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Tag: women in STEM
  • Dr. Patricia Bath was an early pioneer of laser eye surgery whose cataract-removal invention has saved the vision of millions of people around the world.

    A Renaissance woman in the world of vision, the pioneering ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath not only founded the discipline of community ophthalmology to help underserved populations  have better access to vision care, she invented a device that quickly and easily dissolves cataracts, becoming the first African American female physician to receive a medical patent. Her invention of the Laserphaco Probe was recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014 as "one of the most important developments in the field of ophthalmology" for having "helped restore or improve vision to millions of patients worldwide." A trailblazer for both women and African Americans in medicine, Bath always considered the people she helped her greatest accomplishment, asserting that "the ability to restore vision is the ultimate reward." Continue reading Continue reading

  • This trailblazing mathematician built the geodetic model of the Earth that became the foundation for GPS.

    If you rely on your GPS for directions, you can thank a mathematician whose little-known contributions to the mathematical modeling of the Earth recently earned her one of the U.S. Air Force's highest honors: induction into the Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame! Dr. Gladys West, like the "human computers" at NASA who became famous with the book Hidden Figures, began her career by performing the complex hand calculations required before the computer age. However, her greatest accomplishment was the creation of an extremely detailed geodetic model of the Earth which became the foundation for the Global Positioning System. Although GPS is ubiquitous today, West says that in the moment, she wasn't thinking about the future: "When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, ‘What impact is this going to have on the world?’" she says. "You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this right.'" Continue reading Continue reading

  • Jeanne Villepreux-Power began her adult life as a dressmaker, but rose to become one of the preeminent marine biologists of her day.

    If you've ever been captivated by colorful fish and sea creatures darting around an aquarium, you can thank 19th century French scientist Jeanne Villepreux-Power! Villepreux-Power began her adult life as a dressmaker, but rose to become one of the preeminent marine biologists of her day. Her invention of a glass box for holding and observing marine specimens — the first recognizable glass aquarium — earned her the title "Mother of Aquariophily" from British biologist Richard Owen. "[She] was not content with purely descriptive studies of dead specimens," French scientist Claude Arnal wrote in a tribute to her. "She was excited by life and its mysteries." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Emily Warren Roebling became the first female field engineer in history as the "surrogate chief engineer" of one of the greatest architectural projects of the 19th century, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed after fourteen years of construction in 1883, Emily Warren Roebling — the "woman who saved the Brooklyn Bridge" — was the first to cross it by carriage, carrying a live rooster in her lap as a sign of victory. Early in its construction, Roebling's husband, Washington, the chief engineer in charge of the bridge’s construction, became severely debilitated and bedridden due to decompression sickness. Emily Roebling stepped in and, for over a decade, oversaw the completion of one of the greatest architectural feats of the 19th century — making history by becoming the first female field engineer in the process. "I don’t think that the Brooklyn Bridge would be standing were it not for her," asserts Erica Wagner, the author a biography about Washington Roebling. "She was absolutely integral." Continue reading Continue reading

  • For her discovery of artificial radioactivity, Irène Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, just as her mother, Marie Curie, had in 1911.

    Radiation can be dangerous, even deadly — but it has also saved millions of lives thanks to Irène Joliot-Curie's discovery of artificial radiation! Joliot-Curie, the daughter of Marie Curie, the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, carried on her mother's legacy of scientific study. Joliot-Curie's groundbreaking research allowed scientists to produce 'designer' radioactive elements quickly and easily, making them widely available for use in research and medical treatment for the first time. This discovery won Joliot-Curie and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935, cementing her place in scientific history — and making the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date.  Continue reading Continue reading

  • Katherine Johnson calculated -- by hand -- the flight trajectories for a number of historic missions, including the Apollo 11 flight to the Moon in 1969.

    When President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson in 2015, few people had even heard her name — but thanks to the smash success of the book Hidden Figures and its movie adaptation, this groundbreaking mathematician has become an inspiration for girls everywhere! Continue reading Continue reading

  • Mary Golda Ross spent over 30 years at Lockheed, much of it as a member of the top-secret Skunk Works program involved in cutting edge research during the early years of the space race.

    When Mary Golda Ross, the first Native American aerospace engineer, began her career at the aerospace company Lockheed during World War II, women engineers were rare and most companies expected them to leave after the war was over to make room for returning men. Ross was such a phenomenal talent, however, that she not only stayed at Lockheed for over 30 years years, she became an integral member of the top-secret Skunk Works program involved in cutting edge research during the early years of the space race. As one of 40 engineers in Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects division, Ross was the only female engineer on the team and the only Native American. Her research was so secret that, even in 1994, she had to be coy with an interviewer about her work: "I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research," she said. "My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Friden computer." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Maria Mitchell became famous worldwide after becoming the first American to discover a comet.

    Maria Mitchell (second from left) and her students at the Vassar College Observatory measuring the Sun’s rotation from the movement of sunspots.

    At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the world's first women's rights convention, illustrious suffragists and feminists like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton took time to honor a groundbreaking scientist: Maria Mitchell, who had just become the first American and third woman in history to discover a comet! Mitchell would go on to become America's first professional female astronomer, and she used her newfound fame to advocate for scientific education for girls and women. "Does anyone suppose that any woman in all the ages has had a fair chance to show what she could do in science?" she asked. "Until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss the question of their capacity for original work." Or, as she wrote more pointedly in one of her journals, "better to be peering in the spectrograph than on the pattern of a dress." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Frances Kelsey resisted intense industry pressure to approve thalidomide; the drug was the cause of severe birth defects in over 10,000 infants in other countries.

    When pharmacologist Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey started working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, one of the first files to cross her desk was an approval request for thalidomide. The drug had already been prescribed widely in Europe and other countries as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women, but Kelsey wasn't convinced it was safe. Her refusal to approve the drug, despite intense pressure from its manufacturer, likely saved tens of thousands of babies in America from devastating birth defects. "Representatives for the company thought I was crazy because it was such a popular drug in Europe, and they were losing money by my pigheadedness," asserted Kelsey in a later interview. "I held my ground. I just wouldn't approve it." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Among hundreds of men, trailblazing NASA Engineer JoAnn Morgan was the sole woman present in the locked control room.

    A famous photo shows the control room at Kennedy Space Center on the day of the historic Apollo 11 launch packed with hundreds of men in white shirts and skinny black ties — and, among them, a single woman sits at a console. As Apollo 11 began its flight to the moon on July 16, 1969, 28-year-old instrumentation controller JoAnn Hardin Morgan became the first woman ever permitted in the launch firing room, which is locked down in advance of a space flight. Morgan, who was the first female engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, would go on to have a 40-year-long career at NASA. While she encountered challenges along the way, including being "the only woman there for a long time" and spending the first 15 years working "in a building were there wasn't a ladies rest room," Morgan says that "I had such a passion that overrode anything else, the lonely moments, the little bits of negative. They were like a mosquito bite. You just swat it and push on." Continue reading Continue reading

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