Throughout the history of science, women have made crucial discoveries and contributions that continue to have significance and relevance to this day. Yet, more often than not, the work of these women is ignored or discredited. In a world where science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continues to be a male-dominated field, gender bias and the field’s lack of women continue to be reported. While it can be easy to overlook the work done by women, it is that much more important to properly recognize these women.

So we are doing just that. Here are 27 women in STEM that you should know about.

1. Janaki Ammal

A portrait photo of Janaki Ammal, the first woman botanist in India.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of Janaki Ammal.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Janaki Ammal is considered the first woman botanist in India. Her most notable work involved studies on sugarcane. In the early 20th century, India’s sugar was not as sweet as the rest of the world. But after laborious cross breedings in the laboratory of Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Ammal was responsible for creating the variety of sweetened sugarcane that we consume today. At 83 years old, she also advocated for the preservation of the Silent Valley National Park and has worked to preserve indigenous plants and practices toward the environment.

2. Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson on a podium pointing to the crowd.
[Image Description: Shirley Ann Jackson on a podium pointing to the crowd.] Via PopTech on Flickr.
We’ve touched on this remarkable woman before. Shirley Ann Jackson was not only the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, but was the first woman, in general, to earn a doctorate in physics in MIT’s history. She was a recipient of the National Medal of Science in 2014 and is currently the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private research university in New York. Jackson remains both an advocate and role model for women and minorities in the sciences.

3. Chien-Shiung Wu

A black and white photo of Chinese-American experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu working on experiments.
[Image Description: A black and white photo of Chinese-American experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu working on experiments.] Via Smithsonian Institution from Flickr.
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American experimental physicist, most known for her contributions to the Manhattan Project and the Wu experiment. For the Manhattan Project, Wu helped to develop the process for separating uranium metal into the dangerous U-235 and U-238 isotopes. Her namesake, the Wu experiment, was a nuclear physics experiment of her own design. It led to the disproval of the hypothetical law of conservation of parity during beta decay. Due to her groundbreaking work in physics, Wu has been dubbed as “the First Lady of Physics” and “Queen of Nuclear Research.”

4. Mae C. Jemison

Female black astronaut Mae C. Jemison smiles at the camera in her spacesuit while holding her space helmet.
[Image Description: Female black astronaut Mae C. Jemison smiles at the camera in her spacesuit while holding her space helmet.] Via NASA on The Commons from Flickr.
Mae C. Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut. In 1987, she was admitted to NASA’s astronaut training program. Five years later, in 1992, Jemison flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour, a joint mission between the U.S. and Japan. As a result, she became the first African American woman to travel to space and she remains an inspiration for those pursuing careers in a field that is largely dominated by men today.

5. Katherine Johnson

A protrait photo of mathematician Katherine Johnson smiling at the camera.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of mathematician Katherine Johnson smiling at the camera.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Katherine Johnson was one of a small group of Black women mathematicians who did crucial work at NASA. She worked for NASA for more than 30 years and her math helped send astronauts to the Moon. She calculated and analyzed the flight paths of many spacecraft including Apollo 11, the spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon. The well-received Hollywood film, “Hidden Figures,” is based on Johnson’s experience working in NASA.

6. Vera Rubin

American astronomer Vera Rubin smiling while holding her purse.
[Image Description: American astronomer Vera Rubin smiling while holding her purse.] Via Jeremy Keith from Flickr.
American astronomer Vera Rubin transformed modern physics and astronomy. Her observations confirmed the existence of dark matter, which makes up the majority of matter in the universe. In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded Rubin the National Medal of Science for her pioneering research programs in observational cosmology.

7. Marie Maynard Daly

A black and white protrait of American biochemist Marie Maynard Daly similing off camera.
[Image Description: A black and white portrait of American biochemist Marie Maynard Daly.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Marie M. Daly was the first African American woman to earn a doctoral degree in chemistry in the United States of America. In addition to conducting important studies on cholesterol, sugars and proteins, Daly also developed programs to increase the enrollment of minority students in medical schools and graduate science programs, paving the way for others.

8. Flossie Wong-Staal

Molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal looking at the camera in a laboratory.
[Image Description: Molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal looking at the camera in a laboratory.] Via NIH Image Gallery from Flickr.
During the wake of the AIDS epidemic in the United States of America, Flossie Wong-Staal, a Chinese American virologist and molecular biologist, saved countless lives through her groundbreaking work on HIV. She was a part of a team that discovered HIV in 1983 and helped determine that the virus was the cause of AIDS. In 1985, she became the first scientist to successfully clone HIV and genetically map the virus, an effort that led to the development of blood tests for the virus which was a revolutionary step in fighting against the virus.

