greatest female scientists

Greatest Female Scientists A-Z

Greatest Female Scientists – All Time List

Everyone has heard of Marie Curie, but many other amazing female scientists in history dedicated their lives to science and made essential contributions to our lives today. Most of them are unknown outside the world of science. Our list of the greatest female scientists of all time and their discoveries highlights some of the many names that should be as well known as their male counterparts – which is why you’ll also find them in our famous scientists of all time lists.

For centuries, women were either dissuaded from, or not even permitted, to conduct their research and experiments. Others were robbed of just recognition for their inventions and findings. The most famous example being Rosalind Franklin, whose work helped lead to the discovery of DNA but only Watson and Crick were credited. Numerous other lady scientists are active today, finally gaining equality and recognition for their hard-earned inventions and contributions.

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Famous Female ScientistsBornDiedOriginArea(s) of expertiseFacts & Info About the Greatest Female Scientists
Anning, Mary17991847EnglandPaleontologyMary Anning was a fossil collector and paleontologist who became famous for her Jurassic fossil finds in Dorset, England, which she then sold to collectors to earn a living. Some of her important discoveries were an ichthyosaur skeleton and two complete plesiosaur skeletons. She became an authority in geological circles and was often consulted related issues, but as a woman, she wasn’t permitted to join the Geological Society of London and correspondingly lost out on the credit for some of her contributions. She became more famous in the early 20th century and is the seashell-seller behind the well-known tongue-twister “She sells seashells on the seashore” in 1908.
Blackburn, Elizabeth Helen1948Australia / USAMolecular biologyHelen Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, which is an enzyme that prevents the telomeres of chromosomes becoming shorter during replication. This earned her and 2 others the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Curie, Marie18671934Poland, FrancePhysics, ChemistryProbably the most famous female scientist of all time: Marie Curie (or Marie Skłodowska Curie, born Maria Salomea Skłodowska) was born in Poland and became French later. Her work led to the development of X-rays. The first chemical element she discovered‍ was polonium, which she named after her native country. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and to do so in two categories: chemistry and physics. When she died from aplastic anemia, caused by her frequent exposure to radiation, she was also the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris. One of the greatest female scientists of the 19th century.
du Châtelet, Émilie17061749FranceMathematics, PhysicsÉmilie du Châtelet translated and commented on Isaac Newton’s Principia, which detailed the basic laws of physics. With this she made a considerable contribution to Newtonian mechanics. She published her most famous work Foundations of Physics in 1740, which was republished in several languages and caused much debate. She was Voltaire’s paramour and lived with him from 1733.
Elion, Gertrude Belle19181999USABiochemistry, PharmacologyTogether with George H. Hitchings and Sir James Black, Gertrude Elion developed various important drugs, that in the end led to the development of AZT – the AIDS drug. In 1988, Elion shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with George H. Hitchings and Sir James Black for this work. She also developed azathioprine, an immunosuppressive drug used for organ transplants and was the first woman to be recognized in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Franklin, Melissa Eve Bronwen1956CanadaPhysicsMelissa Franklin is best known for her work on particle physics. She is currently the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and before that she had a tenure at Harvard. She was in charge of a team that first found signs that top quarks exist. She often appears as a guest on the CBC radio science program Quirks and Quarks. One of the greatest female scientists alive today.
Franklin, Rosalind19201958EnglandX-ray Crystallography, ChemistryRosalind Franklin’s areas of research were DNA, RNA, graphite, coal and viruses. Her work greatly improved understanding of molecular structures. It is widely believed that James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA was only possible through Franklin’s work.
Goodall, Jane1934EnglandAnthropology, PrimatologyJane Goodall – or Dame Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall (and previously Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall) to give her her full name – is world famous for her studies of primates and seen as the leading expert on chimpanzees. She has won numerous awards for her work, the best known being her 45-year study on the social lives of chimpanzees in Tanzania. Surprising to many, her research revealed that although chimpanzees are largely “nicer than human beings”, they could also be brutal, and sometimes have a darker side to their nature.
Göppert, Maria19061972Germany, USAPhysicsMaria Göppert (or later Goeppert Mayer after her marriage to Joseph Mayer) was a theoretical physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells. After Marie Curie, she was the 2nd female Nobel laureate in physics. Her doctorate was on the two-photon absorption by atoms and today, the unit for this absorption is named the GM unit after her.
