Female pioneers in science and technology that everyone should know
How many groundbreaking female scientists can you name?
If you know more than Marie Curie than you’re doing better than most. There are way too many underrated and unacknowledged female scientists and technology geniuses in our world, but it’s time to change that. Get ready to amaze your friends and astound your family with your crazy-important science knowledge: now is the time to go out and blow some minds.
Fei-Fei Li: A.I.
Fei-Fei Li is a Stanford computer science professor with a serious mission: she is using her technology know-how to transform the brains of AI, both mechanical and human. She and her team of scientists, economists, philosophers, ethicists, legal scholars, artists, psychologists, and historians are working to give AI human sensitivity, and it’s not about making robots cry or feel happy about a love story. People are becoming increasingly reliant on AI to make decisions, and without the work of Li and her colleagues, society will fail to progress– the biases of AI’s creators will become a part of their algorithms. Li is using her tech genius to make sure that the world becomes a better place for all those who follow.
Donna Strickland: Physics
Think physics is boring? Think again. Strickland, recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, works with high-powered lasers for a living. Her laser work made her the first female Nobel Prize in Physics winner in 55 years, but she says she doesn’t see herself as a woman in science– she’s a scientist.
Strickland’s career in science began in school, where she claims math and science were the only subjects she was good at overall. She was drawn to the physics department by their laser program, which has been the focus of her incredibly successful career. She is currently the Associate Chair of the Physics department at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Rachel Carson: Biology
Rachel Carson, 1907-1964, was a biologist, ecologist, and writer, and was one of the first scientists to suggest that people reconsider their use of chemicals and modern science for the good of the environment. Her work covered the dangers of the use of DDT and really started the modern environmental movement.
Carson’s research didn’t just focus on all the bad things people were doing to the earth, though. She focused much of her research and writing on ocean life and development, including how islands form, how currents change, how temperature influences life under the sea, and how erosion impacts everything from beaches to marine life. She also worked to broaden public awareness of climate change, the dangers of melting glaciers, endangered animal populations, and misuse of chemicals after World War II. She used her scientific understanding to truly change the way the public thought about their world and their responsibility to protect it.
Annie Jump Cannon: Astronomy
Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) spent her life identifying and cataloging stars during a time that didn’t even want to recognize her work. She created a unique method of recording stars, and her work is still being used effectively today by astronomers and astrophysicists.
After spending years working under the director of the Harvard College Observatory, Edward C. Pickering as one of “Pickering’s Women,” Cannon developed her own star catalog method and, in 1911, became the curator of astronomical photographs at the Harvard Observatory. She continued cataloging and categorizing throughout the rest of her time at Harvard. Over the course of her incredibly productive life (she discovered over 300 variable stars), she was awarded a variety of honorary degrees and awards, eventually accepting a teaching position at Harvard in 1938.
Elizebeth Smith Friedman: Code Breaker
Elizebeth Smith Friedman wasn’t just a founder of today’s cryptography, she helped destroy the Nazis. During World War II, Friedman and her husband worked to read and interpret Nazi messages that would lead the Allies to Nazi spies, helping them to win the war. While her husband has historically been solely credited with the creation of the field of cryptoanalysis, the truth about their partnership and Elizebeth Smith Friedman’s role in it is finally coming to light.
Friedman is actually the one who introduced her husband to the field of cryptography. Before their work during the war, Friedman used her burgeoning cryptoanalysis skills to track down drug smugglers and international drug runners who were relaying their messages over the radio. Wider awareness of her accomplishments in the field is long overdue.
Cohl Furey: Mathematical Physicist
Furey’s work is complicated but oh so important. Furey, a mathematical physicist at the University of Cambridge, is working to discover and explain the laws of nature in a mathematical way. Her research is both challenging field standards and confirming the theories of decades of physics work. Her work, more than just about anyone’s, could revolutionize the way people think about and understand life itself and the nature of our world.
All of these women have performed or are currently performing incredible works of science, yet their names are woefully unfamiliar. Their work has the potential to change our perception of reality, the way we interact with our world, and the way we think about the future. The next time you sit back and look at the stars, think of Annie Jump Cannon and her groundbreaking star cataloging work. When you look out at the ocean, thank Rachel Carson for reminding us to take care of the creatures under the water’s surface and take responsibility for the state of the world. Use your knowledge for good, just like these women did.