100 years ago today the UK parliament reformed the electoral system in Great Britain by permitting women over the age of 30 to vote. Unfortunately, there were terms to the act that meant women either had to be a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency. However, crucial and progressive steps had been taken for women’s rights, and it is the same for today as it was 100 years ago, that more is needed to be done to ensure global gender equality.
At Social Metwork HQ, we have taken our time to reflect and be encouraged by inspirational female scientists. Different students across the department have written short paragraphs on female scientists that have inspired them to where they are today. If you have any other suggestions for inspirational scientists, please feel free to leave us a comment.
Amelie Emmy Noether – Kaja Milczewska
A true revolutionary in the field of theoretical physics and abstract algebra, Amelie Emmy Noether was a German-born inspiration thanks to her perseverance and passion for research. Instead of teaching French and English to schoolgirls, Emmy pursued the study of mathematics at the University of Erlangen. She then taught under a man’s name and without pay because she was a women. During her exploration of the mathematics behind Einstein’s general relativity alongside renowned scientists like Hilbert and Klein, she discovered the fundamentals of conserved quantities such as energy and momentum under symmetric invariance of their respective quantities: time and homogeneity of space. She built the bridge between conservation and symmetry in nature, and although Noether’s Theorem is fundamental to our understanding of nature’s conservation laws, Emmy has received undeservedly small recognition throughout the last century.
Claudine Hermann – Helene Bresson
Claudine Hermann is a French physicist and Emeritus Professor at the École Polytechnique in Paris. Her work, on physics of solids (mainly on photo-emission of polarized electrons and near-field optics), led to her becoming the first female professor at this prestigious school. Aside from her work in Physics, Claudine studied and wrote about female scientists’ situation in Europe and the influence of both parents’ works on their daughter’s professional choices. Claudine wishes to give girls “other examples than the unreachable Marie Curie”. She is the founder of the Women and Sciences association and represented it at the European Commission to promote gender equality in Science and to help women accessing scientific knowledge. Claudine is also the president of the European Platform of Women Scientists which represents hundreds of associations and more than 12,000 female scientists.
Katherine Johnson – Sally Woodhouse
She became the first woman to receive an author credit on a Flight Research Division report in 1960 and went on to author or co-author 26 research reports. Johnson is perhaps best known (in part due to the excellent feel good film Hidden Figures) for her work on the flight trajectory for John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission.
She was required to check the calculations of NASA’s IBM computer and Glenn is reported to have asked for her to personally check the coordinates.
“GET THE GIRL TO CHECK THE NUMBERS… IF SHE SAYS THE NUMBERS ARE GOOD, I’M READY TO GO.”
Katherine was also involved in calculations for the Apollo missions trajectories, including Apollo 11. In 2015 she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
Marie Tharp – Caroline Dunning
World War II was an important period in terms of scientific advance. In addition, it enabled more women to be trained in professions such as geology, at a time when very few women were in earth sciences. One such woman was Marie Tharp. Following the advancement of sonar technology during WWII, in the early 1950s, ships travelled across the Atlantic Ocean recording ocean depth. Women however were not allowed on such ships, thus Marie Tharp was stationed in the lab, checking and plotting the data. Her drawings showed the presence of the North Atlantic Ridge, with a deep V-shaped notch that ran the length of the mountain range, indicating the presence of a rift valley, where magma emerges to form new crust. At this time the theory of plate tectonics was seen as ridiculous. Her supervisor initially dismissed her results as ‘girl talk’ and forced her to redo them. The same results were found. Her work led to the acceptance of the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.
Ada Lovelace – Dominic Jones
Ada Lovelace was a 19th century Mathematician popularly referred to as the “first computer programmer”. She was the translator of “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator”, (said “notes” tripling the length of the document and comprising its most striking insights) one of the documents critical to the development of modern computer programming. She was one of the few people to understand and even fewer who were able to develop for the machine. That she had such incredible insight into a machine which didn’t even exist yet, but which would go on to become so ubiquitous is amazing!
Drs. Jenni Evans, Sukyoung Lee, and Yvette Richardson – Michael Johnston
Leading Scientists at Penn State University, Drs. Jenni Evans, Sukyoung Lee, and Yvette Richardson serve as role models for students in STEM subjects. The three professors are active in linking their research interests to not only education but also science communication, and government policy. Between them, they highlight some of the many avenues a career in STEM can lead to. Whether its authoring a widely used textbook, leading advisory panels, or challenging students throughout their time in higher education – these leaders never cease to be an inspiration.