This article was originally published on March 8, 2020.
Who are the the greatest scientists of all time? Chances are Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton or other big names probably come to mind – and for good reason. These scientists made remarkable discoveries and changed the way we understand the world.
But far too often, women are left off the list, even though they have long since made significant strides in science, including times when they were excluded from formal education and careers in the field. It is only recently that women scientists have emerged from the shadows of history.
Who are some of the famous women scientists who changed the world?
In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8 – and just because it’s the year 2020 – here are some groundbreaking women scientists who should also be known.
1. Ada Lovelace, mathematician
Dec. 10, 1815-Nov. 27, 1852
Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer — long before the invention of modern computers. His notes on Charles Babbage’s project analytical engine (a general purpose programmable computer), is considered the very first computer algorithm.
Ada Lovelace (Credit: Alfred Edward Chalon/Science Museum Group/Public Domain)
2. Marie Curie, physicist and chemist
November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934
Among Curie’s many achievements are the discovery of radioactivity and the invention of a mobile x-ray unit used in World War I. Along with her husband, Pierre, Curie also discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium – and developed techniques to isolate radioactive isotopes. In 1903, Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. After her first victory in physics, she went on to win an award in chemistry – making her the first person to be awarded twice – and one of the most highly regarded female scientists.
Marie Curie (Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr Commons)
3. Janaki Ammal, botanist
November 4, 1897-Feb. 7, 1984
As India’s first female plant scientist, Ammal developed several hybrid species still cultivated today. She has also advocated for the protection of India’s biodiversity.
Janaki Ammal (Credit: John Innes Center)
4. Chien-Shiung Wu, Physicist
May 31, 1912-Feb. 16, 1997
Wu was the first scientist to confirm – and then refine – Enrico Fermi’s theory of radioactive beta decay. She is also known for her “Wu experiment”, which overturned the theory of parity in physics. This breakthrough led to a Nobel Prize awarded to male colleagueswith Wu’s critical role in the neglected work.
Chien-Shiung Wu (Smithsonian Institution via Flickr Commons)
5. Katherine Johnson, mathematician
Aug. 26, 1918-Feb. 24, 2020
Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanic as a NASA employee were essential to sending the first Americans into space. She rose to fame when her story was featured in the movie Hidden numbers.
Katherine Johnson (Credit: NASA)
6. Rosalind Franklin, Chemist
July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958
Franklin is known for her groundbreaking work in discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. She died four years before her male colleagues received the Nobel Prize in 1962. Some believe that even if Franklin had lived, she likely would have been snubbed by the committee.
Rosalind Franklin (Source: CRM Molecular Biology Laboratory)
7. Vera Rubin, astronomer
July 23, 1928-Dec. 25, 2016
Rubin discovered the existence of dark matter, the strange glue that holds our universe together. His contribution is considered one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century – work that many believe should have received a Nobel Prize.
Vera Rubin (Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF)
8. Gladys West, mathematician
West’s work in developing mathematical modeling of the Earth’s shape provided the basis for GPS technology. In 2018, she was inducted into the United States Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fameone of the Air Force Space Command’s highest honors.
Gladys West (US Air Force)
9. Flossie Wong-Staal, virologist and molecular biologist
August 27, 1947-
Wong-Staal was the first scientist to clone HIV and create a map of his genes, which led to a test for the virus.
Flossie Wong Staal (Credit: Bill Branson/National Cancer Institute)
10. Jennifer Doudna, biochemist
February 19, 1964-
Doudna was one of the main developers of CRISPR, a revolutionary genome-editing technology. The approach offers the promise of ending disease.
Jennifer Doudna (Credit: Duncan Hull)
Learn more: The 50 most important women scientists