Over the last few centuries the scope of science and its impact on our everyday life has increased considerably. From the use of computers to the luxury of using a dishwasher, modern inventions have saved us from spending countless hours on tasks that we can now do effortlessly. Many of the world’s most well-known inventors are men, such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, however, there is an abundance of female inventors that many of us are unaware of. Well today is your lucky day! We are about to unfold the excellence of a few women in science and their contributions to how we live day to day.
First on our list is Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) a biophysicist who closely studied DNA. If you have never heard of her it would not be a big shock as a common practice in her day was to credit the work of female researchers to their male counterparts, thus leaving them out of historical records. Franklin was in fact the head of her own DNA studies and yet was often mistaken for an assistant in the lab. She used x-rays to take a picture of DNA, this photo was shown to James Watson and Francis Crick without her permission by Maurice Wilkins. The three went on to use the image as a way to determine the structure of DNA and win a Nobel Prize in 1962. Her data was crucial for the discovery of the structure of DNA and yet she barely received recognition for her work.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was acclaimed for being one of the best experimental physicists of her time. She was asked by Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang to aid in disproving a law in quantum physics known as the law of parity. She accomplished this task by experimenting with cobalt-60. This played important part in the development of the atomic bomb. Her male counterparts Lee and Yang received a Nobel Prize in 1957 for this discovery, however, Wu never received the recognition deserved for her work.
Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919), also known as Madam C.J. Walker, was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist. Breedlove invented a line of black hair products after suffering from serious scalp ailments caused by the use of products such as lye in soaps used to wash hair. Using tips she learnt from working with Annie Malone she developed hair creams that would change the lives of countless African American women from then on. Breedlove went on to become a millionaire.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-) made her discovery of pulsars in 1967 while studying radio astronomy at Cambridge University in England. Pulsars are remains of stars that went supernova. She discovered them while observing data collected from a radio telescope she helped assemble. She analysed a three-mile-long piece of paper – yes, a three-mile piece of paper – and noticed the recurring signals given off by them. In 1974 a Nobel Price was received for this by Anthony Hewish and Martin Ryle, Hewish being Burnell’s supervisor. Burnell is still alive today and now works towards increasing the number of women in the fields of science, technology, math and engineering.
Last on this list is Patricia Bath (1942-), an ophthalmologist who invented a machine that would aid thousands of patients. She developed the Laserphaco Probe in 1981 and perfected it until placing a patent on it in 1988. The device is used to surgically correct cataracts, an illness that mostly affect elderly people and clouds vision which can eventually lead to blindness. It was more precise and less risky and invasive tool compared to previous devices. Bath was also a first in many other aspects as she is the first African American female doctor to secure a medical patent and the first African American person to complete their residency in ophthalmology in the United States.
There are hundreds of women that have contributed to science for centuries, some have never received recognition for their work due to an underlying system of sexism and patriarchal values ingrained in society and science. By shining a light on more and more of these women we honour their discoveries and give them the due credit and recognition they deserve for their hard work. May we aim for a future where they are too included in our history books and textbooks, may we learn more about them and use them in our examples of great inventors. Representation is an extremely important factor in paving a way for the younger generations of women who see that they can too be great inventors and scientists. Let us all encourage young girls and women to aim for the stars and beyond, it is never too late to discover something new or pick up an interest that you did not anticipate you could pursue.
By Natasha Simpson