The Big Bang
I know we’ve had International Women’s Day, but the way I see it, there are far too many amazing women to celebrate to restrict it to just one day. So, like an Indian wedding that keeps getting better for days on end, this column is a celebration of some incredible female scientists who changed the world.
It was my daughter, at the ripe old age of seven, who introduced me to Mary Anning. Turns out Mary was the world’s most prolific fossil hunter. So much so that she has had the Ichthyosaurus anningae, a huge sea monster that lived among the dinosaurs, named after her (believe it or not, that is the way scientists compliment each other).
Wifi. We all love and rely on it. In fact, where on earth would we be without the easy wireless connectivity that enables us to talk to anyone, anywhere. Imagining a stereotypical male computer super nerd inventing it in a blue-lit garage? Wrong. The glamorous Hollywood actress and passionate inventor Hedy Lamarr was the person who laid down the original ideas that led to our modern wireless communications. Maths, the foundation of everything, was changed completely by Emmy Noether whose mathematical theories were groundbreaking and inspired. So much so that some chap named Albert Einstein wrote of her in The New York Times shortly after her death: “In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”
Then we have Ada Lovelace (world’s first computer programmer), Dorothy Hodgkin (technique for understanding molecules like vitamin B12, penicillin and insulin), Gerty Cori (how energy is produced and moved around the body), Marie Maynard Daly (link between cholesterol and heart attacks), and Rosalind Franklin (structure of DNA) just to name a few.
There are countless women, just like these historical champions, who are blazing a trail today, and sure, there are lots of men doing a great job, winning Nobel Prizes all over the place and making world-changing contributions to science. But the women seem to have always lurked in the shadows. These women rock, and their names deserve to be shouted from the rooftops, or at least as a viable topic of conversation at your dinner table.
If I had to pick my favourite, I would have to agree with my daughter. Mary Anning came from a disastrously poor family, had no education, was struck by lightning, and lost her father and eight siblings before she turned 12. Yet her passion for finding fossils, or “curiosities” as she called them, drove her to excel in a dangerous science that shaped our understanding of the world and its history.
Why not pick your favourite and tell a friend about a woman who changed the world...