International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
When we think of science, the first things that come to mind are computers, tubes and huge whiteboards with equations. That's partly true, science is all that, but the most important thing is its people. All the men and women who have helped humanity develop, overcome difficulties and improve living standards. But today we focus on the women who have made all this true. According to the United Nations, today, 11 February, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
So let us start our journey to these women with a trip to antiquity, to Alexandria to be precise. Hypatia (355-415 AD) lived in Alexandria and was a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. She was also head of the Platonic School of Alexandria and taught mathematics and the philosophy of Neoplatonism. Hypatia also constructed a device to calculate the date and time using the positions of the stars and planets and built a hydrometer, a device to determine the density of liquids. She is the first woman to make a significant contribution to the development of mathematics.
Fast forward to the 19th century, when people did not have computers or advanced technology at that time, but a British woman managed to develop a code for a prototype computer. Her name is Ada Lovelace and she lived from 1815 to 1852. Imagine what she would have done if she were living now with all this technology and knowledge!
After that, we stay in Europe, but we travel east to where our next brilliant scientist was born, Moscow. Sofya Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya was born in 1850 and she did something that no woman had done at that time in the past. She was the first woman to become a professor of mathematics in Northern Europe, and she was one of the first women to work for a scientific journal as an editor. It is strange to think of this because for us it is something ordinary to have women as professors in universities, but Sofia was a pioneer in her time!
Just a few years after Sofya's birth, another great female scientist was born not far from Russia. We are talking, of course, about the great Marie Curie. Marie was born in Warsaw in 1867 and is probably one of the greatest scientists of all time and definitely the most famous. She studied physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne and became the first woman to receive a doctorate in France. But that was not all, as she later became a professor of General Physics at the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne - the first time a woman held this position. She is best known for the two radioactive elements she discovered, Polonium and Radium. But that's not all she achieved. She won two Nobel Prizes, one for Physics and one for Chemistry, making all women proud and inspiring young girls to get involved in science.
Moving away from this field and towards biology, we meet another great scientist who contributed to the discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and to new insights into the structure of viruses. She also researched another important nucleic acid, RNA, a molecule that is just as important for life as DNA. This great woman's name is Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) and she is a British graduate of Cambridge.
But women in science do not always have to do with STEM -related-fields (Science Technology Engineer Mathematics). One of the most brilliant examples of women succeeding in other sciences is Maria Montessori (1870-1952). She is best known for the educational philosophy that bears her name and for her writings on scientific education. Even today, many schools around the globe follow her philosophy and probably thousands of children have grown up with this mentality thanks to her!
Last but not least, we travel to the other side of the Atlantic to meet an amazing woman who achieved a lot even without a university education. She is Bertha Parker Pallan (1907-1999), considered the first Native American woman to be an archaeologist. In 1929, she discovered the Pueblo site of Scorpion Hill and carried out excavations there on her own. In 1930, she discovered Gypsum Cave, where the earliest evidence of human settlement in North America during the Pleistocene was found. She also published a number of archaeological and ethnological papers. In addition to her scientific achievements, Bertha became a symbol of the Native American community and she proved to the whole world that you do not need a university degree to achieve anything!
Bertha Parker Pallan
So this was our journey to meet those amazing ladies of the past who helped humanity. But all that belongs to the past. What about women in science today?
There are a lot of women scientists who are changing the world right now! Outstanding examples are Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for developing a method of genome editing that will contribute to new cancer therapies and possibly cures for hereditary diseases. Another one is Nina Tandon, who has founded a company that grows bones for skeletal reconstruction and beating hearts, staying in the same field.
Now is our time to shine! There are many programs around the world that encourage young women to work in scientific fields. There is the For Women in Science project by L'Oréal and UNESCO, which promotes different programs around the world and invites women to participate in different researches. The Federation of European Biochemical Societies has a working group that organizes workshops at different conferences to promote gender equality in science. They also select an outstanding female scientist for the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award. There are also other groups such as that of the National Institute of Health (USA) that advocate for women in biomedical professions. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also offers internships to young women who want to work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Finally, I would like to mention that many universities offer scholarships for young women scientists who want to study in different fields of science.
As we have seen, there are many opportunities you can take, so grab your books or laptop, study, research, discover, create and let us start changing this world together!
Written by Foteini Skiza.