You probably haven’t heard of these five amazing women scientists – so pay attention

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

By Sophie Darragh, University of Hull

All week I’ve been intrigued and inspired by posters appearing in my department that depict truly great scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Few of them were known to me or my fellow students, yet their achievements include revolutionising algebra, developing the first treatment for leukaemia, and discovering fundamental processes in physics.

Their only common characteristic? They are women, and their appearance on the walls marks International Women’s Day. Try to recall a woman scientist and Marie Curie may be the first and perhaps only name that springs to mind. This is a shameful state of affairs, when for more than a century scientists who happen to be women have reached great scientific heights, despite the many barriers they faced on account of their gender.

So here are five women whose amazing discoveries and contribution to science should be as well-known and respected as those of Marie Curie.

Rosalind Franklin – crystallography

Rosalind Franklin.
Jewish Chronicle Archive/Heritage-Images

Only now is Rosalind Franklin’s (1920-1958) reputation recognised: a chemist, she was responsible for much of the X-ray crystallography research that was critical to the discovery of the famous double helical DNA structure.

She worked in a climate that was far from inclusive to women; her fellow scientists’ attitude towards her are typified by James Watson’s book The Double Helix in which he is condescending throughout and refers to her as “Rosy”, a nickname she was known to dislike. Tragically, Franklin died from ovarian cancer in 1958, aged just 37. Four years later Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and famously omitted Franklin from their acceptance speech.

Lise Meitner – nuclear physics

Lise Meitner in 1906.
Churchill College Cambridge

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was an Austrian physicist and the second woman to obtain a doctorate in physics at the University of Vienna in 1906, and the first woman in Germany to assume position of a full Professor of Physics in 1926. The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938 forced Meitner to flee Germany due to her Jewish descent.

Meitner and Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission in 1939, yet the 1944 Chemistry Nobel Prize was awarded only to Hahn who downplayed Meitner’s involvement. This was later described in Physics Today as “a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist”.

Mary Anning – paleontology

Mary Anning.
Grey/Royal Geological Society

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a self-educated palaeontologist from a poor background in Lyme Regis in the southwest of England. Her discoveries of the first complete Ichthyosaur in 1811 and a complete Plesiosaurus in 1823 established her as an expert in fossils and geology, which she played a key role in establishing as a new scientific discipline.

Her expertise was much sought-after by educated male contemporaries even though, as a woman, she was ineligible to join the Geological Society of London. However, by the time of her death from breast cancer aged 47, Anning had gained the respect of scientists and the general public for her work.

Gertrude Elion – pharmacology

Gertrude Elion.
Wellcome Foundation Archives, CC BY

Gertrude Elion (1918-1999) graduated from Hunter College in New York in 1937 with a degree in chemistry. Unable to complete a postgraduate degree due to the Great Depression, undeterred she spent time working as a lab assistant (for US$20 a week) and as a teacher until she obtained an assistant position at the Burroughs-Wellcome company.

Here she developed Purinethol, the first treatment for leukaemia, anti-malarial drug Pyrimethamine, and acyclovir, a treatment for viral herpes still sold today as Zovirax. Later Elion oversaw the adaptation of Azidothymidine, the first treatment for AIDS. In recognition of her achievements she was presented with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988, despite having never completed her PhD.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell – astrophysicist

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

With a PhD in astrophysics from Cambridge University, Jocelyn Bell (1943-) built and worked on a radio telescope during her graduate studies. Here she discovered a repeating radio signal which, though it was initially dismissed by her colleagues, she traced to a rotating neutron star, later called a pulsar. For Jocelyn’s discovery of radio pulsars, described as “the greatest astronomical discovery of the 20th century”, her supervisor and his colleague were awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Burnell was completely omitted as a co-recipient, to the outrage of many prominent astronomers at the time. However Burnell has gone on to receive many subsequent awards and honours, was President of the Royal Astronomical Society and the first women president of the Institute of Physics, and was appointed Dame Commander (DBE) of the Order of the British Empire in 2007.


My decision to study chemistry was inspired by my love for understanding the world around me and using science to help people. Learning about these incredibly tenacious women has kept me driven through tough weeks of thesis writing; the hardships they faced in their careers were immense in comparison to today.

