In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in March, here are a few women that we should celebrate for being trailblazers in the science field!
Alice Ball (1892-1916)
At the young age of 23, Alice developed one of the first treatments for leprosy. Before the discovery of her new technique, chaulmoogra oil had been used to treat the disease. Unfortunately, the application of the oil (ingested, injected, or topically applied) was difficult to accomplish. Alice discovered a method to isolate the ester compounds from the oil and manipulate them chemically, so that the oil was able to be injected and accepted by the human body. This technique, often referred to as the “Ball method”, was the main treatment for leprosy for years and saved many lives!
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
Often referred to as the “Queen of Nuclear Research”, Chien-Shiung was known for her isotope work on the Manhattan Project and the development of the Wu experiment. During World War II, she developed the technique for separating uranium isotopes (often called uranium enrichment). Enriched uranium is a key component in nuclear weapons, which is why it was such an important development for the Manhattan Project. After the war, she continued doing research in beta decay, and also developed the Wu experiment, which questioned the parity law of physics.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Rosalind was an English chemist who’s research in x-ray crystallography and molecular structures led to the major discovery of the structure of DNA. Her work with x-ray diffraction images led to a better understanding of the structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. After her death, her research on the molecular structure of viruses was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982.
Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)
Katherine was an American mathematician that worked for NASA, and had a critical role in the success in some of the first American crewed spaceflights. While she had the skill set for complex manual calculations, she also was one of the first scientists to utilize computers to help perform these calculations. She played a key role in many projects including: the first American in space, the Apollo 11 flight, the Space Shuttle program, and projects related to Mars. Katherine made history by being one of the first African American women scientists at NASA!
Flossie Wong-Staal (1946-2020)
Flossie was the first scientist to clone the human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV). She was also able to determine the function of HIV genes. Her research was a stepping stone in realizing the role of HIV infection in AIDS. Additionally, her research allowed HIV to be genetically mapped, making HIV blood tests possible.
May-Britt Moser (1963-present)
May-Britt is a psychologist and neuroscientist from Norway. She shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside her husband and mentor. Alongside these two scientists, her research led to the discovery of grid cells in the brain. These grid cells were crucial in providing insight on how humans and animals know where they are physically. Located in the hippocampus, these cells determine one’s position and allow for navigation through a “positioning system in the brain.”
Jennifer Doudna (1964-present) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (1968-present)
Jennifer is a biochemist and Emmanuelle is a microbiologist. They are best known for first proposing the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method in 2012. So far, it is one of the most important discoveries in biology from the 21st Century. Jennifer and Emmanuelle won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of this gene editing method. They made history last year, when they were the first team of two women to solely win a science Nobel Prize!