Pioneering Women in Science

Throughout history, women in science have fought to push boundaries, break glass ceilings, and close gender gaps. Their perseverance not only changed the existing science community, but also laid the foundations for all future women in science.

Updated on April 7, 2023

Female researchers impacting science

Women in Science: Flashback  

Throughout history, women in science have fought to push boundaries, break glass ceilings, and close gender gaps. Their perseverance not only changed the existing science community, but also laid the foundations for all future women in science.

Marie Curie

 "I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy." 

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist in the early 1900s.[1] She and her husband were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 for their research on radioactivity. They also isolated and identified the elements polonium and radium. For this work, Marie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win a Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.[2]

Ye Shuhua

“I went to the Purple Mountain Observatory to look for a job, and they told me they only had a vacancy for a man. I was stunned when I heard that.”


Ye Shuhua is a Chinese astronomer and professor at Shanghai Astronomical Observatory. In the 1960s, she helped develop and establish Beijing Time as the second most precise measurement of Universal Time in the world.[3] Ye has served as president, vice president, and member of numerous astronomical organizations over her lifetime and is a foreign fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of Britain. Now, in her late 90s, she continues to support science-education programs for children and gender equality efforts for women.[4]

 Rachel Carson

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was an American writer, scientist, and ecologist in the mid-1900s. After a career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, she dedicated her life to writing about the natural world.[5] While her 1951 bestseller, The Sea Around Us, won the U.S. National Book Award, she is best known for Silent Spring. This 1962 book accelerated the environmental movement and influenced U.S. pesticide policies. Rachel was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.[6]

Katsuko Saruhashi

There are many women who have the ability to become great scientists. I would like to see the day when women can contribute to science & technology on an equal footing with men.


Katsuko Saruhashi was a Japanese geochemist who developed one of the first methods and tools for measuring carbon dioxide in the ocean. She also developed processes for calculating the number of radioisotopes in seawater, which led to the prohibition of above-ground nuclear testing.[7] Always a strong proponent of equal opportunities for women in science, Katsuko established the Society of Japanese Women Scientists and the Saruhashi Prize for female scientists who serve as role models for younger women in science.[8]

Nise da Silveira  

Psychic contamination is worse than lice. It passes from one head to another, with incredible speed.

Nise da Silveira

Nise da Silveira was a Brazilian psychiatrist who revolutionized mental health treatment in the 20th century. She founded the Museum of Images of the Unconscious, introduced Jungian psychology to her peers, and established occupational rehabilitation as a valid treatment in Brazil.[9] Nise was also a pioneer for researching the emotional relationships between patients and animals and was a founding member of the International Society for Psychopathological Expression.[10] 

Helen Rodríguez-Trías

The women’s movement is heterogeneous; people have different perspectives.”


Helen Rodriguez-Trias

Helen Rodríguez-Trías was a Puerto Rican-American pediatrician, educator, and women's rights activist.[11] She expanded the range of public health services for minority and low-income women and children by supporting abortion rights, pushing to abolish enforced sterilization, and providing access to neonatal care. Helen was not only the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association (APHA), but also a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal for her work on behalf of women, children, people with HIV and AIDS, and the poor.[12]

Women in Science: Fast Forward

Today, women in science face many of the same obstacles as their great predecessors. Their advantages lie in building upon the strong foundations of the past while continuing to trailblaze pathways for all future women in science.

Jennifer Doudna

One of the problems in the biotech world is the lack of women in leadership roles, and I'd like to see that change by walking the walk.

Jennifer Doudna

Jennifer Doudna is an American biochemist, professor, and senior investigator whose work in gene editing, known as CRISPR, is fundamentally changing the field of biochemistry. In 2020, she and her research partner received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing this method of genome editing.[13] To make sure the benefits of this technology reaches those who need it most, Jennifer has helped improve access to biosensing tests and CRISPR-based COVID-19 diagnostic testing.[14]   

Wang Xiaoyun

Once mathematics becomes instinctive to us, we view numbers as beautiful musical notes.


Wang Xiaoyun is a Chinese cryptographer, mathematician, computer scientist, and professor. She developed the bit-based cryptanalysis theory and gave the collision attack on five dedicated hash functions, including MD5 and SHA-0.[15] Wang also oversaw design of the SM3 cryptographic hash function that is now widely used in China’s financial, transportation, energy, and economic sectors. In 2019, she became the first woman to win China's Future Science Prize for her contributions in cryptography.[16]

 Esther Duflo

Part of me always wanted to do something useful for the world. It came from my mother.

Esther Duflo

Esther Duflo is a French American economist, educator, and innovator whose research focuses on microeconomic issues in developing countries. She and her partners created the J-PAL Poverty Action Lab in 2003 to perform randomized experiments to be shared with key policymakers who influence educational, healthcare, and financial programs.[17] They were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for their work on global poverty issues. At 46 years old, Esther was both the youngest person and the second woman to ever receive this award.[18]

Yukiko Ogawa

The UNESCO experience has really encouraged me and had a big impact on my career.

Materials Science

Yukiko Ogawa is a Japanese materials scientist and researcher who helped create the world’s first shape-memory magnesium (Mg) alloy. By using heat treatment, she succeeded in controlling the microstructure and mechanical properties of magnesium, which increases its strength and function.[19] She intends to address environmental issues by using the Mg alloy in transportation systems, increasing their fuel efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. For her breakthrough research, Yukiko was recognized as a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Rising Talent in 2018.[20]

Flavia Biroli

Gender inequalities are connected to women`s poor access to fundamental resources, such as time and income.

Flavia Biroli

Flavia Biroli is a Brazilian political scientist and educator specializing in feminist political theory that focuses on the social organization of care and its impact on women and democracy.[21] She is developing a theoretical analysis of care ethics within the contexts of Brazil and Latin-America to offer a perspective that is informed by both women’s experiences and their social position. As an outspoken member and leader of several influential associations in Brazil, Flavia is working to eliminate social barriers for individuals and to create a collective autonomy.[22]

Kiara Nirghin

If the cure to cancer is in a young girl's mind, if she doesn't have the opportunity to learn STEM, we're not going to get the solution. We need to give girls the necessary resources to create change.


Kiara Nirghin is a South African inventor, scientist, and speaker who won the 2016 Google Science Fair for her project “No More Thirsty Crops.” To increase food security in drought-stricken areas, she developed a super-absorbent, biodegradable polymer that holds hundreds of times its weight in water and is safer and less expensive than what is currently available.[23] Kiara was nominated as a Regional Finalist of the 2018 United Nation’s Young Champions of the Earth and often speaks about the importance of involving young girls in STEM fields and projects.[24] 

International Women's Day 2023

By 2050, 75% of all jobs will be related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas. Bringing women into these fields results in creative solutions and innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality.[25]  

The women in science featured here represent the efforts of all women around the world who are striving to reach this unified goal. We celebrate each one on International Women’s Day 2023. Together, we are building a stronger, more equal tomorrow.

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