Women in Science

Museum Pick: March 9 - 23, 2009

Women in Science explores important, but little-known, women scientists and their contributions. Although these women deserve recognition, no one knows who they are. Unfortunately, majority of people could not name a single female scientist except Marie Curie.

I've depicted fifteen women scientists: Elizabeth Blackwell, Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Lise Meitner, Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Chien Shiung Wu, Agnes Pockles, Rosalind Franklin, Maria Geoppart-Mayer, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Maria Mitchell, Beatrix Potter and Barbara McClintock. Five of them are featured here. How many of them did you hear of before?

women in sciences
Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale: Chemist 1903-1971

She solved a 64-year contention in chemistry by confirming experimentally the ring structure of benzene, the aromatic compound responsible for scent. She also gave the structure's precise molecular dimensions. In 1945, she was the first woman to be elected to fellowship in the Royal Society, which had excluded women for 285 years. Kathleen looking clever in her benzene ring glasses.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt: Astrononomer 1868-1961

In her career at Harvard College Observatory, she discovered more than 2,400 variable stars. She saw a direct correlation between the time it took a star to go from bright to dim and the star's actual brightness. Knowing this relationship helped other astronomers, such as Edwin Hubble, make their own groundbreaking discoveries. Henrietta models a distant galaxy.

Marie Curie: Physicist and Chemist 1867-1934

She was a pioneering scientist who won the Nobel Prize twice. She was awarded in 1903, sharing the Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for the discovery of radium and polonium. In 1911, she was the first woman to win the Noble Prize in chemistry, by herself, for the isolation of pure radium. Marie radiates in the green glow of radium.

Chien Shiung Wu: Physicist 1912-1997

In 1957, she devised the experiment which disproved the law of conservation of parity-an amazing feat in physics. She was the first woman to receive the Comstock Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 1964. After all this success, she moved into medical research to study sickle cell anemia. Chien dresses up a sickle cell slide.

Agnes Pockles: Physicist, Fluid Dynamics 1862-1935

With no more than a public high school education for girls, she pioneered the study of surface film physics. Remarkably, she did this out of her own home, studying with her brother's physics books, while taking care care of her sick parents. The surface balance technique Pockels developed is still used today. Agnes sports a surface tension blouse.

Jennifer Mondfrans entire series Women in Science will be exhibited at The Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas, starting June 5 until July 19, 2009.


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Michael DeLong
Michael DeLong
United States

What a beautiful story and what beautiful pictures! I have heard of Beatrix Potter as an author, but did not know she was also a scientist.

I would also love to add Ada Lovelace to this list. Additionally, Hedy Lamarr, known primarily as an MGM actress, also co-invented an early form of spread spectrum communications technology, a key to modern wireless communication.

Michael DeLong
Michael DeLong
United States

I had a recent visit with my mother, who is a science teacher, and she loved the idea of this series. She also reminded me that Mary Leakey, Dian Fossey, and Jane Goodall are well-known women scientists.

I would add Olga Ladyzhenskaya and Mary Somerville.

The importance of recognizing the accomplishments of women physical scientists and engineers is that as a bastion of male dominance at the top of the intellectual pecking order, the lack of recognized accomplishments of women is often taken as evidence that we, as a class, are lesser humans and not capable of contributing at the highest levels.

A girl child is consequently devalued at every level of resource allocation and education, and our "incapacity" for anything other than bearing children and fetching water for men becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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