March is Women’s History Month. Women have always been important in science and we would like to introduce you to some historical women in science:
Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)
She was a physicist and chemist primarily known for her work on radioactivity and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first person (and only woman so far) to win a second Nobel Prize and the only person to win in two different sciences. In addition, she was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Among a career of groundbreaking work, Curie is best remembered for her discoveries of two new elements: polonium and radium. Unfortunately, radioactivity was not well known or studied at the time and she most likely died as a result of a career of handling radioactive materials without the safety measures we use today.
Gerty Cori (August 15, 1896 – October 26, 1957)
She was a biochemist and the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is most well known for her discovery of the method by which glycogen is broken down in muscle tissue into lactic acid and then remade in the body to be stored as energy. This cycle is known as the Cori Cycle and is necessary to reduce lactic acid build up in our muscles in anaerobic conditions. Click here for an animated explanation of the Cori Cycle.
Rosalind Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958)
She was a chemist and X-ray crystallographer (a field of science in which a beam of X-rays is used to determine the structure of crystalline solids) who worked to understand the structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. She is now mostly known for her work with images of DNA, some of which may have been integral to the work done by Watson and Crick in building a DNA model. By the time Watson and Crick received a Nobel for their work, Franklin had passed away and could not be included, as Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously.
Henrietta Lacks (August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951)
Although she was not a scientist, she was incredibly important in many fields of biological research. Cancerous cells removed from her were used, without her permission, in the creation of an immortal cell line known as HeLa. HeLa cells are called immortal because they do not die after a few divisions. These cells have been involved in a number of different medical experiments and have been integral for research into HIV, cancer, radiation and countless other scientific pursuits. Her cells have also been the center of a large scientific and medical ethics debate which continues even today.
Dr. Beth A. Brown (4 February 1969 – 5 October 2008)
She was a Roanoke native and astrophysicist working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Brown was involved very heavily both in research on black holes and with public outreach. A website she helped to create and maintain can still be found on the internet today. Multiwavelength Milky Way Project
These women have all been included on our “Shoulders of Giants” staircase. We celebrate these particular women in science all year long.