Don’t worry guys, this isn’t some super feminist article to rile people up. We’re just here to celebrate women in STEM. Let’s simply a look at how these 12 amazing female scientists have gone above and beyond to break the status quo and to stop people from stereotyping genders to live a certain way.
When you picture a scientist in a lab, you picture a man right? I know I would. So, this is why the odds are stacked up against women in this industry. With young male scientists receiving up to twice as much funding as their female counterparts and only 30% of the world’s researchers are women it’s not hard to see why these particular women are so inspiring.
Statistics show that 67% of Europeans and 93% of Chinese people have said they don’t even believe that women have the skill set to do science as a career and Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Tim Hunt thinks women cause “trouble” in the lab. Outrageous, I know!
These 12 women in STEM represent a range of disciplines from astrophysics, biology, genetics, archaeology, medicine, glaciology, data science and more and represent 5 countries around the world.
Here is a closer look at each of them and why they are so incredible:
1. Renée Hlozek, cosmologist
South African-born she studies the cosmic microwave background (radiation left over from the Big Bang) to better understand the conditions of the universe.
“While there is a history of women in astronomy, there are still so few in my field, I find that I’m noticed as more of an outsider. But because there aren’t many of us, I find can have a clear voice within the field. I’m proud to be a role model for young women interested in science, and am excited for the day that we have equal number of men and women scientists in cosmology and astrophysics.” Hlozek says.
2. Janet Iwasa, molecular animator
Janet Iwasa’s colorful, action-packed 3D animations illustrate how molecules look, move and interact allowing scientists to visualize their hypotheses and conveying complex scientific information to general audiences. Iwasa uses high-end animation software to create her works, but to help scientists access visualization technology, she’s also created Molecular Flipbook, a free, open source 3D animation software tool that lets researchers intuitively and quickly model molecular hypotheses.
“The group of women in this image work on some pretty awe-inspiring science — from understanding the birth of the universe, to finding evidence of cancer in ancient human populations, to preserving animal species that may disappear without our help,” says Iwasa.
3. Katie Hunt, paleo-oncologist/archaeologist
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer aged 22, it catalyzed a deeper curiosity about cancer as an ancient disease for Hunt. So, with three other women in science, Casey Kirkpatrick, Jennifer Willoughby and Roselyn Campbell, Hunt launched the Paleo-Oncological Research Organization which was a network of archaeologists, oncologists and cancer researchers working to develop scientific research standards and techniques.
“Biological anthropology is a physical science in a gentle embrace with social science and happens to be a field predominantly led by women, so I have the fortune of working with brilliant woman scientists every day,” says Hunt. “While sexism still exists in our lives, I’m privileged to witness a world in which women in science is celebrated, as in this picture. And science is stronger for it!”
4. Kristin Marhaver, coral biologist
Coming from Curaçao she researches how corals reproduce and what their juveniles need in order to survive on today’s reefs. By gathering coral spawn and raising larvae in the lab, Marhaver and her colleagues analyze corals’ habitat preferences in substrates, colors and even bacterial scents, in order to construct environments that encourage coral settlement in the wild and facilitate the reintroduction of lab-raised juvenile corals.
“This picture carries extra power for me because we all look like our real selves,” says Marhaver. “I have this photo hanging behind my desk, so that when people come to my office, I have a posse of 12 PhDs backing me up.”
5. Marcela Uliano da Silva, computational biologist
Brazilian computational biologist Marcela Uliano da Silva is sequencing the mussel’s genome to develop a genetic solution preventing mussels from being able to attach to substrates. But it’s a race against time because the mussel is a mere 150 kilometres from the first river in the Amazon River basin. If it arrives, it would spell disaster for the Amazon and the health of the planet.
“The only thing I could think when such things happened was that such behavior is based in insecurity. People are afraid of change, yet change is the thing that makes mankind move forward in extraordinary ways. Science has already shown us that each individual, regardless of origin or gender, has the potential to be as creative as anyone else.” She says.
6. Jedidah Isler, astrophysicist
She studies supermassive, hyperactive black holes. They pull in material through an accretion disk that spins around the black hole, and then shoot it out via jets that move at 99.99% the speed of light. When these jets are pointed at the Earth, we call the supermassive, hyperactive black holes that produce them blazars, or blazing quasars. Isler is working to understand how and where the highest-energy light from the jet is made, and how that energy is transported through the galaxy.
