Just until relatively recently, most of the scientific world was dominated by men. From lab technicians to field researchers, science was rarely promoted as a viable profession for women. Aside from a few famous names, like Marie Curie, very few women scientists have been acknowledged for their accomplishments. However, this is now changing and women scientists are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Here is a list of 5 women scientists that are working to make the world a better place for all of us.
1. Katie Bouman
Katie Bouman became a household name after working on one of the most groundbreaking scientific projects of the past century. Bouman works in the field of computer imagery and wrote the algorithm that helped to capture the first image of a black hole. As can be seen in the video below, light can be seen bending around the immense gravity of what is assumed to be a supermassive black hole, nearly 6.5 billion times as massive as our own sun.
With such an immense amount of mass, it attracts and pulls all nearby objects (even light) into its center. This black hole was located at the center of the M87 galaxy, approximately 55 million light-years away. Following her achievement, Bouman quickly became a source of inspiration for women in science. Bouman worked on the Event Horizon team until taking a teaching position at the California Institute of Technology.
2. Frances Arnold
Frances Arnold is a chemical engineer who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018. Arnold won the award for her work with enzymes, in which she was able to use the principles of evolution (genetic change and selection) to develop the first directed evolution of enzymes. These directed enzymes are catalyst proteins for chemical reactions and because of Arnold, are now being used to protect the environment and produce renewable fuels.
Arnold became only the fifth recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, inspiring thousands of young women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Since then she’s been awarded several honorary doctorates, has been featured on a list of the 100 most important women in the world and was even named a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Francis in 2019.
3. Donna Strickland
Donna Strickland is another Nobel Prize winner, which she won in 2018 for the invention of chirped pulse amplification in lasers. Essentially, she and her team of researchers were looking for a way to develop “ultrashort high-intensity pulses without destroying the amplifying material”. To accomplish this, Strickland stretched out a laser pulse, amplified it and finally compressed it to create the first chirped pulse amplification technique.
While it may seem like a complicated science, the applications are quite practical. Strickland’s solution has led to many different applications, including cancer treatments and laser eye surgery. While the Canadian physicist has a wide range of research interests, her focus is mostly in the field of lasers and optics. In 2018, Strickland was granted full professorship at the University of Waterloo as a result of her winning the Nobel Prize.
4. Sara Seager
Sara Seager is a Canadian astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Her primary research is focused on extrasolar planets and their atmospheres. Seager’s work has been fundamental in the understanding of Earth-like planets outside of our solar system. Her ultimate goal is to locate another Earth-like inhabitable planet, which has been exciting the scientific community as of late.
In addition, Sara is observing certain gaseous biosignatures in an attempt to find extraterrestrial life. She even has an equation named after her (the Seager equation), which is used to search for planets based on their atmosphere type. In 2012, Sara was recognized as Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential in Space.
5. Karen Uhlenbeck
Karen Uhlenbeck is an American mathematician and was the founder of modern geometric analysis. Uhlenbeck has also worked on topological quantum field theory and integrable systems. While these terms might not be known to many outside the field of mathematics, they’re all incredibly important and useful concepts that have changed our understanding of these fields. Uhlenbeck was the first woman to receive the Abel Prize, which is one of the most prestigious awards given in the field of mathematics.
While women have been integral to the advance of science for centuries, much of their work was credited to the men for whom they worked. However, this has changed dramatically in recent decades, and many women scientists are using their groundbreaking research and influence to open up the world of science to more young women. Hopefully, in the years to come, we won’t need to talk about them as “women” scientists, but just as scientists fundamental to the advancement of human understanding.