Female scientists you don’t know, but should


Throughout the history of scientific discovery, there has been a lot of work by women that has gone unacknowledged and unappreciated. For years, women were excluded from the recognition of their own achievements, even though they were the ones that had conducted some truly world-changing research. Even to this day, it’s common for female scientists to garner much less recognition than they should – with the names of several scientists languishing in obscurity when they should be held up as the visionaries they were and are.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is someone who achieves the rare feat of changing our understanding of the universe entirely. While working on her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in 1967, Bell noticed a signal on her readings that was pulsing at a surprisingly regular rate. Bell investigated this signal further, with it eventually being determined that it was coming from a neutron star that was rapidly rotating – AKA a pulsar. This was the first discovery of a pulsar, and gave scientists an entirely new window into the workings of the universe. Bell was overlooked for the Nobel Prize for this discovery in favor of her supervisor, but gained recognition and acclaim for her discovery. Since then, Bell has continued her studies in astrophysics, becoming the first female president of the royal astronomical society and working to increase the numbers of women in science.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Ada Lovelace

If you used a computer today, be sure to thank Ada Lovelace. Lovelace was a mathematician living in early 19th century England, who became fascinated with Charles Babbage’s work on the difference machine – an early type of computer. Ada went to work with Babbage on the difference machine, helping his work along hugely with her skill in mathematics, and improving some of the formulas he had devised for it. Lovelace then began to work with Babbage on the analytical engine, a machine designed for more complex operations that Lovelace helped to write calculations for and write reports on for publication in the scientific community. Lovelace even wrote a calculation for the analytical engine that is now considered to be one of the earliest computer programs. Lovelace was also a visionary, understanding where others did not that the engine could be used for more than just number-crunching. Had she been able to see contemporary society, she would have been thoroughly vindicated.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a British scientist with a storied career in astronomy and an influence that stretches far outside herself. Pocock was born in 1968 and achieved her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1994. Aderin-Pocock went on to work on numerous projects across scientific fields – working at first in missile warning systems for aircraft, before going on to work on developing handheld instruments for the detection of landmines. Aderin-Pocock moved into astronomy in 1999, working on a spectrograph for the Gemini telescope that let it analyze starlight and improve our knowledge of far-off stars. Maggie Aderin-Pocock also works tirelessly at inspiring young people to get into science, having spoken to a mind-blowing 25,000 children over the years about pursuing it as a career.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Caroline Herschel

If you can look up at the sky and name a star, there’s a good chance you have Caroline Herschel to thank. Born in 1750, she worked with her brother William Herschel – who discovered Uranus – for years, cataloging numerous astronomical phenomena. Alongside her brother, Caroline recorded 2,500 new nebulae and star clusters, vastly expanding contemporary knowledge of the night sky. Because of this, Caroline was hired as an astronomer alongside William by George III of England in 1787 – becoming the first woman to be paid for scientific work. On her own, Caroline discovered 14 more nebulas, 8 comets – also becoming the first woman to discover a comet – and 561 other stars. For these accomplishments she became the first woman to receive the gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and is regarded as one of the single most important figures in the history of astronomy.