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Wonderful Women in Science

Emma Nord highlights a fraction of the inspiring female workforce in science this International Women’s Day.


Female researchers within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are increasing in numbers, comprising 24% of the workforce in 2021. However, this has not always been the case. Throughout history women have been underrepresented in the scientific community, and their contributions not always acknowledged. Let us therefore shed light on some of the historic, wonderful women in science throughout time. and today.


Eunice Newton Foote

We all know that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to a rapidly warming planet. But where did this discovery come from? Image Credit: Pixabay.


Eunice Newton Foote was a scientist, inventor and an active campaigner for women's rights, born in America in 1819. In her home laboratory she was the first to understand the direct link between carbon dioxide and rising temperatures. By enclosing CO₂ in a cylinder and then placing it in direct sunlight, she drew the conclusion that the greenhouse gas was contributing to more rapid warming, compared to a cylinder without the gas. This was the first example that showed CO₂ as a factor for climate change. Her discovery was published in her paper, ‘Circumstances affecting the heat of the Sun's rays’ in the American Journal of Science and Arts (1856).


Only three years after her discovery John Tyndall, an Irishman, made a similar finding, using more advanced technology. Tyndall was widely acknowledged as the first scientist to have observed the greenhouse effect. There is no evidence that Tyndall knew of Foote’s work, despite her findings being published in Europe. That being said, Eunice was never given the acknowledgement she deserved. Years passed and Foote became forgotten for her discovery.

 

However, in 2010 a retired geologist named Raymond Sorenson found a copy of the 1857´s edition of the Annual Scientific Discovery. Sorenson published the finding online, giving what was well overdue to the female scientist.


Foote deserves our respect, not only for being an active advocate for women's right to vote but also for laying the foundation of climate science, discovering the relationship between carbon dioxide and rising temperatures. The fact that she could come to her conclusions using only materials of a simple nature shows her drive and expertise.


Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a key figure in the discovery of double-stranded DNA, the foundation of life. Her work was wrongfully credited to someone else, and she missed out on the Nobel Prize. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Women have often been overlooked in their contributions to science and medicine. Born in London in 1920, Rosalind Franklin grew up in a publicly active family. At the early age of 15, Rosalind had her mind set on becoming a chemist, against her fathers wishes. In 1945, she graduated from Newnham College in Cambridge, having completed her Ph.D. A few years later she returned to London to work with John Randall on DNA structure. Her studies were based on using x-ray crystallography, where she took photographs of DNA-molecules.

 

One of her photographs came to be a key factor in the discovery of the DNA structure, but not in the way you would expect. Rosalind’s coworker, Maurice Wilkins, showed this photo to James Watson without her knowledge. Watson and his partner Francis Crick were already looking at the structure of the DNA, but her photo concluded their research. Watson and Crick went on to win a Nobel prize for their discovery but Rosalind was not included.

 

The lack of official mention of Rosalind in both the published article and in Nobel Prize spheres made many people keen to praise the work she had done. In honour of her role in science and medicine, the Finch University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School changed its name to the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2004.


Brigitte Baptiste

Brigitte Baptiste, from Colombia, is one of the top environmental experts in her country. Working in ecology, she has published many articles and books, and served as Director for the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute. Brigitte’s work focuses on social aspects of conservation, rural development and the inclusion of biodiversity in land management practices. 

 

Advocating for ecology and the planet in Colombia can be dangerous – it is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. Additionally, Brigitte’s transparency and advocacy for gender diversity and transgender rights continues to represent the LGBTQ community in Colombia and worldwide.

 

You can read more about Brigitte and her work here.

Jane Goodall

Dr Jane Goodall is a renowned primatologist and environmental advocate, who also supports young women around the world to access education and healthcare. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Jane Goodall is a world renowned conservationist and advocate for chimpanzees. From a young age, she was intrigued by animal behaviour and courageously went to study chimpanzees in Tanzania at the age of 26. By observing their behaviour and integrating into their society,  she discovered that chimpanzees, like humans, use tools: for example, utilising stems of grass as fishing rods to catch termites. For her work, she was the eighth person to be accepted into Cambridge without an undergraduate degree, starting a PhD in ethology. After graduating, Jane set up a research centre in Gombe (the Jane Goodall Institute), furthering knowledge of these incredible primates and supporting local communities.

 

A career in the natural sciences (or any STEM field!) is an exciting challenge, and thanks to the contributions of many incredible women before us, the field is becoming increasingly accessible to all. This International Women’s Day, we encourage all of you to raise a glass in celebration of women, past and present, who are changing the game for all of us.


About the author: Emma Nord is from Sweden but is currently a student at University of York, doing a MSc in Environmental Science and Management. Her interests are conservation, ecosystems and nature based solutions. When she is not reading or writing she enjoys going for long hikes, ballroom dancing and wild swimming.

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