Named Women of the Year by the University of Michigan when she graduated with her PhD in 1993, Alexander went on to work for NASA as a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 2003 she was awarded Emerald Honor for Women of Color in Research & Engineering for her work at JPL. Alexander is now the project manager of NASA’s contribution to the ESA Rosetta mission to study the comet 67P.
Described as the greatest fossil hunter ever known, Anning was a palaeontologist whose work on Jurassic fossils on the south coast of England changed global thinking of prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Despite being poor all her life and struggling to be accepted into the full scientific community, she became famous around the world for her work.
The first woman to graduate with a PhD at Johns Hopkins University; the first woman to be hired by the US Geological Survey; the first woman to present a scientific paper at the Geological Society of Washington; and the first woman officer of the Geological Society of America. Bascom was an authority on rocks of the Piedmont region and was given 4 stars in the first edition of American Men and Women of Science (called American Men of Science at the time), a very high honour for a scientist of any gender.
Linda B. Buck
Until 1991, science could not explain how the sense of smell worked. This was changed by Linda B. Buck, who worked with Richard Axel to identify the parts of the mammalian genome which corresponded to olfactory receptors. For this work she received the Nobel prize for physiology in 2004. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
As part of her doctoral studies at Cambridge, Bell Burnell worked as part of a team constructing a radio telescope to study quasars. As part of her research she noticed a signal which pulsed with amazing regularity. Originally dubbed ‘Little Green Man 1’ this signal was found to be the first discovered pulsar, a new astronomical phenomenon.
Trained as a zoologist at John Hopkins university, Rachel Carson was recognised in her early career as an exceptional author - her trilogy of books on marine life were all bestsellers. She is most famous for her work Silent Spring, which raised awareness of environmental problems caused by artificial pesticides. She is credited as inspiring the global conservation movement.
Émilie du Châtelet
As interesting for her personal relationships as she is for her scientific work, du Châtelet had a wide range of talents including mathematics, linguistics, music, physics and gambling. Her greatest achievement was her translation of, and commentary on, Newton’s Principia Mathematica, still considered the standard French translation. During her life she was romantically linked to French philosophers Voltaire and Pierre Louis Maupertuis.
Born in Prague in 1896, Gerty Cori and her husband moved to the US and became citizens in 1928. Working with her husband she was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in science and the first in physiology or medicine. Their work looked at how energy is produced and transmitted in the human body, following the “Cori Cycle”, from muscle to liver and back to muscle.
She received multiple personal awards and even has a crater both on the Moon and on Venus named after her.
She received multiple personal awards and even has a crater both on the Moon and on Venus named after her.
Marie Maynard Daly
Trained as a chemist, Daly became the first African American woman in the United States to receive a PhD in chemistry, from Columbia University in 1947. In her long research career she pioneered work on the effect of cholesterol on heart attacks, the effect of sugar on arteries, and the effect of cigarette smoking on the lungs.
Best known for her work on X-ray diffraction images used in the identification of DNA, she was educated at Cambridge before working at several research laboratories and then King's College, London. Her crucial contributions to the identification and understanding of DNA were only acknowledged after her premature death of ovarian cancer at the age of 37.
Despite massive opposition from every possible source - parents, academics, society - Sophie Germain worked on a broad range of mathematics through her life, and corresponded with famous mathematicians such as Carl Gauss. Her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem provided a basis for centuries of subsequent work, and her work on elasticity won the Grand Prix from the Paris Academy of Sciences.
Born in Germany but later taking American citizenship, Goeppert-Mayer became only the second woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in physics, in 1963. In addition to proposing the nuclear shell model of the nucleus, for which she won the Nobel Prize, she also pioneered work on two-photon absorption by atoms, and worked on nuclear weapons during the Manhattan Project in WW2.
Considered to be the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall is most famous for her ground-breaking study of social and family interactions of chimpanzees in Tanzania. She was, uniquely among researchers, accepted into a chimpanzee society for 22 months. She is also a passionate advocate of conservation and animal welfare issues.
When Caroline was 22 her brother William took her to Bath to work as his housekeeper. William trained her to become a music teacher and taught her mathematics as well as sharing his love of astronomy. Caroline worked with William on all of his astronomy projects, sometimes taking the lead in the calculations to catalogue the position of the stars. She was awarded The Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal in 1828 for her work cataloguing nebulae, and was the first woman ever to discover a comet.
Educated at the University of Queensland, AUS, and the University of Cambridge, UK, Hill completed research on the coral reefs of Australia which became the global standard for the field. During WW2 she enlisted in the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service and worked on ciphers and coding. After the war she became the first female professor in Australia.
