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

Updated: Feb 24

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/


More Incredible Women in STEM

Here, I wanted to give you a perspective on six current researchers and trailblazers for women in STEM, but there are countless other inspiring women out there. Many haven't quite reached the level of success as these women just yet in the careers, but they've still made monumental achievements in each of their chosen fields. All of them came from relatively humble origins, reaching success entirely on their own merits. The fact that we've seen this level of success in breaking the glass ceiling at the level of international awards gives all of us faith that we're moving towards a more inclusive, incredible community of scientists. But at the end of the day, Strickland says it best. Let's focus on the science itself, not the fact that it's a woman bringing it forward. The best science can come from every single one of us.


Stephanie Espy, a local woman in Atlanta, has written a book profiling 44 women in STEM! It's called STEM Gems, and I'd definitely recommend reading it: https://stemgemsbook.com/

(If you follow the website, you'll also learn about panels and events Espy puts together for STEM Gems.)


Here's a great video of 243 women in math!

You can read about more women in STEM at any of these four links:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/19-women-leaders-in-math-and-physics-20170308/

https://thebestschools.org/features/50-top-women-in-stem/

https://science.howstuffworks.com/math-concepts/5-trailblazing-female-mathematicians.htm

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem


There are also many incredible historical women in STEM, from Emma Noether to Ada Lovelace to Marie Curie to Rosalind Franklin. Here's a great link to learn more about them:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/27/world/women-in-science-you-should-know-scn/index.html


I'll continue to write longer profiles of women in STEM, and I already have two up on this website!

Read more about Sophie Germain, a trailblazing mathematician in France:

https://www.gleammath.com/post/sophie-germain-blazing-the-trail-for-female-mathematicians

Sophie Germain, photo courtesy of PBS

Read more about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in math:

https://www.gleammath.com/post/maryam-mirzakhani-remembering-a-mathematical-pioneer

Maryam Mirzakhani, photo courtesy of Wired

Both have such incredible stories of overcoming obstacles, and I'd love it if you check out those articles. (More will be coming soon!)


Atlanta's Women in STEM

If you'd like to learn about more local women, I've actually done a series interviewing women in STEM around Atlanta last year for The Chamblee Blue and Gold, my high school newspaper. It was a great experience profiling and talking to these three women, so check out my articles! I'll probably be publishing these as articles in their own right to GLeaM soon, but if you're seeing this now, consider it a sneak peek for the future!

Read more about Rachel Kuske, chairwoman of the Georgia Tech math department:

https://chambleeblueandgold.com/7160/features/women-in-stem-blazing-new-trails-dr-rachel-kuske/

Read more about Sarah Trebat-Leder, founder of Emory Math Circle:

https://chambleeblueandgold.com/7237/features/women-in-stem-blazing-new-trails-dr-sarah-trebat-leder/

Read more about Stephanie Espy, author of STEM Gems and founder of MathSP, an organization dedicated to coaching Atlanta students in STEM:

https://chambleeblueandgold.com/7258/features/women-in-stem-blazing-new-trails-stephanie-espy/


Association of Women in Mathematics

I'll end this article with just one last reference. There's a phenomenal organization for women in math called AWM (Association of Women in Mathematics) that does a lot of outreach for all the mathematicians that are a part of it. I joined in 2015, and it's been great to get emails and newsletters from such a great organization. They're working on a lot of projects (including a deck of cards of women in math!) right now, and it's really inspiring to follow them.

Check out AWM! https://awm-math.org/

Join: https://ebus.awm-math.org/ebus/Default.aspx?TabID=1527


That's all for today. As always, feel free to leave a comment below. Tell me something you've learned, and if you've found any other great resources of inspiring women in STEM, feel free to send them my way! I always love hearing about amazing female trailblazers. Have a great week!