The achievements of male scientists saturate our biology, chemistry and physics textbooks: Avogadro’s number, Bernoulli’s principle, Coulomb’s law, Descartes’s theorem, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Fermi paradox — the list goes on. Clearly, women have been denied a place at the lab bench for far too long.
As students studying at a liberal arts institution, it is our responsibility to learn with an open mind and a critical eye. Although they don’t land a place in many science textbooks, the following women deserve our recognition and respect for their pioneering scientific achievements.
In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree. It wasn’t an interest in science that motivated her to become the first American woman to earn a medical degree. In fact, she wrote in her autobiography, “I hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book.” She found her calling when one of her dying friends told her that she would have fared better if she had been treated by a female doctor. Avenging her friend’s needless death, Blackwell started her own medical practice and advocated for gender equality throughout her life.
In 1951, Rosalind Franklin began her research at King’s College London. She discovered the density of DNA and established that the molecule exists in a helical conformation. However, her X-ray diffraction images of DNA were shared with Watson and Crick without her knowledge, providing her male counterparts the groundwork to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Her accomplishments were only recognized posthumously.
Last month, two female scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their development of the CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that gives researchers the ability to change segments of DNA in animals, plants and microorganisms. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are only the sixth and seventh women in history to win this award, shifting the percentage of female recipients to four percent.
Women constitute a near-negligible percentage of Nobel laureates. A report by The New York Times reveals that scientists of color, especially those who identify as Black, Latinx, Native or Indigenous, have been almost entirely left out of the process. Awarding two women the Nobel Prize in Chemistry cannot rewrite a history of underrepresentation, but it can inspire future generations to follow in their footsteps.
From this day forward, we must ensure that women have the resources necessary to expand our textbooks beyond the alphabetized list of male scientific accomplishments. A simple and inescapable fact remains: we need women in science.
Amy Imdieke ’21 is from
Her majors are chemistry and English.