STEM Herstory

Celebrating Super Heroines of Science

Our team and twitter friends shared stories of women in STEM who have made an impact on them. From pioneers such as Ada Lovelace, who in 1842 designed the world’s first computer, to scientists likes Rosalind Franklin and Dorothy Hodgkin – women have always been behind – and in front of – major STEM advances around the world.

Banners were created by young people from our Maker Club for the 14-18 Now ‘Processions’ living artwork celebration last June by cultural organisation, Artichoke, and as part of a year of celebrations to mark the centenary of Votes for Women.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

Marie Curie

STEM Herstory

HERoines of science

My choice is Rachel Carson.  She was a great biologist in her own right, but really came to attention when she wrote her famous book Silent Spring about the pesticide DDT’s impact on the environment, particularly affecting the thickness of birds’ eggs. In the face of strong arm tactics from the chemical industry she fought her cause. She was instrumental in the development of what was to become the US Environmental Protection Agency and subsequent ban of DDT and other pesticides. Her book formed part of the recommended reading list when I studied Zoology more than thirty years later.

Roger Baker, Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager (Science Oxford)

When I read “Remarkable Creatures” by Tracy Chevalier I realised what a remarkable woman Mary Anning was. A fossil collector who not only managed to overcome the prejudice of scientists towards women in the early nineteenth century but also had to contradict the religious establishment for whom fossils did not fit with their version of the world. The fact that she also came from a very humble background and became widely respected in her field despite not being able to publish work because of her gender makes her a true pioneer for women in science.

Mike Dennis, Science Oxford Centre Manager (Science Oxford)

Jane Goodall: the environmentalist. Jane Goodall isn’t a trained scientist. In her teens, she worked as a waitress to fulfil her dream: to travel to Africa and work with animals. She became a revolutionary primatologist and it was her studies of chimpanzees that has changed the way we understand animals, and ourselves. In the 1960s, supported by Louis Leakey, Goodall travelled to Tanzania where she documented chimps’ behaviour. She was the first person to witness and record chimpanzees using twigs as tools and studied their complex social hierarchies, discovering their similarity to humans. In her work, she also recognised that chimps were endangered and set up one of the early conservation organisations – the Jane Goodall Institute to help protect chimps and their habitat – and the Roots and Shoots global youth programme. Aged 84, she is still a leading voice for conservation and has impassioned a new generation to become more eco-aware. That’s inspiring.

Georgina Matthews, Communications Manager (The Oxford Trust)

Of all the incredible women in STEM, I’ve chosen a woman who was once described by the head of MGM as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ but who has more recently become known for her entrepreneurial skills.  Hedy Lamarr was already a popular Hollywood actress when she took up inventing as a hobby.  During WW2, she tried to join the National Inventors Council but wasn’t accepted.  Carrying on regardless, she developed an undetectable frequency hopping radio signal to guide radio-controlled torpedos underwater. The technology was patented in 1942 and the US military used it. Hedy refused to limit herself and never gave up –  a truly inspirational scientist and woman.

Sophie Batin, Education Outreach Manager

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994) won a Nobel Prize in 1964, the only female British scientist to do so. She fell in love with crystals at school, and became a pioneer in X-ray crystallography. Using X-rays, laborious calculations and great chemical insight, she discovered how atoms were arranged in three dimensions in biological molecules such as penicillin and insulin. Men and women from all over the world came to work in her Oxford lab. She had three children, and her great concern for the future of the world made her a vocal peace campaigner at the height of the Cold War.

Georgina Ferry, Writer and Vice Chairman for The Oxford Trust Board of Trustees 

My nomination is Marie Curie, who I first came across via a TV programme in the 1960s.  A remarkable and inspirational woman who excelled, and was awarded Nobel prizes in two different fields of science, despite the overwhelmingly male academic environment. Her work has probably saved more lives than any other scientist – and she paid the ultimate price by dying from exposure to the very materials she researched.  “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Steve Burgess, CEO, The Oxford Trust

My choice is Émilie Du Châtelet, who was an eighteenth century French mathematician, physicist, and author.  Her most recognized achievement is her translation of and commentary on Issac Newton’s book Principia containing the basic laws of physics.  She further developed his theories postulating that there was an additional conservation law for total energy, of which kinetic energy of motion is one element. Furthermore, she carried out research into the science of fire, predicting infrared light. Finally, she was a character! Known for being a notoriously good card player, Voltaire’s lover and advocate for women’s education.

Sent in by Alison Murphy, who is originally from Ireland and currently living in Oxford. Alison works a Postdoctoral Scientist in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology carrying out research into the intestinal immune system.

My choice is my mum, Christine. As a teenager in the early 1960s, she wanted to be a radiographer (someone who takes x-rays) but couldn’t get on to the training course without a maths o-level. Maths has never been a family strong point and Christine failed her O-level three times in a row. She despaired of ever making the course but gave it one more shot…and finally passed. She went on to become a radiographer and worked in London hospitals for a number of years – even x-raying Eric Morecambe’s teeth! I’ve nominated her for never giving up on her dream, even when the algebra said otherwise!

Photo: Jude Eades, Communications Director, Science Oxford

Dr Alexandra Waine (née Ingram) grew up in Kidlington, Oxfordshire; she attended Gosford Hill School in Kidlington and, among other awards, was awarded the Exam Board’s highest mark (and hence grade) for A-Level Further Statistics in her year. After completing four A-Levels, she went on to Cambridge University to read Natural Sciences whilst leading Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra; then to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where she conducted doctoral and post-doctoral research on African Sleeping Sickness. Subsequently, after more than ten years teaching in the state sector, she moved to become Head of Chemistry at Stowe School.

#HERstory(SoFar) submitted by Ben Waine. Thank you Ben!