サポート ブログ Celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science: 10 Inspiring Stories of Change

Celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science: 10 Inspiring Stories of Change

Biointron 2024-02-15 Read time: 7 mins

Intl Day of Women and Girls in Science

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated on February 11th each year, stands as a global reminder of the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities and industries. Established by the United Nations, this day aims to promote full and equal access to and participation in science to achieve gender equality and inspire future generations to break through barriers and contribute to scientific discovery and innovation.

Historically, the field of science has been predominantly male, with women facing systemic barriers to entry and advancement. These challenges ranged from legal restrictions and societal norms to a lack of access to education and professional opportunities. Despite these obstacles, women have made significant contributions to science, often without recognition or equal compensation. 

In the immunology field, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow made significant contributions to the study of antibodies and, more broadly, to medical physics. Yalow was the co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 for the development of the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique, which uses radioactive isotopes to measure the concentration of various substances in the blood and other liquid samples of the body.1

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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow. Image credit: Bettmann

The RIA technique revolutionized the field of endocrinology and beyond by allowing scientists to measure hormones, vitamins, viruses, enzymes, and drugs with a level of precision that was previously unattainable. This technology leveraged the principles of antibody-antigen binding and has had a profound impact on both clinical and research aspects of medicine, including the study of autoimmune diseases, the diagnosis of various health conditions, and the understanding of the immune system's functioning. 

Let's celebrate the remarkable women who have shattered glass ceilings and changed the world through their scientific pursuits. Today, we shine a light on 10 incredible pioneers whose stories showcase the power of curiosity, resilience, and innovation: 


Top 10 Women in Science Who Inspired Change

1. Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Pioneering women such as Marie Curie made significant contributions despite facing adversity. These women, among others, laid the groundwork for future generations and challenged the status quo of their times. She wasn't just the first woman to win a Nobel Prize; she did it twice, paving the way for countless women in science. Moreover, she stands unique as the only person to ever win Nobel Prizes in two distinct scientific fields: physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911. Her groundbreaking research fundamentally revolutionized our understanding of radioactivity, a phenomenon still influencing fields ranging from medicine to energy production.

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Marie Curie. Image credit: Science History Institute

2. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin's work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Using revolutionary X-ray crystallography techniques, she generated Photo 51, a detailed image of DNA that provided crucial data for James Watson and Francis Crick to build their iconic model. Although she didn't receive full credit during her lifetime, her meticulous analysis and data interpretation remain cornerstones of our understanding of this fundamental molecule.

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Rosalind Franklin. Image credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group

3. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu stands out as the first scientist to confirm Enrico Fermi’s theory of radioactive beta decay. During the Manhattan Project, she contributed to uranium separation. Remarkably, her 1956 "Wu experiment" disproved a fundamental physics principle, the theory of parity, but she wasn't recognized with the Nobel Prize which instead went to her male colleagues. 

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Chien-Shiung Wu. Image credit: Science History Images

4. Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer. Despite limited access to formal education due to her gender, she developed a passion for mathematics and science. Notably, she collaborated with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, a mechanical precursor to modern computers. Recognizing its potential beyond calculations, Lovelace wrote an algorithm for the Engine. Her work not only laid the groundwork for future programming languages but also envisioned the vast potential of computers for data manipulation and calculations, a remarkable feat in the 19th century. 

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Ada Lovelace. Image credit: SSPL

5. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012)

Rita Levi-Montalcini faced adversity throughout her life. Despite experiencing anti-Semitism during World War II and working in makeshift labs, her dedication to science never wavered. In the 1950s, she made a groundbreaking discovery – nerve growth factor (NGF), from which she was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with colleague Stanley Cohen. This protein plays a crucial role in the growth, survival, and differentiation of nerve cells, particularly in the peripheral nervous system. Her findings challenged the prevailing belief that neurons were fixed in number and sparked a new era in understanding nervous system development.

