We’re celebrating female pioneers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as part of both International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th and International Women’s Day on March 8th.
In the UK, 47% of the workforce is female. But only 13% of the STEM workforce are women and within that, women comprise just 9% of the engineering workforce.
Gender stereotypes and biases are a primary cause of young women veering away from STEM careers. One of the gateways to equality is representation. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my personal heroes: the trailblazing women who have inspired me to pursue science and technology.
The Don. The light of my life. The woman who inspired my pursuit of physics and cosmology. She was an American astronomer who, through her work on the rotational velocities of galaxies, uncovered the ‘galaxy rotation problem’ which evidenced the existence of dark matter.
Before Vera Rubin, we believed we could see everything in the universe and that we knew its composition. She taught us that we know roughly 4% of what’s out there (the other ~96% is dark matter and dark energy – google it). She proved that there is still so much left to learn and that women are more than capable of steering those discoveries.
Maybe an obvious choice, but how could I possibly ignore Marie Curie? She was a Polish physicist who made massive waves in the field of radioactivity.
In 1903, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics – the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Then, in 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making her the only woman to have won the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to ever win in two scientific fields.
Marie Curie’s name has become synonymous with nuclear physics. She not only proved that the atom could be broken, but that the gender stereotypes surrounding women in science could be smashed too.
If you’ve seen the film Hidden Figures, you’ll know who Katherine Johnson is and just how much of an icon she has become. She is an American mathematician who was critical in the calculations of orbital mechanics for NASA crewed spaceflights during the peak of the Space Race and beyond.
Despite the barriers she faced as an African American woman in the field of science and mathematics, she persisted to pursue her passions. Unfortunately, even in 2020, women – particularly women of colour – face difficulties and prejudice in STEM careers, but pioneering women like Katherine have been helping to turn the tide.
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There are so many women who work so hard to pursue their passions within STEM. They deserve our admiration and our gratitude for showing us what’s possible. With a collective effort, we can continue to shift the tide and equalise the gender balance in STEM careers.
This post is dedicated to Katherine Johnson, who passed away on February 24th 2020.