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The Greatest Female Scientists in History

When asked to name a scientist, we immediately think of Albert Einstein, CV Raman or APJ Abdul Kalam. When specifically asked to name a female scientist, Marie Curie is at the tip of our tongues. For a good reason – she is still, after all, the only person in history to win two Nobel prizes in two sciences. However, for many people, she remains one of the only few historical female scientists they have heard of.

In this blog, we’ll be talking about historic female scientists (in no particular order) who have blazed new trails in their disciplines (yes, apart from Marie Curie). From determining the size of the universe to unlocking the secrets of the genetic code, these women have forever changed the way we look at the world.


  • Maria Goeppert-Mayer

One of the most important figures in nuclear physics, this German-born American scientist’s favorite subject was mathematics. However, she later took up physics. Meyer is known for suggesting the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. She worked on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. This famous lady scientist became the second woman, after Madam Curie, to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

by Walter Stoneman, half-plate glass negative, 29 June 1947

  • Dorothy Hodgkin

The daughter of two archaeologists, Dorothy Hodgkin, was always curious about the shape of molecules and their functions. The third woman to win the celebrated Nobel Prize in the discipline, this British biochemist was a pioneer in the field of X-ray crystallography and found the structures of various biological molecules. She also won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for determining the structure of vitamin B12. Her contributions to medicine have been recognized through many awards and honors.


  • Melitta Bentz

Have you ever wondered whom to thank in the morning when you get your coffeemaker ready for the first cup of the day? Coffee beans have been used to make beverages since the eleventh century, but a German housewife named Melitta Bentz updated brewing for the modern world. Initially, the method of tying up the coffee grounds in a small cloth bag and placing the bag into a pot of boiling water was followed. But Bentz came up with a new method. What did she do? She kept a piece of thick, absorbent paper into a brass pot with a few holes punched in it and poured the coffee through this two-part contraption. This technique managed to trap the grounds and allowed the filtered liquid to seep through and drip into a waiting cup. She received a patent for her coffee filter system in 1908 and started a business that still exists today.


  • Ada Lovelace

The first computer programmer in the world, Ada Lovelace penned her research on the analytical engine, the mechanical general purpose computer of Charles Babbage. Her observations on this engine was acknowledged as the first algorithm. The programming language developed by US Department of Defence is named after her. She has also been portrayed in a movie – Conceiving Ada.


  • Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Belle Elion got the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988 for discoveries regarding drug treatment. This American pharmacologist developed AZT, an antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of AIDS, with Dr. George H Hitchings. She had a four decade-long partnership with Hitchings. This female scientist also developed drugs for the treatment of malaria, leukemia and herpes. Even after she retired in 1983, she continued supervising the lab, overseeing the development of AZT, the first drug for treating AIDS.

by Elliott & Fry, half-plate glass negative, 11 June 1946

  • Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin lived for just 38 years and was neglected by her colleagues. However, she is an unforgettable name in the history of science. This biophysicist played a seminal role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, though she didn’t get the credit she deserved. She also produced X-ray diffraction images of DNA, which later helped Watson and Crick to find the double helix model of DNA.


  • Barbara McClintock

Known for discovering certain sequences of DNA that can change locations within the gene, Barbara McClintock is regarded as one of the most influential scientists in genetics. McClintock contributed immensely in the field of cytogenetics and was the first to produce a genetic map for maize. Although she did extensive studies, the scientific world was skeptical about her findings. But recognition and honors came to her quite late. She eventually won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1983.


  • Irene Joliot-Curie

The elder daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie also was a renowned scientist. She followed her parents’ footsteps and conducted studies in radioactivity. For the finding of artificial radioactivity, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. She, along with her husband Frederic, one of her mother’s assistants at the Radium Institute in Paris, also turned boron into radioactive nitrogen as well as aluminium into phosphorus and magnesium into silicon.

This list is by no means a complete record of female scientists to whom we are indebted for their work in science, but we’ve made an attempt to salute their contribution to the society.

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