7 women to inspire you on International Women's Day!


I was thinking to write this post for a while now, and today it’s a perfect occasion as we’re celebrating International Women’s Day! I noticed (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) that the stereotype of women not being “suitable” for a technical fields of science is still around. And the funny thing, I didn’t hear such opinions from men, but from women themselves. How come we are so insecure when it comes to these subjects? I remember in elementary school teachers telling girls that “they don’t have to be good at math” because they’re...girls. I thought math has no gender preference, or does it? Is it the reason why in adult life many of women think “they’re not good enough” to be a mathematician, physicist or a programmer? Well, today I’d like to prove that the it’s not true and that women can be amazing scientists! With real life examples. And specifically seven of them. Let’s talk about women in science!

1. Ada Lovelace (10 Dec. 1815 – 27 Nov. 1852)


Ada Lovelace portrait
Painting by Alfred Edward Chalon, via Wikimedia Commons

She was a writer and mathematician and her work on Charles Babbage’s mechanical general-purpose computer made her known as the first computer programmer. Although she was interested in many scientific fields of her times, she is mostly recognized for the notes made on Menabrea’s paper translation she was commissioned to perform. The paper with Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine republished in 1953 is consider now a first description of software and computer. The Enchantress of Number, as Babbage called Ada Lovelace, has also described an algorithm for said engine to compute Bernoulli numbers and it’s considered the first algorithm made to be implemented on a computer.

2. Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)


Sofja Wassiljewna Kowalewskaja 1
Photo by Mittag-Leffler Institute of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm via Wikimedia Commons

She was the first woman to become a full professor in Northern Europe, first major Russian female mathematician and also one of the first women working as an editor for a scientific journal. Sofia Kovalevskaya was a great contributor to the fields of mechanics, analysis and partial differential equations.
At her times women were not allowed to study at the universities in Russia so her only option was to study abroad and for this she needed a written permission from her father or husband. In order to be able to study, she arranged for a  fictitious marriage with Vladimir Kovalevskij (later famous for collaboration with Charles Darwin). After two years of studying mathematics, she moved to Berlin, where she was not allowed to attend to classes as a woman. This is why she took private lessons and in 1874 presented three papers – on the dynamics of Saturn’s rings, elliptic integrals and partial differential equations. These papers earned her a doctorate in mathematics despite not being present at the lectures and exams. She was the first woman in Europe to hold such degree.
After many years of personal perturbations, Sofia Kovalevskaya earned a five-year position as "Professor Extraordinarius" (Professor without Chair) and became the editor of Acta Mathematica. Later on she also was appointed Professor Ordinarius (Professorial Chair holder) at Stockholm University, making Sofia Kovalevskaya  the first woman to hold such a position at a northern European university.

3. Lise Meitner (7 Nov. 1878 – 27 Oct. 1968)


Lise Meitner12
Image reprinted in Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age via Wikimedia Commons

She was a physicist that in cooperation with Otto Hahn let a small group of scientists who discovered nuclear fission of uranium. Lise Meitner was a first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany, where she spent most of her scientific career. In 1930 she unfortunately lost this position due to Nazi’s laws against Jewish race. She wasn’t awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission – it was given to her collaborator Otto Hahn and after years many scientists stated that excluding Meitner from sharing this prize was unfair, which led to posthumous honouring this great scientists as well as naming one of the chemical elements (element 109 – meitnerium) after her.

4. Ruzena Bajcsy (1933 – )


Photo by the Stanford Artificial Intelligence (SAIL) laboratory via Infolab Stanford

She is a computer scientist specializing in robotics. Currently Ruzena Bajcsy holds a position of Director Emerita of CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) and she’s a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, she was a founding Director of GRASP Laboratory (General Robotics and Active Sensory Perception Laboratory).
Ruzena Bajcsy got Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering in 1857 and 1967 and then in 1972 she earned an additional Ph.D. in computer science based on her thesis “Computer Identification of Textured Visual Scenes”.
In 2001 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and in 2012 she also earned honorary doctorate degrees from University of Pennsylvania and The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.
Currently she’s doing research on intelligent systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and several other subjects in the field of computer science.

