The Glossed Over Impact of Women in STEM
Throughout history, there have been countless people whose contributions to STEM have been vital to the scientific world. We can all name a few of these people off the top of our head; Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Leonardo da Vinci, but how many women involved in STEM can you name? Obviously that’s not saying it’s your fault, but, hopefully not a shocker; women have been leaving their mark in these fields throughout time, though almost always having faced difficulties due to things like sexism. So, who are some of these women, and why are they so important to the current state of STEM?
Well, possibly one of the only female names many know of when thinking of women in science is Marie Skłodowska Curie, a French-Polish chemist known for her discovery of radium and polonium. For her discoveries, she won two nobel prizes in her life, the first she won only after her husband convinced the award committee of her importance, and the second for her discoveries of radium and polonium. Both instances garnered opposition, mainly due to the committee not believing in her importance or holding sexist views. Despite this sexism, which she also saw in other parts of her professional life, she managed to leave one of the deepest marks in STEM thanks to her discoveries and their numerous uses.
A far less prominent, but somewhat popular, figure in STEM, Ada Lovelace, is, by many, considered to be the first programmer. Contrary to how this sounds, she never actually worked with a modern computer, working with a proposed model posed by Charles Babbage, the Analytical Engine. Similarly, Grace Hopper, another female programmer, was one of the first to work on the modern computer. You’ve probably heard the term “bug” with computers, which actually came from her dismantling and finding a dead moth in a computer.
While these people are unfortunately no longer alive, there are of course still plenty of women still alive and well today whose impacts are just as important as those before them. One of such scientists is Tu Youyou, a chinese chemist known for her creation of artemisinin in the 70’s, a drug that helps treat Malaria. Thanks to this drug, plenty of variations have been produced with similar effects and applications. Due to this drug’s impact, she was even awarded a nobel prize in 2015.
Unfortunately, for the better part of history, most women haven’t always been as lucky as Curie or Youyou. As I stated, Marie Curie was lucky enough to be recognized for her work with Pierre and Henri, but people like physicist Lise Meitner have completely denied awards for their roles, Meitner being disregarded in her discovery of nuclear fission with Otto Hahn.
But times are changing, and more and more women are taking up jobs that a century ago would have been unorthodox to see a woman working in. Today, nearly half of those in STEM fields are women, meaning the impact of women on science is no longer something that can be male-dominated, and the future of women in STEM is far brighter than in the countless generations before now.