Of course women can be scientists. In fact, some of the greatest discoveries in human history were made by women! But that doesn’t change the fact that female scientists are grossly underrepresented in cultures all around the world – including the United States. A research article published in the journal PLOS ONE analyzed gender stereotypes in science education and found that men are much more likely to be depicted with a science profession, while women are more likely to be portrayed as teachers. While this is a somewhat accurate depiction (there technically are more men in science than women), when girls grow up seeing male scientists dominate the field, it can be disheartening. A study published in January of 2017 in the journal of Science found that when children at the age of five are told a story about a person who is extremely smart, both boys and girls are likely to imagine that person as being of their own gender. However, by the age of six, both boys and girls imagined this person as a male. This is why equal gender depiction in culture and media is so important.

Any belief that says women are less intelligent than men is blatantly incorrect. Statistics showing lower test scores from women suffer from what is called the stereotype threat. When a person is a part of a social group that is negatively stereotyped, they are more likely to show decreased performance in comparison to those that belong to a social group with more positive stereotypes. I hope that this makes it obvious that our cultural depiction of women can actually harm them. If we want true equality, from salaries to professions, we need to start culturally depicting these individuals differently.

Now with that said, let’s take a look at some of the great things that women have done for science.

Florence Bascom (1862-1945)

Florence_Bascom2Florence was the first woman and first geologist to receive a PhD from John Hopkins University. In 1896 she became the first woman scientist hired at the United States Geological Survey and pioneered the use of microscopes to study rocks and minerals. She taught at Bryn Mawr College for 33 years, inspiring hundreds of women to study geology.

Rachel Carson (1907-1962)

7803227436_b1042b5546_b.jpgRachel was a Marine Biologist and a writer who spent much of her time studying the dangers that pesticides have on our environment. After she graduated from Johns Hopkins, she joined the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries writing about fishing and the sea for radio programs. Because of her work, lethal pesticides were banned in the United States. In 1980, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-2017)

hqdefaultJewel was a cell biologist who received her masters degree and doctorate in cell physiology from New York University. She entered the National Cancer institute and spent much of her life studying chemotherapy and cancerous cells. In total, she published over 50 books and articles while simultaneously spending her time promoting programs that worked to increase interest in science for girls and minorities.

Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934)

Marie_Curie_Tekniska_museetMaria was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and to this day is still the only woman to be awarded two in separate fields. She was a physicist and chemist who spent much of her time studying radiation and is the discoverer of radium and polonium. Her choice not to patent her radium-isolation process allowed radiation research to flourish.

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979)

cecilia_helena_payne_gaposchkin_1900-1979_3.jpgCecilia studied at Cambridge University, but did not receive a degree because the school did not award them to women at the time. She studied astronomy, and by studying the spectra of stars determined that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in stars. She was the first woman chairperson of a department at Harvard University.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

rosalind_franklin.jpgJust like Cecilia, Rosalind studied at Cambridge but was not awarded a degree because she was a woman. But that didn’t stop her. She became a prominent biophysicist who frequently worked with x-ray technology. Her x-ray diffraction photographs helped with the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure.

Shirley Ann Jackson (1946-Present)

drjackson-lgShe was the first African American Woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, going on to become a theoretical physicist. She studied subatomic particles, specifically hadrons, at the Fermi National Laboratory. She is currently the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her significant contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for science education.

I often wonder what these spectacular women of past and present would think about the fact that in 2017, equality for women is still a ways off. Our species has made some powerful strides forward, but when it comes down the the details, women are likely to be paid less by employers. They are less likely to be chosen for a job. There are still people telling them what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. I sincerely hope that you have come to realize how ridiculously primitive this is. If you want to help make a change, it starts by removing your own preconceived notions of what women are capable of. Men, you are not necessarily stronger, smarter, or more talented than women. Women, you are not weak, unintelligent, or inept. You make up about 50% of this planets population, and therefore you deserve equal treatment.

If you want to help in the fight to create gender equality, think about donating to the Association of Women in Science.

Here is a list with a lot more women that have benefited the scientific community.


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