Many women have provided a rich source of inspiration for young scientists – both male and female – down the years. They’ve made remarkable discoveries, often despite ingrained sexism within their chosen field.
Shedding light on chimp life
British primatologist Jane Goodall is considered the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees and has spent decades studying the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. She came up with names for many of the animals, drawing criticism from some who accused her of anthropomorphizing.
A cellular fountain of youth?
Australian-American Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine in 2009 for her work on telomeres – the protective tips that lie at the end of our chromosomes. Blackburn co-discovered the enzyme telomerase, which allows telomeres to be replenished. Telomerase allows cells to go on dividing, so it appears to influence aging and could have implications in cancer research.
Insight into insulin
British biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin was a contemporary of Franklin, and the two shared their expertise with one another. Hodgkin developed crystallography techniques to give an insight into the structures of biomolecules and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, becoming the third woman to do so. Five years after winning, Hodgkin was the first person to decipher the structure of insulin.
Unwinding the double helix
Rosalind Franklin never received a Nobel Prize, although many believe she should have. Biophysicist Franklin was an X-ray crystallographer whose practical work was heavily relied upon by James Watson and Francis Crick in their discovery of the DNA double helix, which won the Nobel prize for medicine. By the time the prize was awarded, Franklin had died of ovarian cancer.
A giant in two fields
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Not only that, she was the first person to win one twice. Born in Warsaw in 1867, she became a naturalized French citizen. Curie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics – for research on radiation phenomena – with husband Pierre and physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering radium and polonium.