Brighten Youth Education Centre

 

 

 

As part of last week’s discussion on subconscious gender stereotypes and their subsequent impact on imbalanced STEM workplaces, we lamented, amongst other things, the lack of powerful female role models. Well that’s something we’d like to begin to rectify this week. Sure, everybody knows about Marie Curie, the pioneering computing work done by Ida Lovelace, or Rosalind Franklin, for years the invisible woman behind research into the double helix. Yet what about some of the lesser known, but astonishingly impressive ladies of STEM?

Let’s talk about Emilie du Chatelet (1706-49), a woman who lived the life of a French courtier but, at the age of 27, began studying maths and physics and would eventually collaborate with the philosopher Voltaire. Or there’s Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), who escaped a life of domestic servitude in her family to become a venerated astronomer, receiving many honours, including a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. She was the first woman to discover a comet (she discovered 8 in total), as well as many star clusters and nebulae. Caroline and her brother managed to increase the number of know star clusters from 100 to 2,500. She was also the first woman to be paid for her scientific work.

Perhaps you’re more excited about the achievements of legendary fossil-hunter Mary Anning (1799-1847), whose first discovery, the Ichthyosaurus, was made when she was 11 years old. She went on to reshape our understanding of the prehistoric world, with scientists later travelling to her small, seaside home in the UK from as far away as New York to consult with her. Lacking much formal education, she taught herself anatomy, genealogy, palaeontology and scientific illustration. Then there’s Mary Somerville (1780-1872), who became fascinated by math and algebra at the age of 14, defying her father’s instructions as she continued her studies. She was later to move in the elite intellectual circles of the day, producing significant writings in the field of mathematics, chemistry, physics and astronomy, including a translated textbook that was used for over 100 years.

Almost 2,000 years ago there was Hypatia of Alexandria (c.350/370-415), a Greek mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who became head of her local Neoplatonic School. Finally there’s “Amazing” Grace Hopper (1906-92), who died a Rear Admiral of the US Navy (with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery) after being deemed too old and skinny to enlist during WWII. Hopper invented the first compiler for computer programming languages and popularised the idea of machine independent programming languages. Next week we’ll continue this series by looking at women revolutionising the STEM world today, providing ground-breaking research and guiding lights for young ladies with their hearts set on STEM careers.

 

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