6 Women in STEM Who Changed the World
March 1st marks the start of Women’s History Month--a time to celebrate the generations of trailblazing women and girls who have contributed to culture and society, including women in STEM. The national celebration began in 1982 as Women’s History Week and expanded to an entire month in 1987.
Women have always been part of history, but the truth is that women are often omitted and overlooked. In a 2017 survey by the National Women’s History Museum, researchers analyzed state educational standards and determined that “women are excluded because the standards’ historiographical framework preferences male-oriented exceptional leadership while over-emphasizing women’s domestic roles.”
For us at Progressive, it's an important time to honor the achievements and legacies of women from all over the world--not just America--who shaped STEM fields. From Marie Curie to Fabiola Gianotti, here are 6 amazing women who have changed the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
1. Marie Curie - Physicist and Chemist (1867-1934)
No celebration of women in STEM could exist without mentioning Marie Curie, who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Among her many accomplishments, most notable are her discoveries of polonium and radium and the exploration of radiation in medical treatments. Her work had a profound effect on society, especially the scientific community. Curie is the first woman to ever be awarded the Nobel Prize and the only woman to have ever won it twice.
2. Maria Telkes - Scientist and Biophysicist (1900-1995)
Today’s burgeoning solar energy industry is indebted to Maria Telkes, a Hungarian-American inventor nicknamed “the Sun Queen.” After moving from Hungary to the United States in 1925, Telkes focused much of her career on solar energy research. During World War II, she invented a solar-powered distiller that could vaporize seawater and recondense it into drinkable water. In 1948, Telkes partnered with American architect Eleanor Raymond to build the Dover Sun House—the world’s first modern residence heated with solar energy.
3. Katharine Burr Blodgett, Physicist and Chemist (1898-1979)
Like Telkes, Blodgett also made significant contributions to solar energy. In 1918, she became the first female scientist to be hired by General Electric. During her tenure, Blodgett began expanding upon and exploring other applications for Irving Langmuir’s monolayer technique. By applying it to windows, she discovered she was able to reduce light glare. These concepts and techniques are still used today in energy-saving insulated windows, solar panels, eyeglasses, and computer screens.
4. Uma Chowdhry, Chemist and Engineer
After earning her bachelor of science degree at the University of Bombay, Uma Chowdhry left India to study physics and engineering in the US. In 1970, she earned a master’s degree in science from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in engineering science and in 1976 she earned a Ph.D. in materials science. The following year, she joined the DuPont company and during her tenure at the company she developed ceramics that conduct electricity even better than metals do—materials known as superconductors. Today, the materials and technologies she created at DuPont are now part of photovoltaics, batteries, and fuel cells.
5. Denise Gray, Engineer and President of LG Energy Michigan
Denise Gray earned her bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Kettering University and her master of science in engineering management technology from Rensselaer Polytech Institute. At age 17, she joined General Motors as an intern and went on to spend nearly 30 years of her career at the company as an electrical engineer working on vehicle innovations. Her last role at GM was as the company’s director of energy storage systems. Today, as President of LG Energy Solution (the parent company of LG Chem Michigan), she presides over one of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery manufacturers.
6. Fabiola Gianotti, Particle Physicist
Fabiola Gianotti earned her Ph.D. in experimental particle physics from the University of Milan in 1989. In 1994, she joined CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, as a research physicist. While at CERN, Gianotti worked on several experiments. In 2009, she became the project leader of ATLAS, one of the experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. In 2012, she famously presented her team’s results on the discovery of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that scientists had spent decades searching for. In 2016, she became the first woman to be appointed as CERN’s Director-General.