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Rita Levi-Montalcini. Image credit: Mondadori Portfolio

6. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied racial and gender barriers, played a pivotal role in NASA's historic achievements. From calculating the critical trajectory for Alan Shepard's first spaceflight to manually verifying John Glenn's orbital mission, her precise calculations helped ensure astronaut safety and shaped lunar mission paths. More than just formulas, Johnson's story transcends numbers, demonstrating the power of perseverance and inspiring future generations to break boundaries and pursue scientific excellence.

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Katherine Johnson. Image credit: Carlos Barria

7. Maria Ressa (Born: 1963)

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa stands as a champion for press freedom and democracy, wielding data and technology as armor against disinformation and corruption. Co-founding the investigative online news site Rappler, Ressa fearlessly exposed the human rights abuses of the Duterte regime, earning her the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and enduring threats, harassment, and legal battles. Unwavering in her pursuit of truth, Ressa utilizes data analysis and innovative storytelling to combat fake news and hold power accountable, inspiring others to defend media freedom in an increasingly challenging world.

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Maria Ressa. Image credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP

8. Tu Youyou (Born: 1930)

Tu Youyou is a Chinese malariologist and pharmaceutical chemist. Drawing inspiration from ancient texts, she tirelessly explored traditional remedies, ultimately discovering artemisinin, a game-changer in malaria treatment. This potent compound, derived from sweet wormwood, revolutionized treatment options, saving millions of lives across the globe, particularly in resource-limited settings. Despite facing significant skepticism throughout her journey, Tu Youyou's unwavering dedication and scientific brilliance not only paved the way for better malaria treatment but also served as a powerful testament to the potential of unconventional approaches and the resilience of women in science.

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Tu Youyou. Image credit: Xinhua

9. Jane Goodall (Born: 1934)

Jane Goodall, a name synonymous with chimpanzees and conservation, revolutionized our understanding of these closest primate relatives. Decades of immersive research in Gombe National Park challenged pre-conceived notions, revealing that chimps not only use tools but also exhibit emotions, intelligence, and complex social structures. Goodall's groundbreaking discoveries blurred the lines between humans and other animals, sparking global interest in primate conservation and inspiring generations to protect endangered species and their habitats. Her tireless advocacy continues to pave the way for a more harmonious relationship between humankind and the natural world.

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Jane Goodall. Image credit: CBS Photo Archive

10. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)

Dorothy Hodgkin, a pioneer in X-ray crystallography, unveiled the hidden structures of life's essential molecules. From confirming penicillin's structure in 1946 to unlocking the secrets of vitamin B12 in 1956 and insulin in 1969, her meticulous work not only revolutionized biomolecular understanding but also paved the way for life-saving drugs and treatments. Despite facing skepticism and limited resources, this "queen of X-ray analysis" persevered, becoming the only British woman scientist to win a Nobel Prize.

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Dorothy Hodgkin. Image credit: Science Photo Library

Currently, women are achieving more representation in both academic and professional settings. Organizations such as the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) have reported increasing percentages of female members. While women made up only 10% of Allergy and Immunology physicians in 1989, they comprised 25% in 2004.2 There are also growing opportunities driven by increased awareness of the need for diversity and inclusion, mentoring programs, and initiatives aimed at reducing gender bias in research funding and publication processes.

Biointron is dedicated to promoting gender equality and diversity in science. We encourage our team to keep inclusive language and practices and provide supportive policies by offering parental leave and flexible working arrangements. Our team in the US has women representing 66% of our workforce.


References:

  1. Tan, S. Y., & Bracha, A. (2019). Rosalyn Yalow (1921–2011): Madame Curie from the Bronx. Singapore Medical Journal, 60(7), 337-338. https://doi.org/10.11622/smedj.2019073

  2. Blumenthal, K. G., Huebner, E. M., Banerji, A., Long, A. A., Gross, N., Kapoor, N., & Blumenthal, D. M. (2019). Sex differences in academic rank in allergy/immunology. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 144(6), 1697–1702.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2019.06.026

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