5. Margaret Hamilton ( 17 Aug. 1936 – )


Margaret Hamilton
Photo by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

She is a systems engineer, business owner and computer scientist. One of her most recognised positions is being a Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, whish was responsible for developing a software for Apollo space program. Hamilton’s team was to create a software necessary to navigate and land on the Moon and its variations were used on several missions. Her areas of expertise is very impressive:
“(...)systems design and software development, enterprise and process modelling, development paradigm, formal systems modelling languages, system-oriented objects for systems modelling and development, automated life-cycle environments, methods for maximizing software reliability and reuse, domain analysis, correctness by built-in language properties, open-architecture techniques for robust systems, full life-cycle automation, quality assurance, seamless integration, error detection and recovery techniques, man-machine interface systems, operating systems, end-to-end testing techniques, and life-cycle management techniques.” (via Wikipedia)
Margaret Hamilton developed foundations for the ultra – reliable software design at the time when computer science and software development were yet non – existent as disciplines of science.

6. Barbara Liskov (7 Nov. 1939 – )


Barbara liskov
Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel, via Wikimedia Commons

She is a computer scientist, institute professor at the Institute of Technology (Massachusetts) and Ford Professor of Engineering in School of Engineering’s electrical engineering and computer science department.
She is one of the first women in United States with Ph.D. in computer science. Barbara Liskov developed the Liskov substitution principle – a definition of subtyping which is widely used as a principle in object – oriented programming. Other her projects include creation of Argus: first high – level language supporting implementation of distributed programs, Venus: operating system of low – cost and interactive timesharing, Thor: object – oriented database system. Barbara Liskov is recognized as one of the top women faculty members at MIT.
Her work in the software methodology and design of programming languages let to development of object – oriented programming, which now is one of the most important and widely used paradigms in computer science and software development. Barbara Liskov was awarded for this work with Turing Award from ACM in March 2009.

7. Jocelyn Bell Burnell (15 July 1943 – )


Launch of IYA 2009, Paris - Grygar, Bell Burnell cropped
Photo by Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic & Anrie, via Wikimedia Commons

She is an astrophysicist that discovered the first radio pulsar during her postgraduate studies. For this discovery, her thesis supervisor Anthony Hewish along with Martin Ryle received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. Jocelyn Bell Burnell was excluded, which brought a lot of controversy during the years. Many prominent scientists in the field of astronomy criticised the decision of the committee to not include Bell Burnell, some of them even accused Hewish of stealing the data from her. Jocelyn Bell Burnell herself claimed later that it took a lot of persistence on her side to convince sceptical Hewish about the anomaly she discovered, but at the same time she also said:
“There are several comments that I would like to make on this: First, demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve. Secondly, it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too. Thirdly, I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them. Finally, I am not myself upset about it -- after all, I am in good company, am I not!”
– which makes her quite a remarkable lady! She also led a campaign to improve women’s number and status in academic as well as professional posts in the fields of astronomy and physics.

These are just few of many great female scientists - I intentionally skipped Maria Curie for example, as she's one everyone knows about ;) Personally I believe that science has no gender, men and women can bring great quality of work and we shall not fall for the stereotypes, whatever they are! Be scientist, be programmer, be whoever you want to be, girl!

Have you experienced a discrimination at work or school based on your gender?

Do you feel there are professions exclusive for women or for men?

Are you a woman in the "men's world"?

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About Katarzyna Wójcik

I'm a passionate blogger and freelance graphic designer. When I'm not working, I'm either reading, researching, learning new stuff, playing games or writing about cool findings. Oh, and I cook too! If you'd like to get in touch - whether it's about a collaboration, your awesome project, feedback, or you just want to exchange views - drop me a line!
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46 comments:

  1. Those are all truly amazing women! They changed our world for sure.

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  2. Wow! Great list. I wish the media would put more of these women in front of our faces instead of those famous for sex tapes and controversy :(

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    1. Yes, me too - it would be great to see them more as possible role models for little girls instead of women being famous for...being famous.

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  3. Wow! What an amazing group of women. I can imagine that it felt like swimming upstream for them at times.

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    1. It's admirable to see this kind of determination in seeking for knowledge, we're lucky to have it so much easier now!

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  4. These are ladies that I never heard about. History class needs to include them.

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    1. I agree, we should teach about them more.

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  5. What a great list! Those truly are spectacular women who made amazing contributions to the world.

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  6. I love this! International womans day is the best!

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  7. These are all women we should look up to as role models, they truly changed the course of history and did their bit to fight for equality.

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    1. I agree totally, it's sad to see that most women presented in media are simply celebrities, not great ladies like that.

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  8. There's so much inspiration on this amazing list! My seven year old daughter (who is learning to code), just learned about Ada Lovelace this summer. We had no idea that the first computer programmer was a woman. I was an educator before staying home to raise my kids, but as a 30 something woman trying to re-enter the work force, I'm bracing myself for what comes!

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    1. I've read about educational programs that teach little kids to code and I find it an amazing initiative! Ada Lovelace is still recognized as a first programmer even though lately there were some opinions questioning this. Good luck on your way back to the job market!

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  9. I love this! Great article. I'm going to share it. These women are so inspiring. We all have the potential to make an impact on our world in our own way.

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    1. Thank you! I agree, we all have a great potential and we should do our best to make a change in the world :)

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  10. What a great list! I haven't heard of any of these ladies but they certainly made an impact!

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    1. Yes they did! I'm glad you enjoyed the read :)

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  11. How can you not be inspired by these lovely and amazing women. They are a great reminder that we can achieve whatever it is that we want in life and that nothing and no one can ever stop us! Thanks for this post! I enjoyed reading each of their stories.

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    1. That is true, if they could do it at much harder times, we can do it too!

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  12. CHeers to women empowerment... the new generation of women!

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  13. Great history of women who made a difference in our lives. Would have love to see more diversity!

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    1. Certainly there is a lot more women who made a great impact throughout the history, I picked just few that I share scientific interests with :)

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  14. Glad you shared this. They are really a great women!

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  15. Enjoyed reading your post! These are all extraordinary women that have made significant contributions to science! Great example for all of us!

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    1. Yes, they are amazing ladies and I wish we look up to them as role models - these are the women girls should aspire to be like!

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  16. I've never heard of those women. It was great to read their history

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  17. I feel horrible. I don't know any of them. I read about them here and they are really, really pretty awesome.

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    1. Somehow nobody taught us about them when we were little kids and most of us never heard about these brilliant ladies - so don't feel bad! :)

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  18. This is nice, I never knew them but thanks for sharing. International Womens Day is really a must, we should celebrate and gave thanks to all the women who gives a huge impact in our lives today. Especially to my mom. She's the best woman ever, and I hope one day I could meet someone like her in life.

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    1. Women and especially moms shape the world we're living in, step by step. Everything the best to your mom on International Women's Day!

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  19. These are inspiring women to be certain! My sister is definitely a woman in a man's corporate environment, but she is a powerhouse!

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    1. I'm sure she is! It's not easy to compete in some environments but with a right mindset everything is possible!

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  20. Truly inspiring women. I love your list <3
    Thanks for sharing! I've learned a lot about them.

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  21. My knowledge about these women is really limited. You've made me want to learn all I can about them now.

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    1. I'm happy then, I wanted to show a little bit of their story to inspire curiosity in anyone who reads it :)

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  22. What a great post! I really love seeing influential women in fields like science and technology! There's so many women doing things that 50 years ago, people thought Woman shouldn't! Love it! -Cianna

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    1. Right? It's great to know they're out there and always were, even if we don't hear much about it in our day to day life!

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  23. This is so awesome and intriguing and from all walk of life love it !!

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  24. What a great post! I love history and I find Women's history is always hard to come by. Even though I know there are tons of it out there. Thanks for a great roundup

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    1. It is, because most of history is written by men :D Hopefully this will change!

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  25. I never know any of these amazing women. I am sure they are all unique in their own way.

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  26. Women have been doing great things for centuries and I salute all women today

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    1. They were, they are and they will continue! :)

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  27. I love this post! I always enjoy hearing about amazing women all over the world.

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  28. It's nice that there's a history to be uncovered to introduce us to great women we haven't heard of before. I'm just glad people keep records. :)

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