Isler says, “As a woman of color in STEM, I see the opportunity to add my voice to the chorus of women redefining what it means to ‘be’ a scientist or ‘do’ scientific work. It’s an honor and privilege to stand with these women, but even more, to stand as an example for the next generation. I hope young women all over the world see themselves represented somewhere in this image, aspire to greater STEM dreams and find herself in the company of the next generation of women in STEM.”
7. Laura Boykin, computational biologist
Computational biologist Laura Boykin uses genomics, supercomputing and phylogenetics to identify whitefly species, gathering information necessary for researchers to modify cassava to resist both insect and virus. To accelerate progress, Boykin has launchedWhiteFlyBase — the world’s first database of whitefly genetic information — with the hope of eradicating whitefly and bringing food security to East Africa.
“Being a woman in science can be lonely,” says Boykin. “When I see this image, I realize I will never be alone again. I also think about all the young females in science who can stand on our shoulders, because we will be providing a ladder for them — not pulling it up as so many before us have done.”
8. Patricia Medici, conservation biologist
Brazilian conservationist Patricia Medici has devoted her life to preserving the life and habitat of the South American lowland tapir, the largest terrestrial mammal of South America. Though not well known, tapirs are important to their ecosystems as an umbrella species: protecting tapirs also protects iconic species like peccaries, jaguars and pumas. Sadly, tapirs are threatened by deforestation, hunting and road.
“They are extremely difficult to study, mainly because they are nocturnal, solitary, very elusive animals. That’s exactly what fascinated me. The rest is history. It’s not always easy to be a woman in the conservation world as it requires a significant level of commitment to spending long periods of time in the field, away from home and family. It also requires physical strength and the proper frame of mind to deal with the hardships of working in the wilderness — not to mention the mosquitoes, ticks and botflies!”
9. Lucianne Walkowicz, astronomer
She works with data from NASA’s Kepler mission, studying stars that host planets outside our solar system, and how stellar radiation influences whether life could thrive on those worlds. Lucianne also mines astronomical datasets in search of signals from intelligent life in the universe, and is a leader in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a new project that will scan the sky every night for 10 years to create a huge cosmic movie of our Universe.
“Searching for habitable worlds and life in the universe really makes me value our home, Planet Earth!” says Walkowicz. Both our challenges and our opportunities are so great, we need the brightest minds to create the future we want to see — and that means making science open and accessible for all.”
10. Julie Freeman, artist/computer scientist
British artist and computer scientist Julie Freeman creates kinetic sculptures, compositions and animations from nature-generated data. “I make artwork that allows me to be curious about nature in different ways, and to share that curiosity”. Freeman’s online, data-driven artwork “We Need Us” explores the nature of metadata, and the humanity in the life of data.
“One of the things I’m increasingly aware of is the multiplicity of roles we all play,” says Freeman. “I am an artist AND a scientist. A swimmer and a speaker. A consultant and an entrepreneur. I am shy and I am outspoken. I don’t believe any of us represent a single role or gender. We care about being given respect and equal opportunity to do whatever we are good at — without the fight, without the justifications that we find ourselves involuntarily pronouncing.”
11. Michele Koppes, glaciologist
Michele travels to the the coldest places on Earth to study glaciers: how they move, carve out valleys and mountains, and respond to the warming atmosphere, oceans, and rocks. Her one-of-a-kind research in the Himalayas fills in gaps of unrecorded glacial change, and may help vulnerable populations adapt to shifting weather patterns.
“As a woman, I constantly need to prove I am not only scientifically capable, but hardy enough to thrive in the field, in the harsh environments of my research,” says Koppes. “Doing science properly is rife with failed attempts — on top of this, women must stand up for their legitimate seat at the table. The time has come for both women and men to discard the cultural stereotypes of what a ‘proper scientist’ should be — we can all be curious, creative, brainy, rational, driven, successful, and loving partners and parents, playful and engaged teammates and citizens.”
12. Sheila Ochugboju Kaka, genetic virologist
Growing up in rural Nigeria, Seila was urged to stay indoors to keep safe from an untamed environment, this upbringing brought about her curiosity about invisible things that can so easily kill a child: bacteria, viruses, scorpions in the sand. This then led her to study baculoviruses as a postdoctoral research fellow at Oxford University, investigating genetic engineering as a way to produce commercially viable biopesticides. Today, she is a science communicator and international development expert, promoting the intersection of art and science.
“It’s incredible to be amongst such a diverse mix of women scientists which in itself exemplifies the power that different perspectives, skills, experience and heritage brings to any discipline,” says Ochugboju Kaka.