Today, it isn’t such a big deal to see a woman carrying around her research notebook and to take her seriously. However, years ago it was unheard of, and many woman had to get creative in order to simply learn about science, much less be active in the field. Nevertheless, there were a few women who led the way. Their research and findings have paved the way for better things, but their very presence and effort helped break the chains that prevented previous women from entering this field.
Caroline Hershe discovered several comets in her lifetime—a pretty amazing accomplishment for someone who wasn’t even supposed to be in the field. In fact, her efforts may have led to an even more important achievement than the comets she found. Ms. Hershe is the first woman to be paid and recognized in the United Kingdom for work done as a scientist.
Speaking of getting started with new things, parents who didn’t think they would ever have children can thank Anne McClaren for her efforts. Ms. McClaren did extensive work in the field of developmental biology. Her efforts have changed the face of fertility. Using mice to conduct embryonic transfers, her research provided the knowledge needed to develop IVF.
As it often goes with science, not all research is used to produce things. Some is used for destruction, as is the case with the work of Chien-Shiung. Her work in nuclear fission took science to new heights and led to the methods that led to the use of uranium as a fuel for nuclear bombs.
Some women literally give their lives to science, and then some. Such is the case with Marie Curie. She is the one responsible for the fact that you can heat up your leftovers with the touch of a button. Ms. Curie’s work with polonium and radium has led to some of the most significant developments of the 20th century, but it isn’t easy to explore her work.
Marie Curie died from exposure to polonium and radium, but her efforts didn’t die with her. Today, you can’t read a laboratory notebook she worked on without using special equipment, because it is radioactive, and will be for some time.
Gertrude B. Elion
Some women are best known for what they do after the work is all done. Gertrude Elion may be the leader in that area. As a result of the research she did after she retired, people who suffer from HIV gained a bit of hope they didn’t have before. Her adaptation of azidothymide led to the very first successful treatment of AIDS victims. Not only did she slow the replication process of the virus, but made it possible for women with AIDS to have children without infecting those children with the virus.
These amazing women made strides where strides weren’t expected, but they did more than that. They made it possible for women today to carry a laboratory notebook into work instead of their shorthand notebook or a mop.