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10 Women Whizzes in STEM You Should Know!

26 Jul, 2021 / For Kids, Good News

young female stem chemistry


Do you like experimenting, making things or solving puzzles?

Do you enjoy thinking outside the box and creating something new and exciting?

Have you heard of the term ‘STEM’?

It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“But those are boy’s subjects!”

Are you sure?

Here at Ludo Tutors, we like to challenge the idea that Maths and Science are just for boys – subjects can be enjoyed by anyone who takes a shine to them. So if you’re a whizz with numbers or brilliant at building robots, don’t be put off – you could end up like one of these awesome women in STEM…

1. Marie Curie:

This scientist surely needs no introduction! Born in 1867, Marie Curie was a Polish physicist, chemist and feminist. She is perhaps most famous for researching radioactivity and subsequently discovering radium and polonium, two of the most dangerous and radioactive elements in the periodic table. She was the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes and founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 66 after having suffered radiation poisoning that led to the spread of cancer. To this day, her notebooks are kept in lead-lined boxes as they are still dangerously radioactive!

2. Mary Anning:

Mary Anning was born in 1799 in the Coastal Town of Lyme Regis. Amazingly, she somehow survived a lightning strike when she was only 15 months old! The surrounding landscape of her home town was rich in fossils (it was later named the Jurassic Coast) and so Anning spent time hunting for fossils on the coastline. Her first fossil took her months to uncover, it was later named an Ichthyosaurus (fish lizard) and measured 17ft long! She discovered a great many fossils but her most important find was when she discovered the first Plesiosaur fossil, which showed a large marine reptile from the Triassic Period! 

3. Vera Rubin:

Rubin was born in 1928 in Washington DC and at the age of 10 became fascinated by the stars – “I would prefer to stay up and watch the stars than sleep” she would say in her later years. By the time she was 14 she had built her own telescope. She grew up to become the first woman to use a telescope at the Palomar Observatory, women were often prohibited from booking telescope time (they were given the excuse that there were no restrooms available). As her career advanced she made the groundbreaking discovery of dark matter, a material in the universe that reflects no light. This discovery proved to be huge for the STEM community.

young female stem scientist

4. Jane Goodall:

Born in 1934, Jane Goodall spent her younger years visiting Africa. Once she was able to move there permanently she fell in love with the chimpanzees that lived near. Most scientists would number animals to identify them but Goodall had no formal training or education, so she gave each chimpanzee a name that reflected their personality! She made some astonishing discoveries during her time with the chimps. She noticed that they used tools to find food and later discovered that the chimpanzees hunted for meat; scientists previously thought they only ate plants. Jane gave the chimpanzees some wacky names such as Goliath, Mr McGregor and Frodo!

5. Rosalind Franklin:

Rosalind Franklin was born in Notting Hill in 1920 and went on to study chemistry at Cambridge University. After working for the British Coal Utilisation Research Association, she went on to work with Jacques Mering, studying x-ray imaging. Franklin understood that x-rays could be used to create images of crystallised, solid matter. She therefore used this method to generate images showing the structure of DNA! Franklin discovered the infamous double helix structure. Unfortunately, a colleague of hers showed the photograph to another scientist called James Watson. James Watson and Francis Crick went on to publish a paper about the structure of DNA; they used Franklin’s photographs as evidence but did not credit her. The two went on to win Nobel Prizes but they would have gotten nowhere if it weren’t for the crucial work of Rosalind Franklin.

6. Kalpana Chawla:

The woman who put Indian women in Space! Kalpana was born in a small city of Karnal, Haryana. The youngest of four siblings, Kalpana enjoyed star gazing as a child. She graduated from the Punjab Engineering college and moved to the USA to pursue further studies. She worked with NASA for several years before becoming an astronaut. Unfortunately she died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster that was caused by a mechanical fault with the spaceship. She is remembered today as a pioneering astronaut of the early 21st Century and all-round STEM legend.

7. Joan Clarke:

Joan Clarke was born in 1917 and gained a First in Mathematics from Cambridge University but could not obtain a full degree as her university did not award them to women at the time! Throughout World War II she was based at Bletchley Park working with Alan Turing’s team, attempting to crack German communications. She was the only woman working on the top secret operation. Even today, the secrets discovered at Bletchley Park have still not been revealed to the public but Clarke’s achievements are continually celebrated by the STEM community.

8. Florence Nightingale: 

Florence Nightingale or ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ was known for advancing the practice of nursing during the relatively grim Crimean War. She reduced the mortality rate from 42% to 2% which is pretty impressive! She realised that proper sanitation was key to reducing the spread of infection. Whilst working, she  trained matrons and her students went on to start nursing schools of their own. She was also an accomplished statistician, creating pie charts using methods that are still practiced today! She certainly inspired many women in STEM in the future!

9. Katherine Johnson:

Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician born in 1918 and she was one of three African American students to study on a graduate programme at West Virginia University. After years of studying and applying her knowledge in segregated workspaces, Johnson began work at NASA. She was responsible for calculating the flight path for the Freedom 7 spacecraft which put the first U.S astronaut in space in 1961. She’s received multiple awards for her achievements including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US.

10. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin:

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was born in England and received a scholarship to study at Cambridge University where she was a student of chemistry, botany and physics. Once again, she was not granted a degree from Cambridge and so travelled to the US to study at Harvard. It was there that she was awarded the first ever Ph.D. in astronomy! Her papers were all about measuring the temperature and chemical density of stars and at the age of 26 she became the youngest scientist to be listed in American Men of Science – you might want to change the title!

female stem engineer

Here are some useful links where you can learn more about other women whizzes in STEM: