Notable Scientists: Crystallographers of Merit

This blog post was originally published on Double X Science; cross-posted with permission from the author, Adrienne Roehrich.

X-ray crystallography is a technique using x-rays for a beam of light shined onto a crystallized molecule to elucidate the structure of the molecule from the resulting pattern from the light’s diffraction. The women in this post used this technique to look at large molecules, many of which were biologically relevant.

hodgkin medal

Order of Merit medal of Dorothy Hodgkin, displayed in the Royal Society, London, 20 April 2004.

Adrienne Roehrich
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Notable Scientists: Those Overlooked

Written by GeekGirlCon staffer Adrienne Roerich. This post originally appeared at Double X Science.

During the first two years of this series, I looked for women who had already been honored in some way for their work in science. Unfortunately, this means that a significant portion of excellent scientists are further missed. Because the point of this series is to highlight scientists, I hope to show more of these overlooked scientists.

Ruby Hirose

Ruby Hirose.
Image source: the Smithsonian.

Ruby Hirose (1904–1960) was a biochemist and bacteriologist who developed vaccines against infantile paralysis. She received recognition from the American Chemical Society in 1940, along with nine other women for her work. A Japanese-American, Dr. Hirose received her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. During World War II, her family who resided in Washington state, were imprisoned in internment camps. Dr. Hirose avoided imprisonment due to working in the state of Ohio as a chemist, far from an American coast.

Alice Ball (1892 – 1916) was a chemist working to treat leprosy. After dying at age 24 due to ill health and unknown causes, her work was assumed by a senior male colleague and her discovery credited to him for decades while she remained forgotten. Born in Seattle, Washington, she moved to Oahu, Hawaii with her family in the early 1900s, then returned to Seattle after elementary school. She received her B.S. in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Washington. Breaking a number of firsts, she became the College of Hawaii’s (later the University of Hawaii) first graduate student, which is even more notable due to her status as a black woman. She continued with firsts as the first black student and black woman to receive a Masters degree from that institution. She continued on as a professor there, becoming the first black chemistry professor at any school.

Alice Ball

Alice Ball, 1915.
Image source: University of Hawaii (public domain).

As previously mentioned, the University of Hawaii president Dr. Arthur Lyman Dean continued her work, which consisted of taking chaulmoogra oil and injecting it into sufferers of leprosy or Hansen disease, relieving the symptoms. It wasn’t a cure, but at the time, the relief from the nervous systems was a major breakthrough. Her method was known as the “Ball method” until Dean took over and it became the “Dean Method”. These contributions were so significant, Dean has a hall named after him at the University of Hawaii. This method of treatment was used regularly until the 1940s and even in 1999 was cited as being used in remote areas. The story of this remarkable woman was pieced together by a few individuals and is worth tracking down the stories to learn more. Ball’s awards are posthumous and consist of “Alice Ball Day” established in 2000 and celebrated in Hawaii on February 29 and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents Medal of Distinction awarded in 2007.

Marie Maynard Daly (1981 – 2003) was a passionate chemist fighting racial and gender bias to keep her father’s chemistry passion alive. Born in Queens, New York, she was encouraged at her all-female high school to pursue her love of chemistry. She received her Bachelor’s degree with magna cum laude honors in 1942 from Queens College in Flushing, New York. She accepted a fellowship to complete a Master’s program at New York University while working as a laboratory assistant at Queens College, finishing the degree in one year. She continued on in her studies at Columbia University with funding and working with Mary Caldwell, completing her Ph.D. in three years. She graduated in 1947 as the first black woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Dr. Daly had a varied career. After graduation, she went on to teach at Howard University, then to work in molecular biology at the Rockefellar Institute in New York City, then she taught biochemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and finally became a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960, remaining there until her retirement in 1986. It was only after this last transition that she married. She was on the board of directors for the New York Academy of Sciences. Dr. Daly was committed to increasing enrollment of minority students in medical school and graduate programs. After her retirement, she established a scholarship at Queens College for this in honor of her father.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla.
Image source: NASA (public domain).

Kalpana Chawla (1961 – 2003) was a part of the space shuttle Columbia crew, which disintegrated upon re-entry in February 2003. Born in Karnal, India, Dr. Chawla received her B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. She immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized Citizen while attending the University of Texas and earning her M.S. in 1984 and her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1988, both in aerospace engineering.Upon graduation, she began work at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In 1994, Dr. Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She became the first Indian born woman in space when she took her first space flight in November 1997. She perished with the other six members of the Columbia crew. Chawla was  posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Ruth Ella Moore (1903 – 1994) worked on tuberculosis for her graduate work in the 1930s. Born in Columbus, Ohio, she studied at Ohio State University, receiving all three of her degrees, B.S. in 1926,  M.A. in 1927, and Ph.D. in 1933 all in the field of bacteriology. She is widely ascribed as the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in a natural science in the United States. While working on her dissertation, Dr. Moore also taught at Tennessee State College (later Tennessee State University). There are gaps in Dr. Moore’s personnel record, but she is known to take an assistant professor position in 1940 at Howard University Medical College, and chaired the bacteriology department for a time that is disputed, as either five years in the mid-1950s or more than a decade starting in 1947. She did step down from the position prior to 1960, but is noted to have continued her professor-responsibilities teaching and performing research until retiring in the early 1970s.

Adrienne Roehrich
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The Women in Modern Men of Science

This post originally appeared at Double X Science.

While working on the Notable Women in Science series, I was referred at one point back to the McGraw-Hill Modern Men of Science collection from the 1960s. Of the 426 scientists highlighted in 1966 among the “modern men,” seven were women. By then, 11 women had earned the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy  (and even with an award named after her, she isn’t in the collection), 23 women had achieved the Garvan Medal in Chemistry, and 10 had won a Nobel Prize (one of them twice – she also doesn’t appear in this collection.) Some of these awards overlap. However, by 1966, there were clearly more women than seven deserving of this catalogue, and the seven women in the group weren’t … men of science, modern or otherwise. Who are the women who were selected to be among the ‘Modern Men of Science’?

Adrienne Roehrich
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When Being Borinqueña Acquired a New Meaning

Written by Greetchen Díaz, This post originally appeared at Ciencia Puerto Rico.

I knew my idea was not unique, mainly because it was originated by a collective need.  Just like many others, I felt the need of having a voice and to form a space for a community that will represent the women in science of Puerto Rico. A special community dedicated to put in the spotlight Puerto Rican women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This was my personal desire, my aspiration, that I share with many other women and men who expressed their joy when the Borinqueña blog was born.

Guest Contributor
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Notable Scientists: Biochemists in the 1900s

Four women biochemists at the frontier of their field.

[This post comes from Double X Science. Welcome to another installment of Notable Women in Science! This on-going series highlights women who paved, and are currently paving, the way in science. If you have a favorite woman in science, check out our past posts to see if she has already been highlighted. Or she may be yet to appear.]

Adrienne Roehrich
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Notable Scientists: Historical Astronomers

by Adrienne Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

as·tron·o·mer   [uh-stron-uh-mer] noun: an expert in astronomy; a scientific observer of the celestial bodies. Origin: 1325–75; Middle English.

The women featured in this post gazed at the stars and studied celestial bodies scientifically.

Emma T.R. Williams Vyssotsky (1894-1975) is often overshadowed by her husband. In fact, she is so overshadowed that the link provided links to an article on her husband that mentions her. She received her B.A. in mathematics from Swarthmore College in 1916, and had a career teaching math and as an actuary. She returned to school to receive her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1930. She received the Annie Jump Cannon Medal in 1946.

Her passion for mathematics led her to pursue her undergraduate degree in math. Finding positions for a woman in math was very difficult, and she longed for something more. She married a Russian astronomer, Alexander Vyssotsky, the same year she finished the requirements for her Ph.D. The degree was awarded when she was 35. She relocated to the University of Virginia to follow her husband’s career. Dr. Vyssotsky was hired as an instructor while her husband became an assistant professor. As a team, the Vyssotskys discovered dwarf stars using a special objective prism. Unfortunately, Dr. Vyssotsky suffered a disabling illness, causing her to leave the University in 1944. She was unable to return to work because a cure for her illness was unknown for 13 more years. She capped her astronomical career with a monograph written with her husband, An Investigation of Stellar Motions.

Helen W. Dodson Prince (1905-2002) was a renowned solar flare researcher. Born on the last day of the year in 1905, Helen W. Dodson received her B.A. in mathematics from Goucher College in 1927. She worked briefly as a statistician before taking her M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1932. She secured a position as an assistant professor at Wellesley College for 12 years and earned her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Michigan in 1934. She spent several sabbaticals at Observatories all over the world. She moved to assistant professor at Goucher College and received her Sc.D. there in 1952. Again, she moved universities to the University of Michigan and became a Professor of Astronomy there. She was also the  Associate Director of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory during the same years. She married Edmund Prince a little later in life. She received the Annie Jump Cannon Award and the Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Michigan.

Even though her chosen field requiring mathematics and physics was dominated by men, Dr. Prince made the decision to pursue her talents. Her research delved into 25 Orionis and contributed to the mathematical development of radar. Her work at the McMath-Hulbert Observatory stands out especially since she was one of the few female solar astronomers at the time, her work was cutting-edge, and the observatory originated as a volunteer institution before becoming a part of the university and had low expectations. Even after her tenure as Assistant Director ended, she continued research at the observatory until she retired at age 74.

Maria Mitchell, By H. Dassell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) is considered the first woman astronomer in the U.S.A. Born on Nantucket Island, Maria Mitchell was shaped by her family’s Quaker religion, which instilled the importance of education, sensible living, and eschewing the frivolous. She had no official degrees awarded, but worked as a librarian, a computer, and a professor of astronomy and director of observatory at Vassar College. Her early love of the sky connected her to her father, who was known to captains on Nantucket Island. She would adjust chronometers in her father’s absence. She attended her father’s school, and opened her own school at age 17, using unconventional teaching methods. She studied mathematics and astronomy on her own, and learned to use a sextant, a simple reflecting telescope and a Dollard telescope.

Her love of the sky is noted by her observance of the eclipse of 1831 and her discovery of the Comet Mitchell in 1847.  Her father’s contacts confirmed Maria’s discovery and due to a pronouncement by the King of Denmark to award a gold medal to the first discoverer of a comet by telescope, Mitchell became famous in both the U.S. and Europe. This capstone capitulated to be the first, and only for many many years, woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Using the opportunity as a chaperone to the daughter of a wealthy family, she was able to travel to Europe and meet leading astronomers and visit their observatories. After this, she began to focus on the role of women in science. When Vassar College opened, she was persuaded to take a position there to teach and perform her research. Her experimental teaching style persisted, and gained her an excellent reputation. She promoted the sisterhood of “women studying together.” She was an inspiration to her students, many of whom also became famous for their own work. Maria Mitchell was an amazing woman of science.

Adrienne Roehrich
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Notable Scientists: Modern Physicists

Writen by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

In this edition of Notable Scientists, I focus on women working in physics, typically traditional physics rather than astrophysics. There is no particular reason to make this distinction other than it allows me to choose a small group of women to highlight within a parameter set. These women are listed in no particular order.

Vera E. Kistiakowsky spent much of her career as a professor at MIT. Born in 1928, she received her A.B. from Mt. Holyoke College in 1948 and her Ph.D. from the University of California – Berkeley in 1952, both degrees in chemistry. Her chosen career stemmed from advice from her father to support herself and not depend on another person to support her. Her father was a respected physical chemistry professor at Harvard and his support in her chosen activities was instrumental to her success. She entered college at the age of 15, choosing a pre-med major. She changed to chemistry due to Mt. Holyoke’s extraordinary female faculty at the time.  While her degrees are in chemistry, her studies and research were physics intensive.  Graduating with her PhD before her newly married husband hindered her initial job opportunities. She worked in several positions before eventually settling into a professorship at MIT. During her tenure at MIT, she was scientifically prolific with 86 technical publications as well as highly active in feminist activities, including organizing for the National Organization of Women (NOW), Women In Science and Engineering (WISE), the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), and an ad hoc committee in the American Physical Society (APS) on women physicists to name a few.

Helen Thom Edwards is recognized for her work with the Tevatron. She was born in 1936 and received both her B.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1957 and 1966, respectively. Her interest in science was outside that of her family’s interests, so she was used to paving her own way. Her technical and mechanical acumen served her well as a group leader at the Fermilab. Dr. Edwards is a team player and insists upon acknowledging the contributions of her colleagues in her and Fermilab’s success.

Ingrid Daubechies is a physicist and a mathematician known for her work in wavelets. Born in 1954, she received her B.S. and Ph.D. at Vrije University in Brussels in 1975 and 1980, respectively. Her interest in science and math was nurtured by her parents who also encouraged her independence. In 1984, she received the Louis Empain prize for physics for the work she accomplished before the age of 29. The prize was followed by tenure in her position at the Free University Brussels. She moved into a position at Rutgers and also worked at the AT&T Bell Laboratories. In 1992, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship followed by the Steele Prize from the American Mathematical Society in 1994. She has continued to receive honors and ovations to this day.

Janet M. Conrad researches neutrinos. She was born in 1963 and received her B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1985, her M.Sc. from Oxford University in 1987, and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993. After a postdoctoral stint at Columbia University, she moved into a professor position there. In 2008, she moved to MIT. She has received many awards, including an NSF CAREER Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, and the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award from the APS. She can be found involved in research and teaching at MIT, as well as communicating science to scientists and general audiences around the country.

Reka Albert blends cross and inter-disciplinary expertise. She received her B.S. and M.S. from the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and her Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. After a postdoctoral position at the University of Minnesota, she joined the faculty at Pennsylvania State University, where she is currently a professor in the physics department. She has received several awards for her work, including a Sloan Research Foundation Fellowship, an NSF Career Award, and the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award.


Prizes mentioned:

  • Louis Empain Prize is awarded every five years to a young Belgian scientists on the basis of work done before the age of 29.
  • MacArthur Foundation Fellowship is awarded to individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.
  • The Steele Prize is awarded for cumulative work of mathematical contribution to the field.
  • The NSF Career Award is a highly competitive grant awarded to early career scientists.
  • Alfred P. Sloan Fellowships are awarded to distinguished scholars with high potential for impact in their respective fields.


Adrienne Roehrich
“Rock On!”

Notable Scientists: Modern Chemists

Written by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

Double X Science runs a series called Notable Women in Science. As the chemistry editor at Double X Science, I write the series. GeekGirlCon is excited to post the series here on our blog, with minor modifications.

Our next installment of notable women in science brings us to chemists. Many of these women were born in the early part of the 20th century and forged their paths in tough times. All are still inspiring others today. Presented in no particular order:

Bryn Mawr College [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bryn Mawr College [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 Catherine Clarke Fenselau is a pioneer in mass spectrometry. Born in 1939, her interested in science was apparent before her 10th grade. She was encouraged to attend a women’s college, which at the time gave what she called “a special opportunity for serious-minded young women.” She graduated from Bryn Mawr with her A.B. in chemistry in 1961. Her graduate work at Stanford introduced her to the technology she would become known for, receiving her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry in 1965. Dr. Fenselau and her husband took positions at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, at which time she had two sons. Johns Hopkins was under a mandate to accept female students and have female faculty at the time. Dr. Fenselau was made aware of the disparity of the treatment of male and female faculty, when in the 1970s the equal opportunity laws came into effect and she received an unexplained 25% raise. Her research resided in mass spectrometry, specifically in its use in biology. She became known as an anti-cancer researcher. Dr. Fenselau spoke often to chemists about feminism and goals, such as equal pay, opening closed career opportunities to women, and achieving the bonuses often only awarded to men. She has worked as an editor on several scientific journals. Some of her awards include the Garvan Medal, Maryland Chemist Award, and NIH Merit Award. Having  proper help at work and at home, and having supportive mentors and spouse has helped her achieve her success.

Elizabeth Amy Kreiser Weisburger is considered a real-lifemedical sleuth. Born in 1924, Dr. Weisburger was one of 10 children and schooled at home for her early education. She received her B.S. in chemistry, cum laude, Phi Alpha Epsilon from Lebanon Valley College. She received her Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1947 from the University of Cincinnati. She married and had three children. Her research has caused her to be proclaimed a pioneer in the field of chemical carcinogenesis. She balanced her busy life of working at the NCI, committee work, giving lectures, attending meetings, writing and reviewing papers while caring for children with the aid of housekeepers and nursery childcare. Some of her awards include the Garvan Medal and the HillebrandPrize. Her life philosophy is summed up with “Don’t take life so seriously; you’ll never get out of it alive.”

National Science and Technology Medals Foundation, Photograph by Ryan K. Morris [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Helen M. Free with President Obama, 2009, National Science and Technology Medals Foundation, Photograph by Ryan K. Morris [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 Helen M. Free is a major contributor to science and science education. Born in 1923, Ms. Free attended the College of Wooster, graduating with honors and a B.S. in 1944. In 1978, she earned a M.A. from Central Michigan University. In the meantime, she worked as a chemist at Miles Laboratories. She developed clinical effective and easy to use laboratory tests. She worked her way up through the company and also held an adjunct professor position at Indiana University, South Bend. Ms. Free has used her time to be active in professional societies and has served as president for the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and the American Chemical Society. Her awards include the Garvan Medal, a Distinguished Alumni Award from Wooster, and is the first recipient of the Public Outreach Award bearing her name.

Jeanette Grasselli Brown is an industry researcher and director. Born in 1929, she graduated summa cum laude with her B.S. from Ohio University in 1950 and received her M.S. in 1958 from Western Reserve University. She worked at Standard Oil of Ohio (now BP of America), and became the first woman director of corporate research there. She has received numerous awards including the Garvan Medal, Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Fisher Award in Analytical Chemistry. She has published 75 papers in scientific journals, written 9 books, and received 7 honorary Doctorate of Science degrees. She is an activist for the future of women in science.

Jean’ne Marie Shreeve is an important fluorine chemist. Born in 1933, she encountered sexism through her mother’s inability to be employed despite her training as a schoolteacher. Dr. Shreeve graduated with a B.A. from Montana State University in 1953, followed by an M.S. in 1956 from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry in 1961 from the University of Washington. After graduating, she worked her way through the professorial ranks at the University of Idaho. Besides her own research, Dr. Shreeve has devoted herself to educating other chemists. Some of her awards include U.S. Ramsey Fellow, Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, and Garvan Medal.

By Smithsonian Institution from United States [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Joyce Jacobson Kaufman, By Smithsonian Institution from United States, via Wikimedia Commons

Joyce Jacobson Kaufman is distinguished in many fields. Born in 1929, she was reading before the age of 2 and was a voracious reader as a child. This led to her reading the biography of Marie Curie, which inspired her to be a chemist. Dr. Kaufman received her B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1949, 1959, and 1960, respectively. She married and had a daughter. Her research in the application of quantum mechanics to chemistry, biology, and medicine led to her renown in several fields. She has also spent much time in service positions. Her awards include the Martin Company Gold Medal for Outstanding Scientific Accomplishments (received 3 times), the Garvan Medal, and honored as one of ten Outstanding Women in the State of Maryland.

Madeleine M. Joullie is known for elegant research and inspirational teaching. Born in 1927, her early life in Brazil was overly-protective, so her father encouraged her to attend school in the U.S.A. She received her B.Sc. from Simmons College in 1949, and her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in chemistry in 1950 and 1953, respectively, from the University of Pennsylvania. She then worked her way through the professorial ranks at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially, only the women graduate students would work with her, and they were few and far between. She has explored many research avenues over the course of her career. Her awards include the Garvan Medal, the American Cyanamid Faculty Award, the Henry HillAward, and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Marjorie Caserio is a researcher, educator, author, andacademic administrator. Born in 1929, she entered university with the goal of becoming a podiatrist in order to generic income. She received several rejections from colleges due to her gender, and eventually was accepted to be the only woman in her class. She received her B.S. from Chelsea College, University of London in 1950 and an M.A. and Ph.D from Bryn Mawr in 1951 and 1956. Dr. Caserio is co-author of one of the most popular organic chemistry textbooks in the chemistry during the 1960s and 1970s. Her awards include the Garvan Medal and John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellow.

