Women in Science

Women in Science

March 13, 2012 Off By Manjil P. Saikia

    Science like many other domains of human intellect and strength have been stereotyped as predominantly a male affair. But is that perception really valid? Of hand, if you are asked to name a female scientist, you will have to think a bit and then maybe you can name Marie Curie. But what if I ask you to name two lady scientists? Then most of us will be at a loss to do so. Because, to be honest we are not even aware of any other name apart from Curie. As a matter of fact, it has been noticed that even science graduates cannot correctly tell the name of more than one female scientists let alone name even one female mathematician. This approach to the study of science has not only hindered the progress but also it has tyoecast the profession as a ‘male subject’.

The study of history will reveal that there has been many women who have rose to the highest levels of scientific excellence and apptitude. Right from the ancient days of Troy to the new age modern marvels, there are female scientists who have done as much for the furtherment of the subject as their male counterparts. In this present article when we say science we shall be including mathematics too although as a math major I think that math should be kept in a aseparate pedastal. Here, we give a brief profile about a few female scientist who have done remarkable things and about whom people should know more about. We leave names like Curie who are already quite popular. The list that we present here is in no way exhaustive and we leave many names without mentiuoning much about them.

Dorothy Mary Hodgkin was a British chemist, credited with the development of protein crystallography. She advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography, a method used to determine the three dimensional structures of biomolecules. Among her most influential discoveries are the confirmation of the structure of penicillin that Ernst Boris Chain had previously surmised, and then the structure of vitamin B12, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1969, after 35 years of work and five years after winning the Nobel Prize, Hodgkin was able to decipher the structure of insulin. X-ray crystallography became a widely used tool and was critical in later determining the structures of many biological molecules such as DNA where knowledge of structure is critical to an understanding of function. She is regarded as one of the pioneer scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography studies of biomolecules.

Amalie Emmy Noether was an influential German mathematician known for her groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Described by Albert Einstein, Hermann Weyl, Norbert Wiener and others as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, she revolutionized the theories of rings, fields, and algebras. In physics, Noether’s theorem explains the fundamental connection between symmetry and conservation laws.

Hypatia was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher in Roman Egypt who was the first notable woman in mathematics. As head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she also taught philosophy and astronomy. As a Neoplatonist philosopher, she belonged to the mathematic tradition of the Academy of Athens, as represented by Eudoxus of Cnidus; she was of the intellectual school of the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, which encouraged logic and mathematical study in place of empirical enquiry and strongly encouraged law in place of nature. Hypatia lived in Roman Egypt, and was murdered by a Christian mob which accused her of causing religious turmoil.

Ingrid Daubechies is a Belgian physicist and mathematician. She was between 2004 and 2011 the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in the mathematics and applied mathematics departments at Princeton University. In January 2011 she moved to Duke University as a Professor in mathematics. She is the first woman president of the International Mathematical Union (2011–2014). She is best known for her work with wavelets in image compression.

We have mentioned only four names, two of them from the last century, one still living and one from antiquity. Much of their life’s works have been pathbreaking, except perhaps Hypatia’s. Still, Hypatia’s life shows us how inhuman torture on genius can echo even from the depths of history. Her tragic death is worth mentioning here. Hypatia was murdered in public by people in power. She was striped naked, paraded before the public and then butchered to death. Thus ended the life of the woman generally considered to be the first female mathematcian. This examples are just some from the many that are available, but I am sure that these will help us remove the male chauvinistic approach that we take towards women in science.

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