08 Mar Women in lab coats break all the rules…
This week sees a merging of our two loves; women and their achievements and science. This week is International Women’s Day and the start of National Science Week.
It is really quite shocking that in 2017, an MEP has said in European Parliament that women should earn less than men due to them being “weaker”, “smaller” and “less intelligent”. The notion is really rather ridiculous, (particularly as one of the world’s most famous and respected scientists, Marie Curie was from his own country). But rather than fight him with aggression, the world should hear more about the incredible women, who throughout history have given everything to science and discovery. The women who often worked unpaid, and had their male counterparts publish their work as they were not allowed. The women who pioneered, discovered and created, despite the fact they weren’t allowed to set foot in the labs or even the bathrooms. The women who were dis-owned from their families, shunned from society, laughed at and ridiculed but still dreamed of the stars, cured diseases and led the pathway for us, to continue their work.
- Name: Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
Field of Study: Mathematics and Computer Programming
Why she’s a badass: The mother of computer programming, Ada thought beyond the current and imagined a world where machines could become an extension of human thought. Though at first she was told by her tutor, Charles Babbage, that she could not collaborate with him, she persisted, translating one of his papers from French and doubling the length of it with her own notes. Lovelace went on to create the world’s first computer programme using punch-cards and the Bernoulli sequence. She now has a computer language named after her and the second Tuesday in October is known as ‘Ada Lovelace Day’.
Fave Quote: “Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently. It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science.”
- Name: Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
Field of Study: First female doctor in the United States
Why she’s a badass: She got into Med School when the student body voted yes as a practical joke; she was met with hostility throughout her time of studies, made to sit separately from the men and asked to leave anatomy lectures to protect her “delicate sensibilities”. Despite the constant torment, she graduated, and together her and her sister opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. This was a place for impoverished people to get treatment and a place for more female doctors and nurses to train. She also opened the London School of Medicine for Women, and was a pioneer in hygiene practices; her standards for simple things such as washing hands between patients helped to drastically reduce the spread of disease.
Fave Quote: “If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodelled.”
- Name: Alice Ball (1892-1916)
Field of Study: Chemist and Biomedicine
Why she’s a badass: Alice started her career strong; she was not only the first African-American but also the first woman to graduate from the university of Hawaii in 1915. In her time, Hansen’s disease (Leprosy) was a public health emergency, and people with the disease were left isolated, in “leper colonies” often on islands. Alice helped to develop a new way to treat chaulmoogra oil, the only known relief for the disease. She isolated the ethyl esters in its fatty acids, so it could now be mixed with water and easily injected. Now that Hansen’s could be treated and it was not known to be contagious, people suffering with the disease were no longer outcast from society. Alice tragically died at the age of 24 whilst teaching in a lab, some think from inhaling chlorine gas.
- Name: Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
Field of Study: Cytogenetics (study of inheritance in relation to chromosomes)
Why she’s a badass: Barbara stood out from the word ‘go’: as a young girl she loved to box, ride bikes and play baseball, and both girls and boys would ignore her. When she first started working studying genetics, her intelligence and direct approach flustered her male counterparts. The Dean threatened to fire her if she ever got married and she was only allowed to work if she had a male partner alongside her. Because of this, she quit, and left to go to a new research faculty. Here, she studied corn cells and found that genes could “jump” to a different part of a chromosome; this is the reason for the huge amount of variation in the natural world, and she changed the way the world thought about evolution. However, it took 20 (yes, 20) years for anyone to believe her work, and she didn’t receive a Nobel Prize until 30 years after her initial discovery. But she didn’t care, because she knew she was right.
Fave Quote: “I know my corn plants intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them.”
- Name: Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012)
Field of Study: Neurology
Why she’s a badass: Rita is one who truly overcame circumstance and difficulties to pursue science. Despite graduating summa cum laude from medical school, anti-sematic laws in Italy at the time, forbade her to practice due to the fact she was Jewish. Just like MDMflow founder Florence, she decided to start her career working out of a makeshift lab, not out of a shed, but in her bedroom. She borrowed eggs from farmers and dissected and studied embryonic chicks, laying the foundation of her entire career. When the war ended, she was able to continue and complete her research properly and discovered the NGF (Nerve Growth Factor), a protein that regulates nerve growth and keeps our neurons healthy. This has been fundamental in understanding and fighting diseases. She was an Italian senator for life, and continued to work right up until her death, age 103.
Fave Quote: “After centuries of dormancy, young women… can now look toward a future moulded by their own hands.”
- Name: Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Field of Study: Inventor Extraordinaire
Why she’s a badass: Hedy Lamarr is more commonly known as being an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Days, famously called “the most beautiful woman in the world”. But behind ‘lights, camera, action’, she had a secret workshop where she created and invented. She met George Antheil, a composer, at a dinner party and together they realised that radio signals could be used to alter frequencies. This technology, known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) could be used to control torpedoes and communication. Although her idea was initially dismissed by the US military, 20 years later, its potential was finally realised and it was used in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Her FHSS is the foundation for the technology we now use and depend on every day; GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. And where would we be without our smartphones eh?
Fave Quote: “The world isn’t getting any easier. With all these new inventions I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more… The hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.”
- Name: Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Field of Study: Chemist and X-Ray Crystallographer
Why she’s a badass: Like so many of the women on this list, and of her time, Rosalind’s father disapproved of her going to university, but she fought this and went on to earn a PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University. Rosalind endlessly examined DNA fibres with an X-Ray as at the time, the structure of DNA wasn’t known. Eventually, she captured the image that proved that DNA had a double helix structure. James Watson and Francis Crick at the time were also trying to work out DNA’s structure. They looked at her work without permission, and used her findings to publish their own work, and so her work was never acknowledged. James Watson wrote scathing and bitter comments about Rosalind after her death, and even admitted to looking at her data, and so eventually it was realised that it was she who made the initial discovery. She died at 37 from cancer, probably due to her prolonged exposure to X-Rays.
Fave Quote: “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.”
- Name: Mary Claire King (1946-)
Field of Study: Genetics
Why she’s a badass: Mary Claire King has had such a wide and varied scientific career, and her influence and recognition is unparalleled. Her doctoral thesis proved and concluded that humans and chimpanzees were 99% genetically identical. She moved from this, into breast cancer research. Most scientists at the time thought that breast cancer was caused by a virus, but she stuck with her gut, and found the BRCA1 gene, which is responsible for susceptibility to breast cancer. King did this long before advanced modern DNA sequencing techniques- she proved it mathematically, and in 1990 its existence was proven along with BRAC2. This has helped to monitor and prevent breast cancer, reducing rates and risk to people globally. Mary Claire has also used her knowledge for humanitarian causes; she developed DNA tests to help reunite families separated by kidnappings in Argentina in the late 70s and 80s. Her tests now help solve human-rights cases worldwide. And she’s still not done….
Fave Quote: “I think there are two keys to being creatively productive. One is not being daunted by one’s fear of failure. The second is sheer perseverance.”
This list is far from comprehensive, but a snapshot of a few badasses who should be honoured, remembered and continue to inspire the little girls who dream of the day they own their first lab coat…
Happy #InternationalWomensDay and Happy #NationalScienceWeek.
One big proud female Geek x