Celebrated on February 11th each year, International Day of Women and Girls in Science acknowledges the many contributions of women in science. It also promotes equal access to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Below we look at women who have changed the world with their discoveries and innovation.
The fundamental building blocks of all matter are elements, and throughout history, numerous pioneering women have left an indelible mark on scientific research through the discovery of new elements. Their groundbreaking contributions paved the way for subsequent researchers to revolutionize various fields, from advancing cancer treatments and inventing cutting-edge medical devices to refining manufacturing processes by mitigating static electricity.
In 1903, Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics for her pioneering research in radioactivity and became the first woman to win a Nobel prize. She and her husband, Pierre, used pitchblende — a uranium-rich substance previously used in glassmaking — to experiment with radioactive elements. In 1911, she earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering radium and polonium, which made her the first person in history to win two Nobel prizes. Even today, she remains one of only four people to win two Nobel Prizes in science related categories.
A three-time Nobel prize nominee, Ida Noddack and her husband co-discovered rhenium in 1925. One of her papers, "On Element 93," refuted Fermi's claim that he'd managed to produce transuranic elements. In the paper, Noddack proposed that it was possible for the nucleus of an atom to break into several fragments. Although no one paid much attention at the time, her work laid the foundation for the concept of nuclear fission.
Chemistry has many practical applications, especially in the fields of medicine and pharmaceutical research. These women used their knowledge of chemistry to develop new drugs, create better diagnostic techniques and make it easier for other researchers to study biochemical processes.
Gertrude B. Elion
In 1988, Gertrude B. Elion received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the impact she had on drug development. With George Hitchings, Elion experimented with the use of purine compounds to destroy leukemia cells. She also developed immunosuppressants, antivirals, and drugs used to treat malaria.
Carolyn Bertozzi coined the term “bioorthogonal chemistry” to describe high-yield chemical reactions that don’t interfere with underlying biological processes. As part of her work, she developed new methods for studying glycans on the surfaces of living cells, giving scientists a better understanding of cell biology. Researchers all over the world are now using bioorthogonal chemistry to develop more effective treatments for cancer and other diseases. Dr. Bertozzi has received several awards for her work, including the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, the Lemelson-MIT Prize and the coveted MacArthur Fellowship.
Gerty Cori discovered the Cori cycle, better known as the lactic acid cycle, which helps the body use glucose as a source of energy. In recognition of her groundbreaking discovery, The Nobel Assembly awarded her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947. Cori was the first woman to win the coveted prize.
Jennifer Doudna is one of the chemists who developed CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that allows scientists to edit the human genome. This new method of gene editing is much faster than previous methods, making it easier for scientists and medical professionals to incorporate the process into their work. Doudna's achievement has revolutionized the fields of molecular biology and genetics.
When it comes to material sciences, female chemists have discovered and created many new technologies, pushing advancements in various industries and leaving a lasting impact for the future.
As the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie continued the family tradition of making important scientific discoveries. With her husband, Frédéric Joliot, she discovered artificial radioactivity by bombarding aluminum with alpha particles, producing a radioactive isotope known as phosphorus-30. Their discovery was crucial for advancing the field of nuclear physics, increasing understanding of atomic structure, and using nuclear medicine to treat cancer. In 1935, Curie and Joliet received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for synthesizing new radioactive elements.
Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek was an American chemist who invented poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, better known as Kevlar, a heat-resistant fiber that’s five times stronger than steel by weight. Law enforcement officers around the world rely on this fiber to protect them from bullets, shrapnel and other dangerous objects. Kevlar also has important applications in the aerospace, automotive and telecommunications industries such as the use of Kevlar to produce lightweight helicopter blades. In recognition of her achievement, Kwolek was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. She was also awarded the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement and the National Medal of Technology.
Celebrate Women in Science
These women have changed how researchers approach everything from drug development to polymers to gene editing, paving the way for even more advanced developments. To encourage innovation, it's important to support and celebrate women in the sciences.
Ascensus aims to continuously advance the chemistry world through our products and services. Reach out to our team today, and we will help advance your next project.