Geologist Florence Bascom

Everybody knows Marie Curie, but quick – name another woman scientist. Fine; Jane Goodall and Mary Leakey – who else?

It’s a travesty, really, because women have been active in science for generations – they just all too often didn’t get the credit that is their due.

So here’s a list of 10 women who did amazing things in their discipline, whom you may never have heard of:

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas

Not as obscure as the others on this list, perhaps, but largely because she lived until 1998. Douglas, born in 1890, was a writer and journalist in Florida who fell in love with the Everglades. Her book River Of Grass and her constant championing of the ecological importance of the Everglades, at a time when that science was viewed sceptically by the mainstream, helped save this natural wonder from complete drainage and extinction.

Florence Bascom

Born in 1862, Bascomb was one of America’s first women geologists, and according to the ironically named American Men of Science magazine in 1906, one of the country’s top 100. She did sterling work for the US Geological survey in the Piedmont Plateau, between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachians.

Rita Levi-Montacino

Born and raised in Italy, Levi-Montalcino had to interrupt her medical career to hide from anti-Semitic persecution in the Second World War, and immigrated to the US afterwards. She made pioneering discoveries about the human nervous system, and became the first Nobel Prize winner to reach 100 in 2009.

Katherine Johnson

Johnson turned 100 this year, and was honoured in 2015 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed by Barack Obama. She deserves to be remembered as a giant of science – in 1969, she calculated the flight path Apollo 11 would need to take it to the moon. By hand, on paper. If she was this good at calculating scientific and mathematical strategies, imagine how well she’d have done at a game like Blackjack or online Roulette!

Annie Easley

Born in 1933, Easly was one of the women who wrote the computer code – also by hand – that allowed NASA to get its Centaur rocket launcher and navigation system off the ground. Even more impressive: she started her career as a nurse, before switching to mathematics and computer programming.

Celia Payne-Goposchkin

Born in the 20th century in 1900, Payne-Goposchkin originally studied botany, but switched to astronomy under the mentorship of Arthur Eddington. While a professor at Harvard, she established that our sun is made up of hydrogen, turning into helium via nuclear fusion.

Rosalind Franklin

Franklin (1920-1958) was a brilliant crystallographer who did ground breaking work on coal, graphite and viruses. But it is her contribution to DNA research that leaves feminists hopping mad – although she had a huge role in the research that won Watson and Crick a Nobel Prize, the two men never acknowledged her contribution.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi

This French scientist, born in 1947, was one of the early pioneers of Aids research. As a specialist in retroviruses, it was her work that helped French researchers pinpoint the HIV virus as the cause of the disease. She remained active in the fight against Aids, and despite now being retired, still advocates passionately against the stigma the disease provokes.

Sylvia Earle

New Jersey-born Earle was relocated to Florida at the age of 12, and has been in love with the ocean ever since. This marine biologist’s work with algae and later with deep-diving vessels has helped to popularise the science of the oceans, as well as providing a wealth of evidence on the effects of climate change and other threats to ocean equilibrium.

Esther Lederberg

Forging new paths from the 1940s onwards, Lederberg invented an innovative technique for studying bacteria and viruses. She was the first microbiologist to confirm that bacteria can mutate randomly. This not only has implications for the study of evolution, but also helps scientists fighting ever-mutating bacteria as they develop resistance to antibiotics.



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