Pioneers in STEM: 6 Amazing Female Scientists and Resources to Help You Become One!

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

This article is going to be a bit of a different format. I'm going to talk about some of the most incredible and accomplished women in STEM. It'll be more of a reference guide so you can explore and learn more on your own, and make sure to read to the very end because I have some great resources for my local members in Atlanta too! I think it's so important for all of my GLeaM members to have strong, powerful female role models, so without further ado, here are some of the most inspiring scientists and mathematicians out there!


Katherine Johnson: NASA mathematician

I'm mostly going to stick to more current scientists in this article, but I couldn't resist talking about Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA mathematicians that was propelled onto the big screen in the movie Hidden Figures in 2016. Katherine worked so hard to get the representation she deserved as early as the 1950s, and her calculations as a NASA mathematician ultimately helped Alan Shepard in the first manned spaceflight and numerous other NASA missions, including Apollo, throughout her career. Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Update: As of February 24, 2020, Katherine Johnson has passed away. She was 101 years old, and she will be dearly missed.

Katherine Johnson, photo courtesy of NASA

Read more:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/katherine-johnson-the-girl-who-loved-to-count

Listen to an interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/08/27/642356456/pioneering-nasa-mathematician-katherine-johnson-celebrates-100th-birthday

If you want to learn even more about Johnson and her incredible friends (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Christine Darden, and Kathaleen Land), read Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures or watch the movie by the same name.


Donna Strickland: Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

Donna Strickland recently came to the public's attention when she won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2018. She created a process called chirped pulse amplification (CPA) that has been adapted into the technology we use for eye surgery, industrial machining and medical imaging. It's a system that has completely revolutionized the way we deal with lasers, and the Nobel Prize is just the culmination of her whole groundbreaking body of work. Strickland, however, claims we need to take the focus off gender: "I don't see myself as a woman in science. I see myself as a scientist."

Donna Strickland, photo courtesy of NBC News

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/20/nobel-laureate-donna-strickland-i-see-myself-as-a-scientist-not-a-woman-in-science

Watch an interview:


Melanie Wood: Internationally Medaling Mathematician

Melanie Matchett Wood is the first woman to make the U.S. International Math Olympiad Team (a monumental achievement!), and she earned silver medals at the IMO both years she attended. She won the USA Math Olympiad in high school, and she's been a powerful advocate for women in mathematics. She completed her Ph.D. at Princeton University and is now a Professor of Math at UC Berkeley, after working at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. She's won countless awards for her work in number theory, including the Morgan Prize, a fellowship of the American Mathematical Society, and the AWM-Microsoft Research Prize in Algebra and Number Theory, and she has been able to pursue many interests from journalism to theater to economics in addition to her love for math.

Melanie Wood, photo courtesy of UC Berkeley

Read an interview: http://www.girlsangle.org/page/bulletin-archive/GABv01n04.pdf

Read an old article: https://archive.is/20121211084951/http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2003/05/melaniewood0503.html (It's from 2003, but it gives a really good perspective on her background)

Read a mathy article on some of the research she's involved in:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/without-a-proof-mathematicians-wonder-how-much-evidence-is-enough-20181031/


Karen Uhlenbeck: Abel Prize Winning Mathematician

You know how I talked about the Fields Medal as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for math in my Maryam Mirzakhani article? Well, there's another award called the Abel Prize, which is extremely prestigious in the math world and is sometimes also called the equivalent, and Karen Uhlenbeck won it in 2019. She is the very first woman to win this award, and her research has focused on a new field called differential geometry and specifically, bubbles! In addition to the Abel Prize, Uhlenbeck was also the second woman ever to give a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians, and she's an amazing advocate for the community.

Karen Uhlenbeck, photo courtesy of the New York Times

Here's two great articles about her:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/karen-uhlenbeck-uniter-of-geometry-and-analysis-wins-abel-prize-20190319/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/science/karen-uhlenbeck-abel-prize.html


Frances Arnold: Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry

In 2019, Frances Arnold became the fifth woman to win a Nobel Prize for chemistry. Her work focused on bioengineering, as she has invented some more environmentally friendly ways to manufacture chemical substances like pharmaceuticals and produce renewable fossil fuels. She currently works at Caltech, and she's made numerous other groundbreaking achievements in chemistry, founding two environmentally-friendly companies, one for renewable fuels and another for alternatives to pesticides. She currently holds over 40 patents for her inventions. All in all, Arnold is definitely one to watch for the massive impact her research may just have on our day-to-day lives.

Frances Arnold, photo courtesy of UC Berkeley

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/03/science/frances-arnold-nobel-prize-chemistry.html

Watch an interview:

30 seconds of advice:


Frances Allen: Turing Award Winning Computer Scientist

Frances Allen was the first woman to win one of the most prestigious awards in computer science, the Turing Award, in 2006. Her work focuses on optimizing compilers, which is just a word for the programs that translate the code a user puts on the computer into something the computer can understand. Allen has been able to make these compilers faster and more efficient, increasing computer speed, since the 1950s and 1960s when her work was first published, laying the groundwork for our current computers. She's even worked on codes for the U.S. National Security Agency. Allen has also won countless awards and is currently the first female IBM fellow.

Frances Allen, photo courtesy of scientificwomen.net

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/06/science/scientist-work-frances-allen-would-be-math-teacher-ended-up-educating-computer.html (This is an older article but it still does a great job!)

Watch an interview: http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/fran-allen-ghc-2008/