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International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2023


Many of the women, whose work has led to tremendous advances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), are not as well known as some of their male counterparts.

To create awareness of some of these truly inspiring women, without whom the world may not be the place it is today, Burendo’s Rebecca Shaw has created this article to celebrate 10 simply awesome women in STEM, from 1750 to now.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated on 11th February. It was initiated in 2016, by the United Nations, to encourage more women and girls to take up jobs in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Even though there have been leaps forward with the number of women in higher education, they are still under-represented in STEM subjects. Women make up less than 35% of graduates in STEM subjects worldwide, with even less in engineering and information technology.

In order to ensure as broad a view as possible within a field of study, it’s essential to have a wide representation of gender, culture & age. Enabling more women to be involved in male-dominated subjects leads to fresh ideas and perspectives.

For more information on the day, look for #WomenInScience on social media.

How can you and Burendo encourage more women & girls into STEM?

Supporting young people

Burendo works with a number of local schools, colleges and organisations, including Career Ready Social Mobility Charity, to mentor and provide support to young people, creating awareness of the variety of roles within the tech industry and real-world examples of a broad range of pathways into the roles.

As part of International Women’s Day (8th March), some of our female Burendoers are supporting Ahead Partnership’s “Women of the Future” event to provide mentorship to young women from four inner Leeds schools.

Creating awareness in the wider community

Burendo is also developing an enrichment programme, which may include internships, academies, work experience etc, all aimed at providing opportunities for people of all ages and stages in life (students, return to work, career change etc) to experience the world of work within the tech industry and create accessible and inclusive career pathways.

Being positive role models

Probably one of the most important things is to make sure there are plenty of examples of successful women in STEM in the news and in the media.  Be active on your LinkedIn and other social channels, create blog posts or podcasts, volunteer to speak at industry events, get involved in community activities…whatever is your bag! The important thing is that you share your own successes and celebrate those of other women to create visible, positive role models and women in STEM as the “norm”.

10 inspiring women in STEM you need to know about!

Many of you will have heard of Marie Curie, the Polish-French Physicist who pioneered research into radioactivity, Ada Lovelace the Mathematician who is widely credited as being the first computer programmer, Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo over the Atlantic, or Mary Anning who discovered the first complete Dinosaur fossil (a Plesiosaurus).

Here are some other, less well-known, pioneering women who deserve to be remembered for their work!

Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)

Caroline became the first woman ever to be paid for scientific work, and became the first woman to discover a comet.

In total she discovered 14 new nebulas, eight comets and added 561 new stars to Flamsteed Atlas; the largest and most accurate map of the stars ever published.

Caroline Herschel | Biography, Discoveries, & Facts

Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)

Lise Meitner was an Austrian-Swedish physicist, whose work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry in Berlin led to the discovery of the radioactive isotope Protactinium in 1917.

In 1938, along with her nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, she discovered nuclear fission. This discovery eventually led to the atomic bomb, to which Lise responded that “You must not blame scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries”

Lise Meitner | Biography & Facts

Inge Lehmann (1888 – 1993)

Inge Lehmann was a Danish seismologist who discovered Earth has a solid inner core, following a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand in 1929.

Waves from the quake were recorded on seismometers around the world, and Inge found anomalies in the wave patterns. From studying these differences she realised that seismic waves arriving between around 104° and 140° from the epicentre had interacted with a solid inner core. This disproved the previously accepted belief that the Earth’s core was liquid.

Inge Lehmann | Danish seismologist

Alice Augusta Ball (1892 – 1916)

Alice Ball was a Chemist who developed a medical treatment for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) when she was just 23 years old.

Alice was the first woman and the first African American to earn a master’s degree from the College of Hawaii (now the University of Hawaii). Sadly, Alice died at age 24 and, as she hadn’t published any papers yet, we might never have known about her! Fortunately, her work was referenced as “The Ball Method” in a journal published by Harry T Hollmann, who she worked with whilst researching at the College, so Alice gets the recognition she deserved.

5 Incredible Women in STEM You Need to Know

Beatrice Shilling (1909 – 1990)

Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling, was an aeronautical engineer and daredevil motorcycle racer! She is credited by her peers as helping the Allies to win WWII.

In 1940, during the Battle of France and Battle of Britain, Royal Air Force pilots discovered a serious problem with Rolls-Royce engines in fighter planes, which would cause them to misfire or stall when diving. Tilly led a small team that designed a simple device to solve this problem – a brass thimble with a hole in the middle, which could be fitted easily into the engine’s carburettor, known as “Miss Shillings Orifice”. It remained in use as a stop-gap to help prevent engine stall for a number of crucial wartime years.

Magnificent Women – Beatrice Shilling

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994)

Dorothy Hodgkin was a British chemist, who “advanced the technique of x-ray crystallography to determine the structure of biomolecules, which became essential for structural biology.”

Her research included mapping the architecture of cholesterol and examining the structure of penicillin. Dorothy’s work proved essential in the creation of a synthetic version of the drug.

In 1964, Dorothy won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for “her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”. She was only the third woman to have won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry and the fifth woman to win a science Nobel Prize.

Dorothy Hodgkin

Katherine Johnson (1919 – 2020)

Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions.

Katherine was one of the human “computers” who solved equations by hand during NASA’s early years, and in 1960 she co-authored a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. This was the first time a woman had been credited as an author of a research report.

In 2015, at age 97, President Barack Obama awarded Katherine the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA’s highest civilian honour.

Katherine Johnson Biography

Marie Maynard Daly (1921 – 2003)

Marie Maynard Daly was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry. Her research centred around the connection between heart health and cholesterol.

In 1955, Marie’s research was critical in the discovery that high cholesterol is associated with poor heart health and the risk of atherosclerosis; the build-up of fatty deposits which can lead to the thickening of blood vessels.

“Marie developed methods for separating the nuclei of tissues to examine the protein composition and used radiolabeling to monitor protein metabolism.” One of her research papers was referenced as contributing to the Nobel Prize-winning description of the structure of DNA.

Marie Maynard Daly

Valentina Tereshkova (1937 – present)

Valentina Tereshkova was the first and youngest woman in space, and remains the only woman to have flown a solo mission.

Before her selection to the space programme, she was a textile worker and amateur sky-diver. On 16 June 1963, aged 26, she made space history by becoming the first woman in space, in the Vostok 6 flight. She orbited Earth 48 times in a mission that lasted nearly three days.

In this single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. Her mission was used to continue the medical studies on humans in spaceflight and offered comparative data about the effects of space travel on women.

Valentina Tereshkova

Wally Funk (1939 -present)

Wally Funk was one of the “Mercury 13”; the thirteen experienced female pilots who, between 1960-61, passed the same physical tests as the Mercury 7 men, America’s first astronauts.

When she was 25, she volunteered for the Mercury 13 programme, where 25 female pilots underwent the same tests as NASA’s Mercury 7 male astronauts. These 87 tests, performed over five days, were brutal, deliberately pushing the candidates to physical extremes to ensure that they were fit enough for the unknown environment of space. Not only did Wally pass all the tests, she also underwent further optional testing, and during the isolation test, which could mess with people’s minds, she performed better than all the potential astronauts – male and female. She remained in a dark soundproof room, floating in water, for 10 hours and 35 minutes. They ended the test. Not her!

On 20 July 2021, 52 years to the day after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the Moon, and at age 82, Wally became the oldest woman in space, also receiving her astronauts wings.

Wally Funk: Oldest woman in space

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