Winner of the 1964 Nobel prize for chemistry, Hodgkin advanced the technique of using X-ray crystallography to identify biological molecules. Her work on the structure of penicillin and vitamin B-12, and later insulin, was pioneering in the field. One of her research students was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who hung a portrait of her in 10 Downing Street.
Nicknamed ‘Amazing Grace’, Hopper was a distinguished computer scientist and a rear admiral in the United States Navy. She invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and popularised the idea of machine-independent computer languages - an important step towards scientific computing. She has both a supercomputer and a warship named after her.
Hypatia was a Greek philosopher, the head of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria. While none of her original works survive, it is clear that she made contributions to mathematics - including commentary on Euclid and Diophantus - astronomy and instrumental science. She was brutally murdered by a Christian mob, with her death signalling the end of Classical antiquity.
The world's first computer programmer and daughter of poet Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace was a mathematician who worked under Charles Babbage, himself a pioneer of computer science. Her annotations to translated mathematical notes opened the door to a future where not only did computer programs exist, but they did much more than simply crunch numbers.
The only woman to receive an unshared Nobel prize for medicine or physiology, McClintock studied maize and discovered jumping genes, the ability for genes to change position on the chromosome. She described her love of research when accepting the nobel: “It might seem unfair to reward a person for having so much pleasure, over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.”
The first woman in Germany to become a full professor in physics, and praised by Einstein as ‘the German Marie Curie’, Meitner was part of the team which discovered nuclear fission, the process by which atoms can be split apart, releasing huge amounts of energy. Extremely controversially she was not awarded the Nobel prize in physics for her work, while her male colleague Otto Hahn, was.
Both the first woman and the first Iranian to win the Fields Medal - the most prestigious award in mathematics - in 2014. Mirzakhani is currently a professor at Stanford University, and received her PhD from Harvard. Her work on the symmetry of curved surfaces was described as having “superb problem-solving ability, ambitious mathematical vision and fluency in many disciplines”.
The first American woman to work as a professional astronomer, Mitchell discovered a comet in 1847, in so doing earning a gold medal prize from the Prince of Denmark. Following this acclaim she became a professor of astronomy, travelled globally for astronomical events such as solar eclipses, and campaigned passionately for the abolition of slavery.
May-Britt Moser and her husband Edvard shared the 2014 Nobel Prize for physiology for their pioneering work on how the brain represents space. Both were appointed associate professors of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology just one year after completing their PhD theses. She is noted for her superb leadership qualities and has established multiple research institutes.
Described by many, including Einstein, as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, Emmy Noether conducted world leading research at the University of Göttingen in rings, fields and algebra. Noether’s theorem in physics elegantly draws a connection between symmetry and conservation laws, and has been described as one of the most powerful laws in mathematical physics.
A chemist who received her doctorate from Birkbeck, University of London, Sharman was the first Briton to go into space, and the first woman to visit the Mir space station, after responding to a radio advert ‘Astronaut wanted - no experience required’. Before going into space, she worked on the chemical properties of chocolate, because she liked to “eat it”.
Better known as Marie Curie after her marriage to French physicist Pierre Curie, she was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the only woman to have won two Nobel prizes - for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. She pioneered a theory where radiation did not come from a chemical reaction but from atoms themselves, and discovered the elements Polonium and Radium.
Somerville was a feminist, mathematician, and an astronomer who correctly predicted the existence of the planet Neptune, discovered four years later. She was a great scientific writer of textbooks and articles, with her work cited as influential on many great Victorian scientists. She has an Oxford college, Somerville College, named after her.
Trained as a geologist, and specialising in oceanography, Sullivan joined NASA’s astronaut corp and has logged 532 hours in space over three space shuttle missions. She was the first American woman to walk in space. As well as working for the US government in both NASA and NOAA she was an oceanography officer in the US Naval reserve, retiring with the rank of Captain.
Trained as a geologist and mathematician, Tharp worked with Bruce Heezen to create the first scientific map of the entire ocean floor. Her work revealed the presence of the mid-Atlantic ridge, which caused a paradigm shift in how scientists perceived the Earth; bringing acceptance to ideas such as plate tectonics and continental drift.
One of the most divisive politicians in history, Thatcher was originally trained as a chemist at the University of Oxford. Before her political career she worked as a research chemist on projects including cake fillings and ice cream. As well as being the first and only female prime minister of the UK, she was also the first and only prime minister to hold a science degree, a fact of which she was very proud.
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow
Starting her career as a secretary to a leading biochemist, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow took advantage of university scholarships offered to women during the Second World War to study a doctorate in physics. After this she developed radioimmunoassay, a technique used to trace substances in the blood. For this she was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 1977.