Famous women in math and science

During this last day of National Women’s History Month, I have chosen 10 phenomenal women of both science and mathematics. Many polls show results that very few people can name even one famous female scientist or mathematician. Though science and technology are often considered the forte of men, the contributions of women to the progress of these areas in science and mathematics cannot be disregarded.

I want to make sure that you are aware of the contributions of these courageous women that have brought to light the numerous gifts, crucial inventions, and discoveries in the vast world of science and mathematics.

Many of these women were unable to attend universities; they had to overcome such obstacles as posing as men to send questions to professors so they would be taken seriously. Some parents went to great lengths to shield their daughters from learning science and mathematics; these women went to even greater lengths to pursue their passions and their accomplishments were life-altering. Once these women had proved themselves, some were able to attend universities. As time went on eventually it was commonplace for women to attend and complete their collegiate endeavors.

Imagine having a dinner party and you could invite 10 phenomenal women from the past and present. There are so many to choose from and I had a hard time to whittle my list down to just 10; there are hundreds of women who made a huge difference in our world, some of the advancements made by men wouldn’t have happened without a woman’s hand in it.

1. Marie Curie (Nov. 7, 1867 to July 4, 1934) the first well-known woman scientist in the modern world. She was referred to as the “Mother of Modern Physics” who pioneered research in radioactivity, a word she coined. She discovered isolate polonium and radium; she established the nature of radiation and beta-rays. First woman awarded a Nobel Prize.

2. Virginia Apgar ( June 7, 1909 to Aug. 7, 1974) developed the APGAR Newborn Scoring System, increasing infant survival rates. She was a pioneer in anesthesiology, including helping raising respect for the discipline; she also warned that the use of some anesthetics during childbirth negatively affected infants.

3. Grace Hopper (Dec. 9, 1906 to Jan. 1, 1992) a computer scientist in the US Navy, led to the development of the widely used computer language of COBOL. She held the rank of Rear Admiral and developed the mechanical miracle of its day, the MARK I computer. She was widely known as the Grand Lady of Software and Gramma COBOL.

4. Mary Somerville (Dec. 26, 1780 to Nov. 29, 1872) one of the first two women admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society. She was dubbed “Queen of Nineteenth Century Science.” She was a scientist, mathematician, astronomer and geographer. Somerville College, at Oxford University was named for her.

5. Chien-Shiung Wu (May 29, 1912 to Feb. 16, 1997) a China born physicist worked with Dr. Tsung Dao Lee and Dr. Ning Yang at Columbia University. She disproved the “particle principle” in nuclear physics. She worked on the atomic bomb for the US during WWII at Columbia’s Division of War Research, and taught university-level physics. She worked on the Manhattan Project, developing a radiation detecting instruments and helped solve a problem that stymied Enrico Fermi and made it possible for a better process to enrich uranium ore. She acknowledged serious gender discrimination in hard sciences and was a critic of gender barriers.

6. Emilie du Chatelet (Dec. 17, 1706 to Sept. 10, 1749) worked to explore and explain Newtonian physics, arguing that heat and light, especially fire were related. She predicted there was a certain kind of light that produced heat in the things it fell on. It is known as infra-red radiation. It is said that Einstein got his relativity equation when he looked at her study on the relationship between energy and velocity. She was Voltaire’s lover and a mean poker player.

7. Marie Agnesi (May 16, 1718 to Jan. 9, 1799), a child prodigy of mathematics and languages. She wrote a textbook about arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, and calculus to explain math to her brothers.

8. Sophie Germain (April 1, 1776 to June 27, 1831) a mathematician, number theorist, and mathematical physicist. She authored a paper on the patterns produced by vibrations. This work is used in the construction of skyscrapers today.

9. Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 to Nov. 27, 1852) wrote a scientific paper in 1843 that anticipated the development of computer software, artificial intelligence and computer music. She is known as the “Enchantress of Numbers”. In her honor, the US Dept. of Defense named its computer language “Ada” in 1980.

10. Amalie “Emmy” Noether (March 23, 1882 to April 14, 1935) called by Albert Einstein “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since higher education of woman began.” She is known for her work in abstract algebra, especially ring theory. In 1915, Emmy at the Mathematical Institute of Gottingen, pursued important mathematical work that confirmed key parts of the general theory of relativity.

It continues to amaze me at all the accomplishments that women are credited for. I encourage you to take some time and check out some amazing women in history for yourself.

Cath Kestler is a Silver Creek resident. Comments may be sent to editorial@observertoday.com