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Beyond Marie Curie

Beyond Marie Curie

March 1, 2024

Did you know that the double-helix structure of DNA was first identified 70 years ago? It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. This discovery was fundamental to our understanding of life's origins and helped usher in many things, including those ancestry DNA tests we all adore. The two men credited with this achievement are James Watson and Francis Crick. They received the Nobel Prize in 1962.

However, someone else was not properly acknowledged for their contributions to the breakthrough: Rosalind Franklin. She took the famous X-ray photo showing the helical structure of DNA. Allegedly, this photo and some of her research were shown to Watson and Crick without her knowledge. They used it to aid their research and were credited with the world-changing discovery. Unfortunately, Rosalind Franklin is not the only woman to experience a situation like this.

If you ask people to name a female scientist, the first name to come to mind will be Marie Curie. Ask them to name another; a blank look will probably greet you. This is because of the widespread misconception that, until recently, there weren’t many women in science.

This is far from the truth, however. There have been many female scientists in many fields throughout all of history. Unfortunately, like Franklin, many have their work attributed to a man they worked with (some even credited Marie Curie’s accomplishments to her husband, Pierre) or were erased from the story altogether.

This means many have been lost to history. Fortunately, some are finally getting the attention they deserve, and their names, like Franklin’s, are becoming more known, like the women below.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852): the inventor of computer algorithms.

Lise Meitner (1878-1968): discoverer of Nuclear Fission

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) revealed the structure of Penicillin and Vitamin B12

Emmy Noether (1882-1935): a founder of Abstract Algebra

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979) showed the Sun was made from Helium and Hydrogen

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) discovered “jumping genes” or Transposons

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) disproved the “Law of Conservation of Parity,” an accepted law in physics

Vera Rubin (1928-2016) proved the existence of Dark Matter

If you don’t recognize those names, don’t feel bad. Many of these women were either overshadowed by a male counterpart (Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu) or didn’t have their work acknowledged until years later (Barbara McClintock, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin). And there are many more like them throughout history.

So, let us honor Rosalind Franklin and the others as the pioneers they were because Madame Curie deserves to have other women standing beside her.

For more information, check out these books:

The Madame Curie Complex by Julie Des Jardins

10 Women Who Changed the Science World by Catherine Whitlock & Rhodri Evans

Women of Genius in Science by Lars Jaeger

Magnificent Minds by Pendred E. Noyce

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

Pamela M.
Antioch Branch

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