Herschel, Caroline Lucretia17501848GermanyAstronomyLucretia Herschel’s greatest contributions to astronomy included discovering a number of comets like the comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which is named after her. Her brother was William Herschel, who was a famous astronomer in his own right. They collaborated closely on their work. From 1786 to 1797 she discovered a total of 8 comets. She also played a great role in cataloguing nebulae and clusters of stars. Her work was recognized with various honors such as a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and another from the King of Prussia on her 96th birthday. One of the greatest female scientists of the 18th century.
Hodgkin, Dorothy Mary19101994EnglandX-ray Crystallography, BiochemistryDorothy Hodgkin is known for her research into protein crystallography, which examines how protein crystals form. They are mainly used in science and industrial applications. Her X-ray crystallography techniques are used work out 3D structures of biomolecules. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on the structure of vitamin B12.
Jackson, Shirley Ann1946 –USAPhysicsShirley Jackson is famous for her contributions to the field of nuclear physics and has received numerous awards for her work along with honorary doctorate degrees. She was the first African American woman with a doctorate degree in nuclear physics at MIT.
Joliot-Curie, Irène18971956FranceChemistryIrene Joliot Curie, who was the daughter of the famous Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, won the 1935 Nobel Prize for chemistry together with her husband Frederic for finding artificial radioactivity. As a result, the Curie family holds the record for the most Nobel laureates to date. Joliot-Curie’s 2 children, Hélène and Pierre, are also respected scientists.
Kirch, Maria Margarethe16701720GermanyMathematics and AstronomyMaria Kirch, born Winkelmann, was one of the first famous astronomers due to her writings on the conjunction of the sun with Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter. She was educated by her father, a minister, who believed girls deserved the same education as boys. Her husband, Gottfried Kirch, was a famous German astronomer and mathematician and 30 years older. They worked together as a team and had 4 children, all of whom also studied astronomy. In 1702, she became the first woman to discover a new comet, now known as the “Comet of 1702”, and published widely on astronomy. When her husband died, she tried to take his place at the Royal Academy of Sciences but the Academy refused. One of the greatest female scientists of the 17th century.
Levi-Montalcini, Rita19092012ItalyNeurologyRita Levi-Montalcini is best known for her work on nerve growth. Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986 for her NGF (nerve growth factor) work. One of the greatest female scientists to live to be over 100.
McClintock, Barbara19021992USAGeneticsBarbara McClintock was a scientist and cytogeneticist who specialized in the development of maize cytogenetics. Her breakthrough findings determined that genes could move within and between chromosomes, which went against the thinking at the time. In 1983 she was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in this category. She was also awarded prestigious fellowships, and elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Meitner, Lise18781968EnglandPhysicsLise Meitner worked in the areas of nuclear physics and radioactivity and was in the group that discovered nuclear fission. Her colleague, Otto Hahn, was awarded the Nobel Prize for their work, excluding Meitner which has since been a controversial subject for the Nobel committee.
Mitchell, Maria18181889USAAstronomyMaria Mitchell was the very first American female to become a professional astronomer. She discovered a comet in 1847, winning her a gold medal prize presented by King Frederick VI of Denmark. The comet was then named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” She was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer and the first woman to be elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She later fought for equal pay at Vassar College, where she taught until one year before her death.
Noether, Amalie Emmy18821935GermanMathematics, PhysicsAmalie Noether was notable for her work on abstract algebra and theoretical physics, leading Albert Einstein to describe her as the most important woman in the history of mathematics. Other special fields were theories of rings, fields, and algebras. “Noether’s theorem”, published in 1918, states the connection between symmetry and its corresponding conservation law.
Randall, Lisa1962 –USAPhysicsLisa Randall is a theoretical physicist active in the fields of cosmology and particle physics at Harvard University. Her research covers i.a. elementary particles, supersymmetry, extra dimensions of space, and dark matter. Among others, she is the winner of the Andrew Gemant Award, the Lilienfeld Prize, and the Klopsted Memorial Award. One of the greatest female scientists still alive today.
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecila19001979Great BritainAstronomy, astrophysicsIn 1925 her doctoral thesis “Stellar Atmospheres; a Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars” reached the groundbreaking conclusion that the composition of stars was related to the abundance of hydrogen and helium in the Universe. This contradicted scientific wisdom of the time but was independently confirmed in 1929. Astronomer Otto Struve described Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin’s work as “The most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy”. She became an American citizen in 1931.
Wu, Chien-Shiung19121997ChinaPhysicsChien-Shiung Wu contributed greatly to the field of nuclear physics, also working on the Manhattan Project. She is famous for the “Wu experiment”, that earned her and her colleagues the 1957 Nobel Prize in physics, and Wu the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978. She was often compared to Marie Curie and given nicknames like “the Chinese Madame Curie”, and the “Queen of Nuclear Research”. One of the greatest female scientists based in China.

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