Chemical Heritage Foundation [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Lowe Good, Chemical Heritage Foundation [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Lowe Good has won several awards and is a public servant. Born in 1931, she was supported in her aspirations by her parents. She received her B.S. in 1950 from the University of Central Arkansas, which was then the Arkansas State Teachers College. She went on to receive her M.S. and Ph.D. in inorganic and radiochemistry from the University of Arkansas in 1953 and 1955. Her career began in academic, but an appointment to the National Science Foundation by President Carter changed the course of her career. She served the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and president of the American Chemical Society and Zonta International Foundation. Some of her awards include Garvan Medal, CharlesLathrop Parsons Award, and 18 honorary doctorates.

Ruth Mary Roan Benerito is an academic and government scientist. Born in 1916, she began college at the age of 15 at Sophie Newcomb College, the women’s college of Tulane and received her B.S. in 1935. She received her M.S. from Tulane University in 1938, which she worked half-time while working another job at the same time. She taught at Tulane and its colleges before going to the University of Chicago to get her Ph.D. in 1948 in physical chemistry, again working on a part-time basis. Her career oscillated between academia and industry, earning her a large number of awards, including the Federal Women’s Award, the Southern Chemist Award, and inducted as a Fellow into the American Institute of Chemists and Iota Sigma Pi.


Much of the information for this post came from the book Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer.




Adrienne Roehrich
“Rock On!”

Notable Scientists Series: Historical Physicists

Written by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

Double X Science runs a series called Notable Women in Science. As the chemistry editor at Double X Science, I write the series. GeekGirlCon is excited to post the series here on our blog, with minor modifications.

Featured today are 10 more women who broke boundaries by their presence in physics. They lived from 1711 to 2000. While I again limited information to one paragraph, I tried to highlight how they got their start, what universities, family members, and scientists were supportive of them. For these women, without the support of fathers, mothers, husbands, and mentors (all male with one exception) their life in science would not have happened. While barriers are not as difficult today as they were at the times these women made their way, it is a testament to what can be done when families and scientists support each other. These women are an inspiration and I hope you look up more information for them.


Laura Bassi (1711-78) lectured on science until a few hours before her death. An Italian scientist of international fame and one of the first women physicists in western history, Dr. Bassi earned her doctorate in philosophy and science through public debate from the University of Bologna. The University of Bologna offered Dr. Bassi a position in an effort to be known as a leader in women’s education. Unfortunately, this forward step was not acceptable to much of the rest of the world’s academic community and required stipulations to Dr. Bassi’s teaching. However, she countered these limitations with determination and passion. Her appointment to full membership in the Bendettini Academics also deterred some naysayers of Dr. Bassi’s involvement in research and teaching. In order to further her career, she married. A married woman could achieve more than a single woman at that time. Her death in 1778 was unexpected, especially as she had participated in an Academy of Sciences lecture only a few hours before.

If you can access the full article, I highly recommend The Desire to Contribute: An Eighteenth-Century Italian Woman of Science by Gabriella Berti Logan for more information on Laura Bassi.

Margaret Eliza Maltby (1860-1944) was a recognized scientist and advocate for women in science. She overcame the type of education offered to women by taking extra courses in order to attend Oberlin College and receive a B.A. She studied with the Art Students’ League in New York City to explore her interest in art and then taught high school before enrolling as a “special student” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), receiving her B.S. Oberlin recognized this extra effort by awarding Dr. Maltby an M.S. She became a physics instructor at Wellesley College. She was encouraged in her graduate students by an AAUW fellowship to attend Göttingen University, which culminated in Dr. Maltby being the first American woman to receive a Ph.D. in physics from any German university. Dr. Maltby worked as an instructor, a researcher, and administrator in many universities and colleges in the U.S. and abroad. Her stature as a scientist was acknowledged with her entry in the first edition of American Men of Science. She also was active in the AAUW, advocating for women to gain education and enter scientific fields. After her retirement from university life, she maintained her interest in the arts.

Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956) was a Nobel Prize Laureate for “artificial radioactivity.”  Born to the woman every person thinks of as the epitome of a woman in science, Marie Curie, Irène had an extremely close relationship with her paternal grandfather. Her schooling was outside of the standard schooling type, her first years at home and her latter years in a science and math-heavy co-operative school of Madame Curie’s colleagues. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the Collège Sévigné and went on to study at the Sorbonne. She received her doctorate in 1925 based on work with her mother at the Radium Institute of the Sorbonne. She married Frédéric Joliot, another research assistant of Madame Curie’s. Dr. Joliot-Curie continued her research, interrupted by a stint as Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research, one of the first high government posts to be offered to a woman. She worked as a professor for the Sorbonne and director of the Radium Institute, but was not admitted to the Academy of Sciences due to discrimination despite her work. She died, like her mother, of acute leukemia. Her scientific work was complemented by her love of physical activity and motherhood.

Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) was a woman with an amazing number of firsts.  Born to a widow, she was a world citizen in her formative years, attended high school at a private school in New York City, won a scholarship to attend Bryn Mawr, and graduated second in her class there. She received her Master’s degree from the University of Chicago, then headed off to work with Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir at General Electric (GE) and became the first woman research scientist there. She was able to work with Nobel Laureate Sir Ernest Rutherford and earn her Ph.D. from Cambridge University as the first woman to earn a doctorate from Cambridge. She returned to GE. During her career, she invented many applications and is credited with six patents. She achieved much when many women did not, but her work was de-valued in the media. She did earn recognition from her peers, including the ACS Garvan Medal, the Photographic Society of America Progress Medal, and a day named after her in her hometown of Schenectady, NY. In addition to her scientific life, she enjoyed gardening, civic engagement, acting, and “dart[ing] about Lake George in a fast motor boat.”

Astrophysicist Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly (1898-1990) was an authority on sun composition. She started her career as an excellent student with extracurricular interests, attending Swarthmore College to earn her B.A. Upon graduation, she accepted a position as a mathematics computer at Princeton University Observatory, one of the few employment opportunities available to science inclined women at the time. A stint at the Mount Wilson Observatory led to results published in a 1928 monograph which was considered the authoritative work on the solar spectrum for four decades. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1931. Her work earned her the Annie J. Cannon Prize, Silver and Gold Medals from the Department of Commerce, and several honorary doctorates in the U.S. and abroad. She was the first woman elected as a foreign associate by the Royal Astronomical Society of London. Her enthusiasm for her work continued until her death.


Nuclear Physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906-1972)  was the second woman to win the  physics Nobel. Her early education was public education for girls followed by a private school founded by suffragettes. Circumstances led Dr. Goeppert-Mayer to take her exiting exams a year early; after passing them she attended the University of Göttingen for her college education in mathematics. She continued to study physics at the University of Göttingen, earning her Ph.D. in 1930. She also married that year. The couple moved to America in hopes of better career trajectory for Dr. Goeppert-Mayer. Finding a position was difficult. When she had her first child, she stayed home with her for one year, then returned to research. While her positions were always part-time and not well recognized, she grew a well-respected network of collaborators. This network led to work with Hans Jensen which won her the Nobel Prize, shared with Jensen. Her network also eventually led to a full professorship position after 20 years of volunteer work. During this time, her health began to fail. She persevered with her work, publishing her last paper in 1965. The American Physical Society established an award in her honor in 1985.

Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber (1911-1998) was a respected researcher. She grew up in a time in Germany where girls were expected to become schoolteachers. She had a fascination with numbers, and eventually studied physics at the University of Munich, receiving her PhD in 1935. Due to being Jewish, she fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi party, arriving in the United States and becoming a citizen in 1944. She had a wide involvement in the various National Laboratories studying nuclear physics. She also maintained several committee positions in the science community. She was a strong advocate for women in the science community, forming a Women in Science group at Brookhaven National Lab and supporting other similar groups elsewhere. After her retirement from research, she continued interests in the history of science, outdoor activities, and art.

Physicist, Molecular Spectroscopist Leona Woods Marshall Libby (1919-1986) Leona Woods grew up on a farm and was known for her inexhaustible energy. She attained her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Chicago when she was only 19 years old, and earned her Ph.D. 5 years later. She worked as the only woman and youngest member of the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, a secret war group led by Enrico Fermi who built the world’s first nuclear fission reactor during her graduate work. Dr. Woods’ expertise was essential to the undertaking. She married another member of her team. She hid her first pregnancy until 2 days before her son’s birth. She took one week off before returning to work. Childcare was provided by her mother and sometimes Fermi’s bodyguard, John Baudino. Dr. Marshall was encouraged by Fermi as a female physicist. In the late 1950s, Dr. Marshall was divorced from her husband, pursuing her own career. In the early 1960s, Dr. Marshall moved to Colorado to work and married Willard Libby. Her mind was always considering any number of problems from many angles. She worked up until her death and was honored posthumously for her work, along with Lise Meitner, Marie Curie, and Irene Joliot-Curie.

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was a foremost experimental physicist of the modern era. She was encouraged as a girl to pursue her schooling as far as possible. This led her to teaching training, which lacked science so she taught herself physics, chemistry, and mathematics. She graduated high school with the highest grades in her class, earning her a place at the National Central University in Nanjing. She taught and did research upon graduation, then moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California – Berkeley in 1940, four years after leaving China. She was known for her expertise in nuclear fission and was consulted by top scientists. Despite this, her gender and nationality hindered her finding appropriate employment due to discrimination on both accounts. She married and started a teaching career, although she missed research. Upon the recommendation of Ernest Lawrence, she received offers from several Ivy League schools who were not accepting female students at the time, and became Princeton’s first woman instructor. She was offered several positions, including back in China, but chose to remain in the U.S. to raise her son. She was unable to return to China until 1973. She worked at Columbia University for many decades and earned accolades for her work.

Xide Xie (1921-2000) is a woman who, in China, needs no introduction. Her early life involved much moving due to war and ill health, during which she taught herself English, calculus, and physics. She graduated in 1942 with a degree from Xiamen University. She moved to the United States to receive her master’s degree from Smith College in 1949 and her Ph.D. in physics from M.I.T. in 1951. She married in England and returned to China, despite the political climate. She taught and did research at the prestigious Fudan University. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, she was detained, publicly humiliated, and endured breast cancer. After this upheaval, she returned to Fudan University, growing the physics department and achieving more esteemed positions in the University and government. She had also remained connected to her family, caring for her husband through a lengthy illness. Her achievements were internationally recognized.

Awards Mentioned

Benedettini Academics were a select group of scholars from the Academy of Sciences created and named for Pope Benedict XIV to conduct research and present it annually at Academy meetings. This appointment escalated the prestige of the scientist above that given by being a member of the Academy of Sciences.

American Association for University Women (AAUW): Margaret Maltby received the European Fellowship from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, which became the AAUW. This fellowship was specifically intended to help American women pursue graduate studies to circumvent rules that did not allow women to enroll in coeducational universities or earn graduate degrees.

The Nobel Prize is an international award given in several fields. It is one of the most prestigious awards for scientists in the eyes of the public.

The Garvan Medal is an award from the American Chemical Society to recognize distinguished service to chemistry by women chemists.

The Photographic Society of America Progress Medal recognized a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the progress of photography or an allied subject.

Annie Jump Cannon Prize is given to a North American female astronomer in the early stages of her career for her distinguished contribution to the field.

Department of Commerce Silver Medal, Gold Medal are the highest honors granted by the department for distinguished and exceptional performance.

Much of the information for this post came from the book Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer.

Images for this post came from Wikimedia Commons.


Adrienne Roehrich
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