Not only this, but it has reminded me of the amazing women colleagues around whom I am privileged to carry out my research. I spend time with scientists of many disciplines, all of whom inspire me daily. And while we women might happen to be fewer in number as scientists this has no bearing on our capacity to conduct intuitive, ground-breaking science now and for the future.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Three Scientists Receive Australia’s Highest Accolade

In the 2015 Australia Day Honours list, three of the five people appointed Companions (AC) of the Order of Australia, the highest accolade, were medical scientists:

Professor Jeremy Robert Chapman OAM

For eminent service to medicine, particularly in the areas of clinical and biomedical research, to the development of ethical policy and practices for organ donation, acquisition and transplantation, and to renal medicine organisations and publications.

Professor Brendan Scott Crabb

For eminent service to medical science as a prominent researcher of infectious diseases, particularly malaria, and their impact on population health in developing nations, as an advocate, mentor and administrator, and through fostering medical research nationally and internationally.

Professor John Watson Funder

For eminent service to medicine, particularly to cardiovascular endocrinology, as a renowned researcher, author and educator, to the development of academic health science centres, and to mental illness, obesity, and Indigenous eye-health programs.

If you had to choose 3 scientists to receive awards (Australian or not), who would they be and why?

Why do you like being a scientist? Part 2

Following up on the earlier post Why do you like being a scientist? where I reported cosmologist Geraint Lewis’ responses, I have since heard back from Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty (the second Nobel Laureate to generously correspond with me via Twitter). Responding to the same question Why do you like being a scientist? Professor Doherty’s continued along the same theme as Geraint:


Being a scientist is all about discovering – finding new knowledge, new science.

For top scientists it is literally about discovering new science. Closer to home, with our own children as naturally inquisitive mini-scientists, it is about discovering – discovering new knowledge for themselves (far better than just being told facts from a textbook).

Why do you like being a scientist?

As a follow up to my earlier post What Do You Think Science Is? I sent out a tweet to several busy scientists (including 2 Nobel Laureates (thus far)) asking them Why do you like being a scientist?


To his credit Geraint Lewis @Cosmic_Horizons replied. Geraint is a cosmologist and galactic archaeologist who researches galactic cannibalism amongst other things – think about it; just imagine the sheer interest from children if you mentioned there was such a thing as galactic cannibalism!



I love that: “I simply like finding”. Learning, and learning science in particular, is about finding; finding things by accident or intent.

Wearing my former eLearning hat I am also fascinated by the emphasis on maths and computer programming – this is the nature or modern astronomy. This also reminds me of an earlier tweet by Geraint:


Knowing facts such as star classification is pretty low order and pretty boring. Applying one’s knowledge and creating new methods and new knowledge – now that’s exciting, that’s what being a scientist is all about!

What Do You Think Science Is?

My five year-old, ‘buddy’, knows that I ‘do science’, but does he know what science is? He is now desperately asking is this science, is that science? Of course, the answer is usually yes! Interestingly he knows volcanoes, space, electricity, chemicals and blood are all part of science but was surprised to learn that elephants were also science.

A great little video to show little kids is ‘Science’ by Small Potatoes, created by Josh Selig. It’s very cute to hear what small children think science is. Enjoy the video (if you are time poor or don’t like kids music make sure you at least listen to the intro then the outro at 2:14).

[all credits Josh Selig]

Ask your children: what do you think science is?

To all of the scientists out there: why do you like being a scientist? (Do check out 2:14 in the video for the context to this question).

Please respond below.

Science Dress Up

Welcome to the CrookED Science 4 Parents blog and this inaugural post! The posts within this blog will hopefully help stimulate discussion and fascination with science between parents/carers and their children.

IMG_2128A couple of characters who may pop up now and then are ‘buddy’ and ‘mate’, my two boys, and the inspiration behind this first post.

Many families have a ‘dress up box’, often containing outfits for superheroes, fairies, princesses, pirates etc. Can I recommend that you also add lab coats (or simply white coats) and goggles. That way kids can also dress up as (mad) scientists, inventors, doctors, vets and more.

All children know of doctors and vets but do they realise they are scientists, that they had to study science? Do they have an idea of what science is (the subject of my next post)?

[PS – I have know shares or interests in lab coat manufacturing 🙂 ]