10 Women Who Made Scientific History

This Women's History Month, learn about the accomplishments of 10 women in STEM who changed the course of history.

portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
by Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published on February 28, 2022 · Updated on May 6, 2022

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10 Women Who Made Scientific History

Throughout history women have faced systemic barriers and gender discrimination. Despite these challenges, however, they have played a key role in humanity's scientific advancement. This March — Women's History Month — take some time to learn about women's accomplishments and celebrate their scientific achievements.

Check out this list of 10 women who made scientific history.


Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

President Obama and Katherine Johnson

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Katherine Johnson was a Black mathematician and one of the first African American woman to work as a NASA scientist. As a mathematician, she calculated and analyzed the flight paths of NASA spacecraft.

She is best known for making the calculations that allowed the first Americans to enter Earth's orbit and set foot on the moon.

The 2016 movie "Hidden Figures" chronicles Johnson's life and work at NASA.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie

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Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist who conducted critical research on radioactivity. She discovered two new chemical elements: radium and polonium. Curie led the first research project on the impact of radiation treatment on tumors.

She also headed the Curie Institute — formerly the Radium Institute — which is a leading medical research center in Paris, France, focused on cancer research and radiation therapy. She was the first person and the only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice.

Curie is also the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields: physics and chemistry.

Valentina Tereshkova (1937)

Valentina Tereshkova

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Valentina Tereshkova is an engineer, a member of the Russian State Duma, and a former Soviet cosmonaut. On June 13, 1963, she became the first woman to travel into space. She orbited the Earth 48 times in just three days.

She later served in the Communist Party and represented the USSR at numerous international events. Tereshkova remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Elizabeth Anderson

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Elizabeth Garrett Anderson paved the way for women in medicine in Great Britain. She was the first female doctor in England and overcame significant barriers to achieve professional success at a time when women were not allowed to practice medicine.

She opened up a school of medicine for women and appointed primarily women to leadership positions on staff. She eventually became the first women dean of a medical school and the first female mayor in England.

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu in a Laboratory

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Chien-Shiung Wu was a leading figure and pioneer in the field of physics. A Chinese immigrant to the United States, Wu was the first women faculty member hired in the physics department at Princeton University.

She later took a job at Columbia University and joined the Matthan Project, which resulted in the creation of nuclear weapons. She is best known for conducting the Wu experiment, which proved that identical particles do not always behave in the same manner.

She was awarded the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978 and was nicknamed the "First Lady of Physics."

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin

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Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist. She is best known for discovering the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Using a technique called X-ray crystallography, she revealed the helical shape of DNA.

While Rosalind made a critical impact on science, her work and contributions to the field are still rarely acknowledged. Two men — James Watson and Francis Crick — are still most often credited with discovering DNA's structure.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace is regarded as the world's first computer programmer. In the 1880s, she helped develop the idea for a computing machine, and — long before computers were even invented — invented an algorithm for a computer.

To honor her contributions, the U.S. Department of Defense named a new computer language "Ada" in the 1990s.

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

Sally Ride

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Sally Ride was instrumental in creating career and educational opportunities for women and girls in science and mathematics. As an astronaut, she became the first American woman in space in 1983. On NASA's second and third Space Shuttle missions, her job was to work the robotic arm, which she used to put satellites into space.

After she stopped working for NASA, she founded NASA's EarthKam Project, which provided students the opportunity to take pictures of the Earth and then study them.

In 2003, she was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Mae Jemison (1956)

Mae Jemison

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Mae Jemison is a doctor, engineer, and former NASA astronaut. In 1992, she became the first Black woman to travel into space. Jemison excels in many scientific fields, has authored several books, and even appeared on an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.

Currently, she leads the 100 Year Starship Project through the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This project is dedicated to ensuring that human travel to another star is possible in the next 100 years.

Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier (1758-1836)

Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier

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Marie-Ann Paulze Lavoisier is regarded as the mother of modern chemistry. She was the wife of the chemist and nobleman Antonie Lavoisier and served as his laboratory assistant, and contributed to his work.

Fluent in Latin, English, and French, she helped translate several scientific works for her husband to review. Lavoisier's translation led to the discovery of oxygen gas. She was also instrumental in the standardization of the scientific method.

Today, many colleges and universities aim to create opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Institutions now realize they need to provide the necessary support and mentorship to ensure women's success in science. But in order to advance women in STEM, we need to remember and acknowledge women's historic contributions in the field of science. This Women's History Month, celebrate the scientists who made discoveries and broke down barriers for future generations of women in STEM.


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