Women in STEM – Celebrating Women’s History Month

Yesterday it was announced that mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck . from the University of Texas at Austin, had been awarded the Abel Prize 2019 “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.” Impressive in itself, but more impressive because she is the first woman ever to be awarded the prize (The Abel Prize was established on 1 January 2002. The purpose is to award the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about 750,000 Euro) and was awarded for the first time on 3 June 2003).  A fitting tribute and accomplishment during this month, which happens to be Women’s History Month, which celebrates women’s’ contributions to society and history.

Seems only appropriate to dedicate this post to other significant women and their contributions to STEM, especially as there is still such a need for more women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The more young girls and women see what others have done, the more they are inspired to pursue futures in these fields. I’ve done a little research and pulled together a few names to share in this post. By no means is this an exhaustive list, rather a list of women that sparked my interest, particularly in mathematics, since this has been my personal passion for most of my life. There are many more out there, but the idea of celebrating Women’s History Month is to realize how important, and often unknown/hidden, women have been in many of our STEM advances and historical events.

  1. Marie Curie the only woman to have received TWO Nobel Prizes (one for Physics and one for Chemistry).
  2. Gertrude B. Elion another Nobel Prize winner in Physiology, whose work contributed to many new drugs, including AZT, the aides drug
  3. Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace – credited with being the first computer programmer!!  Very cool.
  4. Barbara McClintock – Nobel Prize winner in Physiology, credited with showing that genes turn certain physical attributes on and off.
  5. Rachel Carson – credited with creating the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as a result of her writings and work.
  6. Radia Perlman – commonly referred to as ‘the Mother of the Internet” for her algorithm (STP) that basically allows the Ethernet to handle massive networks
  7. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – credited with creating the programming language C.O.B.A.L
  8. Lisa Meitner – part of the duo that discovered nuclear fission (fascinating history here about her being ignored in the awarding of the Nobel Prize)
  9. Katherine Johnson – her mathematical computations influenced every major NASA space project – wow!! (See the movie Hidden Figures)
  10. Florence Nightingale – helped pioneer the field of applied statistics and created a version of a pie chart called the ‘coxcomb‘. Totally new information for me!!

I could go on and on – it is amazing once you start looking, how many women have been pioneers, ‘firsts’, and influencers/contributors to math, science, engineering and technology. It’s exciting that so many are finally being recognized. Inspirational. There are lots of interesting articles and synopses out there that can spark student interest and maybe inspire some of our youth as well. Maybe spend some of this Women’s History Month exploring with your students or just on your own. I know I have been really surprised and amazed and plan to keep researching.

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