9. Marie Curie

French-Polish physicist Marie Curie with her hand on her temple while looking at the camera.
[Image Description: French-Polish physicist Marie Curie with her hand on her temple while looking at the camera.] Via Tekniska Museet from Flickr.
French-Polish physicist Marie Curie, known as the “mother of modern physics,” is famous for her discovery of radioactivity, specifically the radioactive elements polonium and radium. With Henri Becquerel and her husband Peirce Curie, she was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of radioactivity. She was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium. She was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields. She eventually died from aplastic anemia as a result of her exposure to radioactive material.

10. Alice Ball

A protrait photo of American chemist Alice Ball wearing here graduation cap.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of American chemist Alice Ball wearing her graduation cap.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Alice Ball was an African American who developed the “Ball Method,” a technique that became the most effective treatment for leprosy during the 20th century. Her practice was used to treat thousands of infected individuals. Ball was also the first woman, as well as the first African-American, to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from the College of Hawaii.

11. Ada Lovelace

A watercolor portrait mathematician Ada Lovelace who is considered the the first computer programmer.
[Image Description: A watercolor portrait mathematician Ada Lovelace who is considered the first computer programmer.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
English mathematician Ada Lovelace is remembered by many as the world’s first computer programmer. She introduced many computer concepts and is best known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which is considered to be the concept for the first general mechanical computer. Every year, the second Tuesday of October marks Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM.

12. Mary-Claire King

A protrait photo of American professor Mary-Claire King smiling at the camera.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of American professor Mary-Claire King smiling at the camera.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary-Claire King was the first to show that mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the cause of two types of reproductive cancer; breast and ovarian. King’s discovery enabled doctors to screen women for the inheritance of mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and evaluate their risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Additionally, her method of analyzing the genetic effects on breast cancer has been used by many other researchers to study other illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

13. Adriana Ocampo

Protrait of planetary geologist Adriana Ocampo at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
[Image Description: Portrait of planetary geologist Adriana Ocampo at NASA Headquarters in Washington.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Adriana Ocampo is a planetary geologist and a science program manager at NASA. Her research led to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater, which was believed to be caused by the asteroid that caused the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. By studying the Chicxulub impact crater, researchers and scientists were able to assemble a timeline of what happened after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

14. Jane Hinton

Protrait of Jane Hinton, one of th first African-American women to gain the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
[Image Description: Portrait of Jane Hinton, one of the first African-American women to gain the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Jane Hinton, along with Alfreda Johnson Webb, became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 1949. With microbiologist John Howard Mueller, Hinton developed the Mueller-Hinton agar, a microbiological growth medium. Today, it is commonly used for testing how susceptible certain bacterias are to antibiotic treatments.

15. Susan La Flesche Picotte

A black and white photo of Susan La Flesche Picotte.
[Image description: A black and white photo of Susan La Flesche Picotte.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Susan La Flesche Picotte is widely acknowledged as the first Native American physician to earn a medical degree. After witnessing a sick Native American woman die after a white doctor refused to treat her, Picotte, who was a child at the time, became motivated to pursue medicine. She became a pioneering doctor who provided valuable health care and resources to her Omaha community.

16. Gerty Theresa Cori

American biochemist Gerty Cori on the left performing a lab experiment with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori.
[Image Description: American biochemist Gerty Cori on the left performing a lab experiment with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Biochemist Gerty Theresa Cori was the first American woman (and third woman worldwide) to win a Nobel Prize in science. Additionally, Cori became the first woman to win the 1947 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori for their role in the discovery of how the human body metabolizes sugar. This became known as the Cori Cycle.  

17. Gladys West

American mathematician Gladys West smiling during a ceremony in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
[Image Description: American mathematician Gladys West smiling during a ceremony in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Gladys West is an African-American mathematician known for her contributions to the modeling of the shape of the Earth. This would prove essential to the development of the modern Global Positioning System (GPS), one that has been widely integrated into everyday life from driving to your local store to airlines flights and security tracking. In 2018, West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame for her contributions.

18. Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lemarr, an Austrian-American actress and inventor, modeling while looking off camera.
[Image Description: Hedy Lemarr, an Austrian-American actress, and inventor.] Via Film Star Vintage from Flickr.
Hedy Lemarr was an Austrian-American actress, inventor, and film producer. Not only did she star in the Oscar-nominated films, “Algiers” and “Samson and Delilah,” Lamarr also made crucial contributions in technology. She co-invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications which was key in the development of WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

19. Nergis Mavalvala

Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala in a laboratory crossing her arms while smiling at the camera.
[Image Description: Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala in a laboratory crossing her arms while smiling at the camera.] Via
KPCC: Southern California Public Radio from Flickr.
Pakistani-born, openly queer and a woman in STEM, Nergis Mavalvala is no stranger to breaking barriers. As an astrophysicist, she is best known for her work that proved Einstein’s prediction of the existence of gravitational waves. In 2010, Mavalava was one of 23 recipients of the 2010 MacArthur fellowships.

20. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

A side profile of astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell delivering a speech.
[Image Description: A side profile of astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell delivering a speech.] Via
Wikimedia Commons.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a British astrophysicist and astronomer who is best known for her discovery of pulsars, which are rapidly spinning neutron stars, in 1967. She made the discovery using a radio telescope that she and Antony Hewish had built to study the recently detected star-like quasars.

21. Maria Sibylla Merian

An oil painting protrait of Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the first European naturalists to observe insects directly.
[Image Description: An oil painting portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the first European naturalists to observe insects directly.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Maria Sibylla Merian is a German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator who not only observed numerous plants and animals but also showed the relationships between them. She contributed to the advance of entomology through her work on metamorphosis in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

22. Mary Anning

A portrait of English palaeontologist Mary Anning and the Golden Cap outcrop in the background.
[Image Description: A portrait of English paleontologist Mary Anning and the Golden Cap outcrop in the background.] Via
Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Anning was a pioneering paleontologist and fossil collector who made some of the most important geological finds of all time. Like many women at the time, Anning had little formal education and instead taught herself geology and anatomy. In 1823, Anning was the first to discover the complete skeleton of a plesiosaur, a large marine reptile that lived during the Jurassic Period. Her discoveries and contributions have brought valuable insight into the history of the Earth.

23. Jennifer Doudna

A protrait photo of Jennifer Doudna.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of Jennifer Doudna.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
American biochemist Jennifer Doudna, alongside French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, are best known for their invention of CRISPR-Cas 9, a tool that has provided the means to edit genes both quickly and cheaply. Additionally, Doudna has spearheaded the public debate regarding the ethical implications of using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit human embryos.

24. Stephanie Kwolek

A black and white photo of Stephanie Kwolek smiling at the camera.
[Image Description: A black and white photo of Stephanie Kwolek smiling at the camera.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
American chemist Stephanie Kwolek is known for inventing Kevlar, a light and heat-resistant synthetic fiber that is strong enough to stop a bullet. Today, Kevlar is used in many products including bulletproof vests, spacecrafts and helmets. Her work continues to protect and save thousands of lives.

25. Elizabeth Blackwell

A side profile of British physician Elizabeth Blackwell.
[Image Description: A side profile of British physician Elizabeth Blackwell.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
British physician Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in America to receive a medical degree in 1894. Ten years later, she became the first woman to have her name on the British medical register which enabled her to practice medicine in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Additionally, she supported medical education for women by opening her own medical college for women. She has become a role model for many women in medicine.

26. Ann Tsukamoto

A portrait photo of Ann Tsukamoto.
[Image Description: A portrait photo of Ann Tsukamoto.] Via Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Ann Tsukamoto is an inventor and stem cell researcher who became one of the first scientific researchers to identify and isolate blood-forming stem cells. Her research helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives and contributed to numerous successful bone marrow transplants that can replace a damaged immune system in a person with blood cancer.

27. Dilhan Eryurt

A portrait photo of Dilhan Eryurt.
[Image description: A portrait photo of Dilhan Eryurt.] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Dilhan Eryurt was the first Turkish woman to work for NASA, having been the only woman astronomer working there at the time. Her work provided NASA engineers with crucial information about the sun’s effects on the lunar landscape. In 1969, she was awarded the Apollo Achievement Award for her significant contributions to the Apollo 11 moon landing.

It is clear women have immeasurably helped STEM grow into the innovative and life-saving field we know it to be today. We should remain committed to doing our part in recognizing and celebrating these amazing women.

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  • Rachel Wu

    Rachel Wu is a junior from Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. She is also a student journalist and joined her high school's newspaper, the Epic, in her sophomore year. She is interested in health and created a health blog, Healthasion, which aims to spread awareness of diseases/illnesses and break down the stigma surrounding them. In her free time, Rachel enjoys watching documentaries and TV shows, reading books, and discovering new interests.


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