In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to write about a few of the inspirational women within science who have encouraged me to enter the crazy yet exciting world of microbiology.
Some of you out there may think women had no place in writing scientific history. But you would be sadly mistaken, because there have been many women to play important roles in molecular biology, microbiology and chemistry research.
In regards to molecular biology, one name comes to mind: Rosalind Franklin.
Rosalind was a brilliant X-ray crystallographer who helped the famous Watson and Crick gentlemen discover the structure of DNA. Her X-rays encouraged Watson and Crick to change their opinion on the double helix of DNA. Franklin also worked heavily with tobacco mosaic virus and polio. She was an influential woman in a time when women were expected to wear poodle skirts and take care of their men/families.
In the realm of microbiology, another brilliant female scientist is worth mention: Barbara McClintock.
McClintock is important in regards to microbiology and molecular biology. She discovered the idea of transposable elements, which are genes that can jump from organism to organism. She was quickly disregarded with her research of corn plants, until 50 years later in the early ’80s, when she was awarded a Lasker Prize and Nobel Prize for her earlier efforts. Why is this such a big deal? Her research did not fit with the current genetic thinking, so she was disregarded for nearly 50 years. Most notably, she did not let the rejection stop her.
Probably one of the most famous female scientists is Marie Curie.
Curie is recognized for her discovery of two elements and her pioneering role as the first woman to win the coveted Nobel Prize. She discovered radioactivity and was able to find two elements: polonium and radium. The sad part of her work is that she did not leave her work at work; she took it home with her each night. She died at an early age due to radiation exposure. She is the most well-remembered female physicist and chemist. Her sacrifice then has allowed the current research models to understand radioactivity of elements and hopefully prevents scientist exposure during research.
Sure, there are many other scientists out there, but not enough space to mention them all. I look up to all women who grew up in different eras without the technological advances that I have. The thought of doing the work without a computer, sequencing a million-base pair genome (by hand) is frightening.
I look up to these women because they were not afraid to be smart. In days when women were expected to stay home and take care of children while the men worked, these women went out and made something of themselves. They changed not only the view of women as a whole, but the idea that women can work too.
I am excited that all women now have the opportunities to gain an education in whatever field they would like. I love my scientific education, and, through outreach, I hope more women will choose to enter the STEM fields. I think it is only a matter of time before women are the majority in these fields. After all, we are better “thinkers” than most of the men out there (joking, but not entirely).