Famous Women Scientists

Contributions throughtout History

Some of the greatest scientists of all time were females who have made important discoveries in a variety of fields in science throughout history.

Science and technology are often considered to be the forte of men. Nevertheless, the contribution of women to the progress of these areas cannot be disregarded.

There have been numerous gifted and far-famed women scientists in history who made crucial discoveries and inventions in the world of science.

Below are 10 most famous female scientists and their contributions.



10. Jane Goodall (1934 - )


Dame Jane Morris Goodall, is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Dame Goodall is known world-wide for her groundbreaking studies on primates. As the top expert on chimpanzees in the world, Goodall spent most of her life with chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, documenting their lifestyle and behaviour. Dr. Goodall has shared her findings in a series of highly readable books.


9. Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906-1972)


German-born Maria Goeppert Mayer was a physicist and mathematician, and one of the most important figures in nuclear physics. Mayer is famous for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for theoretical physics and second woman in history to win a Nobel Prize, the first being Marie Curie.


8. Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956)


Irène Joliot-Curie, a French scientist, was the elder daughter of famed scientists Marie and Pierre Curie, Irene with her husband, Frédéric Joliot, worked on natural and artificial radioactivity, the transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. Their radioactive discovery was (and still is) used to treat a number of illnesses, including cancer (i.e. radiation treatment).

In 1938, Irène Joliot-Curie research on the action of neutrons on heavy elements was an important step in the discovery of Uranium fission. She took part in many profound scientific projects throughout her lifetime, one of which was the creation and construction of the first atomic pile (1948). Irene Curie was also an Officer of the Legion of Honour. Like her mother, exposure to radiation caused Irène's premature death in 1956.


7. Gertrude Elion (1918-1999)


American biochemist and pharmacologist, Gertrude B. Elion is famous for development of new drugs. In 1988, Elion was a joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 'for discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.' One of her most notable creations was the development of the AIDS drug AZT.

Elion helped develop such drugs as mercaptopurine, which changed childhood leukemia to a condition that most survive. She also designed thioguanine, which helps adults with leukemia, and co-developed azathioprine, which assists in kidney transplants by preventing organ rejection, and has mitigated such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis.


6. Barbara McClintock - (1902-1992)


American Barbara McClintock is a scientist and cytogeneticist, famous for her work in genetic structure of maize. McClintock contributed significantly in the field of cytogenetics, and was the first to produce a genetic map for maize.

McClintock did extensive studies in the subject, but the scientific world was skeptical about her findings. From the late 1920s, McClintock studied chromosomes and how they change during reproduction in maize. In 1983, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and is the only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in that category.


5. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)


Dorothy Hodgkin, a British biochemist was an important figure in chemistry and the third woman to win the prestigious Nobel Prize in the discipline. In 1964, Hodgkin was a pioneer in the field of x-ray crystallography and was able to find and confirm the structures of various biological molecules which include: penicillin, insulin and Vitamin B12.

Hodgkin was awarded a fellowship of the Royal Society in 1946, the Royal Society Medal in 1956 and became the second woman to receive the Order of Merit in 1965 (preceded only by Florence Nightingale). Her legacy has been celebrated in the Royal Society’s “Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships” for early researchers, and in two sets of commemorative stamps.


4. Lise Meitner (1878-1968)


Austrian-Swedish physicist, Lise Meitner, is famous for her work on nuclear physics and radioactivity. She was one of the first to discover that a uranium atom would split when it was bombarded by neutrons. Meitner and her colleague, Otto Hahn, discovered nuclear fission of uranium that can produce enormous amounts of energy.

In 1945, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Otto Hahn for his research into fission, but Meitner was ignored, partly because Hahn downplayed her role ever since she left Germany. Although the Nobel mistake was never acknowledged, it was partly rectified in 1966, when Meitner was also awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. In 1992, the heaviest element 109, was named Meitnerium (Mt) in her honor.


3. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012))


Italian neuroscientist, Rita Levi-Montalcini, OMRI, OMCA was a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who discovered and studied the Nerve Growth Factor - a critical chemical tool the human body uses to direct cell growth and build nerve networks. In 1986, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of nerve growth factor.

Levi-Montalcini was the author or co-author of over 20 books, including her own autobiography, and dozens of research studies. She received numerous scientific medals, including the United States National Medal of Science. She was the first Nobel laureate to live past her 100th birthday.


2. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)


Rosalind Franklin, was a British X-ray crystallographer and biophysicist, famous for her research on RNA, DNA, graphite, coal and viruses. Franklin most notable work revolved around X-ray diffraction images of DNA, and resulted in the finding of the DNA double helix. Her role in the discovery of DNA structure that has garnered the most public attention.

Others shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work on the structure of DNA. But, none gave Franklin credit for her contributions at that time. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognized posthumously.


1. Madam Marie Curie (1867-1934)


When considering famous women scientists, Madam Marie Curie, the Polish-French scientist always top the list. Her contributions such as the discovery of Radium and other key elements help us out every day, especially when getting an x-ray. Madam Curie was the first woman, and so far the only woman to win Nobel Prize twice, and in two categories, Physics and Chemistry. She was famous for her work on radioactivity.

Her efforts with Pierre Curie, her husband, led to the discovery of radium and polonium, which helped with the creation of X-rays. However, over-exposure to radiation during her research led to her death from leukemia at the age of 66.

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