While the go-to example of famous female scientists usually reads Marie Curie, making herself noticed in a social context where women were unlikely to gain recognition, our more recent history seems to strive towards a more balanced take on the place of women in the scientific realm. However, this situation is still present; so, without further ado, here’s a brief overview on the breakthroughs of five brilliant women that you have probably never heard about.
1. Mae Jemison – astronaut (born 1956)
Mae Jemison was selected by NASA to become an astronaut in 1987. She became one of the most famous African American scientists, when, in 1992 she was part of the crew on Endeavour’s Space Shuttle second mission. Although not the first woman U.S. astronaut, she was the first black female scientist to travel into space, for 126 orbits around Earth, a trip of no more, no less than 190 hours, 30 minutes, and 23 seconds. In 1993, Jemison retired from NASA to start a personal company focusing on technology.
2. Jennifer Pahlka – computer scientists (born 1969)
Pahlka is the founder of Code for America, a non-political organization built to consolidate transparency for local governments by creating open-source software. She is a famous female computer scientist who, prior to her work for Code for America, held a position in the White House, as Deputy Chief Technology Officer. Her initiative is aiming to gather civic-minded computer scientists and hackers in order to create applications in support of government’s tasks for the community. One such application helped local firefighters in Boston through the winter to have the city’s hydrants unclogged of snow. Through this open-source application, Bostonians took on “adopting” the hydrants, keeping them available in case of fires, thus solving an ever-pressing problem for the firefighters.
3. Jane Goodall – primatologist (born 1934)
Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, this famous woman scientist was described in her biography as “the woman who redefined man.” Through 45 years of studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, Goodall became one of the most prominent names in the field of primatology. She made a series of ground-breaking discoveries about chimps’ behavior and their similarities with that of humans, which made her a notable activist for animals’ rights. On top of her scientific work, she is well-known for a large series of books for kids, depicting the life of animals and aiming to inspire people from all age groups in joining her cause of protecting endangered species.
4. Bonnie Bassler – molecular biologist (born 1962)
Nicknamed “the bacteria whisperer”, Bassler is a famous female scientist who discovered that bacteria communicate, a process which allows them to synchronize their behavior and act as more complex organisms and induce diseases on humans, as well as animals and plants. This process is called quorum sensing, a concept through which Bassler opened a new line of research for a better understanding of how diseases resist to medication and treatment. Her work is considered extremely promising for solving the issue of the constantly decreasing effect of antibiotics. She is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.
5. Sara Seager – planetary scientist (born 1971)
Seager is dubbed the “astronomical Indiana Jones” for her persistent interest in the research of exoplanets (planets that are orbiting stars other than the Sun). Through finding and researching the atmospheric conditions of exoplanets, she became a famous female scientist by making it a life mission to discover a planet similar to Earth, one that can sustain life. She is now teaching and working towards that goal as an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT.