The fields that encompass STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) have long been dominated by men. Although women have been behind many of the important discoveries that have revolutionized these fields (and even the world), most people aren’t aware of these amazing women. This of course is partly because during their own lives, these women’s achievements were under-recognized, and sometimes they weren’t credited at all, with a man taking all the glory for their findings! With International Women’s Day coming up, it’s the perfect time to learn about some of the amazing women who made phenomenal contributions to STEM!
1. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
Ada Lovelace practically wrote the first computer program by creating an algorithm which would teach a mechanical machine how to calculate numbers! She had a passion for mathematics and even wrote notes on how to better improve this machine in the future. Ada’s work contributed to that very early machine developing, over generations, into the modern-day computer that is a huge part of our lives!
2. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Marie Curie was a Polish-French physicist who discovered radiation with her husband, making her the first women to win a Nobel Prize! She went on to discover radium and polonium (two elements in the periodic table) and become the first person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes in 1911!
3. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912 – 1997)
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-born American woman who earned a doctorate in physics at the University of California-Berkeley and is known as the “First Lady of Physics.” She worked for the US army during World War II and then continued her research with the university. Alongside two colleagues, she made an important contribution to physics by disproving a law of symmetry! While her two male colleagues received a Nobel Prize for their work in 1957, her contributions were unrewarded and unacknowledged!
4. Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2016)
As an Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid struggled as an outsider in the industry: “There is still a stigma against women. It’s changed … there is still enormous prejudice though.” However, she achieved great successes! She became “the first woman in her own right to be awarded Riba’s (Royal Institute of British Architects) royal gold medal, almost 100 years after the suffragette Ruth Lowy forced the Architectural Association to accept female students” (The Guardian, 2016). Zaha was also the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize for her uniquely designed buildings!
5. Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020)
You may have heard about Katherine Johnson in the news recently as she passed away in late February at age 101. Katherine was a “human computer” and worked as a mathematician at NASA! She calculated the trajectory for America’s first trip into space, as well as John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth, and the Apollo 11 flight to the moon to name a few! Being an African American woman, she is an inspiration to many girls as she was able to overcome many barriers in the racist and sexist society at the time and use her brilliance with numbers to help put humans on the moon! I highly recommend you watch the film ‘Hidden Figures’ which highlights the amazing stories of Johnson and her colleagues Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan and their inspiring achievements!
6. Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992)
Grace Hopper was a mathematician, computer science pioneer and military leader. She’s known as the “Queen of Code” as she utilized her programming skills to do did important work for building one of the earliest computers in history, the ‘Mark I’! She then continued to help develop Mark II and Mark III at Harvard! She certainly had supreme coding and programming skills!
There are so many more women in history and right now who were/are pioneers of STEM! Share these stories with your daughters and allow them to be inspired by these brilliant and smart women!