Jun 17 2012

Ten awesome female scientists

A donor requested that I list the “top ten most awesome female scientists.” I probably should have done this earlier in the night when I still had some mental faculties left, but here’s an attempt for female scientists that I happen to like, in no particular order:

  1. Rosalind Franklin
  2. Jane Goodall
  3. Linda Buck
  4. Barbara McClintock
  5. Elizabeth Blackburn
  6. Martha Cowles Chase
  7. Elizabeth Blackwell
  8. Grace Hopper
  9. Marie Curie
  10. Lynn Margulis (if we can get in a time machine and forget that she became an AIDS denialist, ugh)

…The fact that this list was incredibly hard for me to make is really, really sad.

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  1. 1

    No love for Ada Lovlace? Although I suppose she was more a mathematician than a scientist.

  2. 2

    If it’s “awesome” we’re looking for in particular, then the list is incomplete without Lise Meitner, who helped work out the mechanics of nuclear fission while on the run from the Nazis.

  3. 3

    Hurrah for Elizabeth Blackburn, Australia’s first female Nobel prize winner. The two leading newspapers in Melbourne and Sydney had markedly different reactions to the award:

    The Age/Sydney Morning Herald – front page.
    Herald Sun/Daily Telegraph – buried around page 15ish.

    No prizes for guessing which is the right wing, Murdoch controlled rag.

  4. 4

    What about Jocelyn Bell Burnell?

  5. 5

    How about the following:

    Chien-Shiung Wu
    Lisa Randall
    Maria Goeppert Mayer
    Lisa Meitner

  6. 6
    Sheila Crosby

    Caroline Herschel, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Henrietta Leavitt, for starters.

  7. 7

    It’s funny, I can easily name dozens of awesome female scientists. However it is much more difficult to name dozens of FAMOUS female scientists.

  8. 8

    Dr. Nora Volkow, for her work into the neurochemistry of addiction.

  9. 9

    +1 Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

    Pleasingly, the most recent episode of the BBC’s flagship science programme Horizon was presented by Lucie Green, Helen Czerski and Liz Bonnin. Let’s hope this wasn’t a one-off.

  10. 10

    How about Melissa Franklin, chair of Harvard physics dept.? She was the first tenured prof. at HU, has worked at Fermi labs in Chicago for decades, and is awfully funny. Here’s an interview: http://bigthink.com/ideas/17078

  11. 11

    how about hypatia of alexandria, florence nightingale (much more than a nurse), and emmy noether, whose eponymous theorem is essential to physics just to name female mathematicians?

  12. 12

    *Amazing Grace fistbump*

    She is on my list of people I would want at my dream dinner party, along with Archimedes, Feynman, Hypatia, Boudicca and Leonardo.

    Factoid: if you put “leonardo” into Google, it comes up with di Caprio before da Vinci.


  13. 13

    Mary Anning?

  14. 14

    No Eugenie Scott?

  15. 15

    What about Helen Taussig who pretty much created the field of pediatric cardiology?

  16. 16

    Candace Pert for her work with neuropeptides?

  17. 17

    I’ll vouch for Sarah Noble. Brilliant and female. And then her mentor at Brown, Carle Pieters.
    I might be biased because I worked (briefly) with these brilliant women on the topics of space weathering, lunar regolith, and spectroscopy as a grad student over a decade ago, but they are both at the top of their field.

  18. 18

    Emmy Noether – incredibly influential physicist

  19. 19

    Athene Donald

  20. 20
    Prof. Bleen

    I would add Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, who won the Nobel Prize for her contributions to early developmental genetics, and Lise Meitner, who with her nephew, Otto Fritsch, first described the mechanism of nuclear fission in uranium.

  21. 21
    Nobody in particular

    Sara Seager

  22. 22

    I see your Lise Meitner and raise you one Rita Levi-Montalcini, who, excluded from the establishment by being a female Jew in Mussolini’s Italy, set up a developmental biology lab *in her attic*, and did pioneering work on neurogenesis during WWII.

    Although I’m a bit torn about looking to developmental biology for great female scientists (and there have been many) because it’s traditionally been condescendingly treated as an “acceptable” academic discipline for women to be interested in (a bit like obstetrics and gynaecology in medicine). Doesn’t mean I don’t think Nicole Le Douarin is any less awesome though.

  23. 23
    Pluto Animus

    Don’t forget memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus….

  24. 24

    yeah, I am wondering about her!

  25. 25

    I can’t believe you left Susan Blackmore off that list! I’ve learned more about consciousness and neuroscience from her website and books than anyone else except maybe Dan Dennett.

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