observatory. She became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and founded the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873, chairing the Committee on Women’s Work in Science until her death.
Emmy Noether (1882-1935)
Noether received her doctoral degree from University of Erlangen Nuremberg in the field of mathematics.
She is known today as a pioneer in the field of abstract algebra. Emmy Noether published her most important worn on non-commutative algebras beginning in 1927. Because of prejudice against women scientist, Noether taught for years without pay at the University of Goettingen, mentoring countless students, before her admission as full fledged lecturer in 1919.
The Nazi party rose to power in Germany in 1932. Germany's Nazi government dismissed Jews from university positions, and Noether moved to the United States to take up a position at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania where she lived out the rest of her days, dying of complications from ovarian cyst surgery.
Judith Resnik (1949-1986)
Electrical Engineer and Astronaut
With a bachelor’s degree, Resnik went to work with RCA. She was assigned first to the missile and service radar division and then to the service division. In 1974, she joined the National Institutes of Health as a staff scientist in the neurophysiology department which led her to earning her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland.
Her interest in solving problems and discovering new frontiers lead her to NASA in 1978. She was one of the first six women to ever enter the U.S. space program and on August 30, 1984 she became the second American women ever to fly in space, on the six day Discovery mission.
On Earth she worked with others on designing and developing the remote manipulator system. But before she could test her equipment in orbit, she died tragically in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
Dr. Wu came to the U.S. in 1936 after graduating with a B.S. from Nanking Central University. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in 1940.
She worked with the Manhattan Project research team to develop the atomic bomb. Her most notable accomplishment was to disprove the “law of conservation of parity.” Two of her colleagues, Dr. Tsung-Dao Lee and Dr. Chen Ning Yang were instead awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1957 – a fact widely blamed on sexism by the Nobel election committee.
Her many accomplishments won the nicknames of “First Lady of Physics,” and “Madam Curie of China.” She also became the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after her.
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1921-Present)
Her interest in physics was piqued when she heard the noted physicist, Enrico Fermi, speak about the new field of nuclear physics. After graduating with honors from Hunter College, she overcame formidable discrimination against women but entered the University of Illinois’s College of Engineering Physics Department. She was the only woman among 400 men.
She received her Ph.D. in nuclear physics and after a few research jobs, she went to Bronx Veterans’ Hospital laboratory to follow her dream. She helped discovered how to use radioisotopes to measure levels of tiny amounts of hormones in the human blood system. This method, called RIA, is crucial to determining conditions like hypothyroidism in infants, which can be treated upon diagnosis. After being passed over twice, Dr. Yalow received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1977, the second women ever to be so honored.