17 women in STEM who everyone should learn about in school textbooks

How many male scientists can you name?

Now – how many female scientists can you name?

I am willing to bet that no matter how many you could name, the number of male scientists was higher than female right?

A study in 2016 showed that male scientists outnumber women 3:1 in school textbooks and if you ask me, I think those numbers need to change.

Can you name these famous female scientists?

I think the vast majority of the public can name at least one of Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, but not many more. So, as an advocate for women in science and for education for all, today on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I want to share the stories of 17 more women in STEM that everyone should know about.


Sally Ride

Ride was an American astronaut, physicist and engineer. She was the third woman in space after the two USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, but Ride was the first American woman in space. Prior to her first space flight, Ride was the subject of lots of media attention due to her gender and asked many inappropriate questions such as “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” But Ride insisted that she saw herself in only one way – an astronaut.


Katherine Johnson

Johnson is an African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to NASA’s first and subsequent manned missions. Her work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for many missions including the Apollo missions and she helped pioneer the use of computers to perform these calculations too. Johnson was one of the African-American women who helped win the space race along with Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.


Ada Lovelace

Lovelace was an English mathematician and is widely regarded as the first ever computer programmer. She realised that a general purpose computer could be used for much more than pure calculations and so published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. She was introduced to Charles Babbage; ‘the father of computers’, by their mutual friend and her private tutor Mary Somerville; a Scottish mathematician and astronomer.


Dorothy Hodgkin

Hodgkin was British chemist who developed protein crystallography; a technique for which she won a Nobel Prize for. She also advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography which is used to determine the 3D structure of molecules like DNA for example. She confirmed the structure of penicillin and vitamin B12 and later deciphered the structure of insulin.


Mae Jemison

Jemison is an American physicist, engineer and NASA astronaut and became the first African American woman in space in 1992. Jemison was also a trained medic and after medical school and a stint as a general practitioner, she joined the Peace Corps as their medical officer.


Jane Goodall

Goodall is an English primatologist and anthropologist. She is considered the worlds foremost expert in chimpanzees and is most famous for a study lasting more than 55 years into social and family interactions of wild chimps. Since Goodall has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.


Jennifer Doudna

Doudna is an American biochemist and is a leading figure in the development of the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9. Something that is considered one of the most significant advancements in the history of biology.


Rita Levi-Montalcini

Levi-Montalcini was an Italian neuroscientist. She was awarded a Nobel laureate for her discovery of nerve growth factor; a protein that influences developing cells to grow by stimulating the surrounding nerve tissue. She also discovered epidermal growth factor; another molecule that stimulates the proliferation of cells, especially fibroblasts and epithelial cells.


Rachel Carson

Carson was an American marine biologist, but also a conservationist that published a game changing book called ‘Silent Springs’ that changed the US policy about pesticides leading to a nationwide ban of DTT and even the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.


Maryam Mirzakhani

Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician and is the first and only female to have won the Fields Medal; the most prestigious award in mathematics. Her research topics included Teichmuller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory and symplectic geometry. I just wish I could comprehend it myself in order to share it with you all. If you are a mathematician reading this then maybe you can shed some light on this for us


Mary Seacole

Seacole was a British-Jamaican nurse who was a heroine of the Crimean War. After initially being rejected to become a nurse, which are rumoured to be on discriminatory grounds, Seacole went anyway. She took it upon herself to travel to Crimea laden with bandages and weeks worth of medical supplies and set up her own station to help treat the soldiers.


I could go on for a long time sharing the stories of female scientists you should learn about but I have to draw the line somewhere, until the next post at least. So to finish off here are 6 more quick fire women in STEM that should be in school textbooks.

Nettie Stevens

An American geneticist who discovered the X and Y sex chromosomes.


Hedy Lamarr

An Austrian-born American actress and inventor who developed a radio-hopping signal that could not be jammed.


Emmy Noether

A German mathematician who contributed towards abstract algebra and theoretical physics.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell

An astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who discovered pulsars; rotating neutron stars that appear to ‘pulse’ as they emit light.


Barbara McClintock

An American cytogeneticist who was awarded a Nobel Prize for her discovery of mobile genetic elements, or ‘jumping genes’.


Henrietta Lacks

So, Lacks is not strictly a scientist but another woman who has made a significant contribution to science. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalised cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. But it is important that I share that these cells were first taken without her knowledge. But more on that story another day.


There are so many women in STEM doing incredible and inspiring work each and every day around the globe. And if I could put them all in school textbooks I would, but that would be a little difficult. So today I am highlighting these pioneers not because their work is superior to all the other women in science currently but for women in science to be represented fairly in textbooks so that young girls and boys can learn about the incredible achievements of women like this and be inspired and encouraged to pursue a STEM career. After all, STEM fields need diversity in order to thrive and that means showing everyone, including young girls, that they can be a scientist too.

How many of these scientists could you name before reading this post? What other inspiring women in STEM would you like to see taught about in school textbooks?

Please go away and share the stories of these amazing women with your friends and family so that the pioneering work of women in STEM doesn’t go overlooked again!


All the images you see in this post are courtesy of the amazingly talented Nina Chhita aka nina.draws.scientists who even drew me last year, and in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science has drawn Volume II of her Heroines of STEM on IG – check it out as it includes some familiar face to readers of my blog such as Georgia A-S.



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