While a little late to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve compiled a small list to celebrate the achievements of some of those who have been otherwise marginalized by history. These six great scientists are some of the women who have had immeasurable impacts on the world of science.
Name: Rosalind Franklin
Field: X-Ray Crystallography
Accomplishments: Made significant contributions to the discovery of DNA; data from her research was used by James Watson and Francis Crick in their paper announcing the discovery of the double helix.
Snub: Tragically died of ovarian cancer at age 37; her college Maurice Wilkins, along with Watson and Crick, later received the Nobel Prize for their discovery, but Franklin was excluded because the Nobel committee did not make posthumous nominations.
Name: Emily Noether
Accomplishments: Made landmark contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics, the most notable of which was Noether’s theorem—which explains the connection between symmetry and laws of conservation. Albert Einstein called her the most important woman in the history of mathematics.
Snub: Dismissed from her university position by the Nazi government because of her Jewish heritage, she refused to stop teaching and tutored students from her apartment before being forced to flee to the US.
Name: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
Accomplishments: Discovered that the sun is primarily composed of hydrogen and helium. Her PhD thesis describing the theory was later called undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.
Snub: Her dissertation was dismissed by Henry Norris Russell, the leading astronomer of the day, who encouraged her not to present her findings as they contradicted the current accepted beliefs. Four years later, he published his own paper on the subject after deriving the same result by different means.
Name: Lise Meitner
Field: Nuclear Physics
Accomplishments: Was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany, and worked closely with Otto Hahn on the discovery of nuclear fission; element 109 (meitnerium) is named after her.
Snub: Lost her professorial position because of the Nazi regime—it’s almost like these guys were super evil or something—and was forced to flee to Sweden; her contributions to the discovery of nuclear fission were heavily marginalized, and the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Hahn alone.
Name: Jocelyn Bell-Burnell
Accomplishments: Was the first person to discover radio pulsars—magnetized, rotating neutron stars—which is often hailed as one of the most important astronomical discoveries in history.
Snub: Her PhD supervisor was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery, but she was excluded. However, many expressed outrage at this decision, and she has since received many prestigious honors, including a knighthood.
Name: Margaret Hamilton
Field: Software Engineering
Accomplishments: Lead the team which developed the on-board flight control software for the Apollo Project—the moon landings—and is credited with coining the term software engineer.
Snub: Finally, a happy ending! Unlike the others on this list, Hamilton actually received the credit she deserves for her accomplishments, and went on to publish over 130 papers and found her own tech company.