Ada Lovelace Week (Honoring Women in Science)
I’ve seen a lot of these “Forgotten Women in Science” memes floating around this week in honor of Ada Lovelace Day. On the one hand, hooray! Women in science, especially those who were not given due credit for their work, need to be celebrated. On the other hand, many of the memes do one of two things that make me cringe:
1) They focus solely on white or European women. This is a huge oversight, as women all over the world from many different countries and backgrounds are making amazing contributions in science and have been for a long time.
2) They list women who are notable because they were “the first woman to…” instead of listing their actual major contributions to science. There are many women scientists out there who made major contributions and still get overlooked because they were not the “first woman to…” and that is an oversight as well.
So here is my list of some of the many amazing women who are of mostly non-European descent and who were not just “the first woman to…” but pioneers by any measure who made revolutionary discoveries or inventions in their fields.
Jewell Plummer Cobb: Biologist whose work led to the discovery of methotrexate, an anti-folic drug that is used in chemotherapy treatments and is more effective and less toxic than those used previously.
Wu Chien-Shiung: Physicist who proved the invalidity of the “Conservation Law of Parity” and made several other important contributions to nuclear and quantum physics during and after her work with the Manhattan Project.
Darshan Ranganathan: Organic chemist whose work in protein-folding led to a protocol for the autonomous folding of an enzyme widely used in antihistamines, as well as the production of nanostructures using self-assembling peptides.
Alice Ball: Chemist who developed an injection for treating leprosy patients that was the most effective treatment until sulfone was developed in the 1940s.
Tikvah Alper: Radiobiologist who discovered that the infectious agent in scrapie did not contain a nucleic acid, which led to the modern understanding of prions.
Flossie Wong-Staal: Virologist who first cloned HIV to determine the function of its genes, instrumental in proving the link between HIV and AIDS.
Ellen Ochoa: Engineer who pioneered a technique in optics to detect flaws in repeating patterns (helpful in image noise removal), and astronaut who logged 1000 hours in space.
Asima Chatterjee: Chemist noted for work on developing anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs, as well as medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent.
Patricia Bath: Ophthalmologist who invented an incredibly effective and internationally-used treatment for removing cataracts with a laser.
Adriana Ocampo: Planetary geologist whose work led to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater, thought to be the site of the impact that led to the K-T non-avian dinosaur extinction event.