Welcome to this week’s installment of the Women in STEM series. Today, I’ll be showing some women from the past who stand as amazing role models not just for those interested in STEM, but also for those who are interested in strong and brilliant human beings. I asked the marketing team at Digilent about women in STEM who had inspired them and why, and I got some great examples. I’ll include the reasons my coworkers and I think of them as role models (in captions) and a brief bio of each woman.
Born around 1859 to a working-class Austrian Jewish immigrant family, Fleischmann grew up in California. She never did finish high school, but by 1896 had developed her own x-ray equipment. A decade later, she was known as the best radiographer in the world. Upon the discovery of the X-ray in 1895 by Conrad Roentgen and the subsequent sharing of this information over the next 6 months, Fleischmann enrolled in an electrical science course.1 She pieced together her own equipment and had become an expert at radiography within a year. She opened the first X-ray laboratory in California and quickly gained prominence. Like many early radiologists, she perished from cancer, a then unknown consequence of her work in radiography.2
Jane Goodall is known for her 50 years of work with the chimpanzees in Tanganyika’s Gombe Stream Game Reserve. Since 1960, Goodall has been responsible for one of the longest-running, most detailed wild animal studies (primarily concerning chimpanzees and tool usage) ever done — and this without the benefit of formal training. At over 80 years of age, she still speaks and researches, and is known the world’s most preeminent primatologist.3
Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer who lived from 1750 to 1848. First known simply as the sister of William Herschel, she migrated to Britain after her father’s death, where she worked with her brother for most of their careers. Working as her brother’s assistant at first and then in her own right after his death (she moved back to Hanover at that point too), she discovered a number of different comets and cataloged nebulae. She was awarded the Royal Astronomy Society’s Gold Medal and additional honors from the King of Prussia.4
Frances Oldham Kelsey
Frances Oldham Kelsey worked in academia at the University of Chicago until 1960, when she began working for the FDA. She refused to approve the drug thalidomide, used at the time for treating morning sickness,for distribution in the United States. The company that sent it to be analyzed never included any test results, and her research found that it caused birth defects. She went on to chair the FDA and win the highest national honor for a civilian for her work.5
Lamarr was an Austrian Jew born in 1914. Initially rising to fame from her controversial acting career, she was first married to an Austrian munitions baron. While feeling that he restricted her career, she learned about building, making, and weapons (especially torpedoes) over the course of their fairly brief marriage. Lamarr moved to the U.S. right before the advent of World War II. She ended up discussing radio-controlled torpedoes with George Antheil, with whom she collaborated on the frequency-hopping spread spectrum. Their work serves as a basis for a wide array of modern spread-spectrum communication technology.6
Ada Lovelace was a 19th-century British mathematician who has come to be known as the first computer programmer. The only legitimate child of the poet Byron, her mother encouraged her to pursue her non-poetical interests: science and math. She worked together with Charles Babbage to create the “analytical engine” — the calculating machine that became the basis for the modern computer.7
Sally Ride was an American physicist and astronaut. She joined NASA in 1978, and in addition to helping develop the space shuttle’s robotic arm, she went into space on two separate occasions. She clocked over 340 hours in space. After leaving NASA, she became a professor of physics at UC San Diego. As one of the first women in space, she tried to encourage interest in space and science by writing seven different children’s books.8
Who are some of your role models?