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Women in STEM Who Made History

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

At ZooLab, we like to work with teachers to challenge gender stereotypes and ignite a love for science in all pupils! However, 40% of teachers believe STEM gender biases are already ingrained in pupils by the end of primary school (Accenture, 2018).

We have always found it imperative to ensure that women and girls have equal opportunities and encouragement to participate in STEM subjects. Showcasing the positive impact a strong female presence can bring to any STEM field is a staple of our brand. Below are just a few women who have broken boundaries and made history in their STEM careers.

Marie Curie

We bet you have heard about Marie Curie but did you know that she was:

  • the first woman to win a Nobel Prize

  • the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields

  • the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.

In her native Warsaw, girls were still not allowed to go to university, so Marie Curie studied physics and mathematics at the University of Paris and got her doctorate in 1903! She made her first discovery of radium with her husband and coined the term radioactivity to describe the heat and light emitted. In 1903, they jointly won the Noble Prize in Physics. Further research found that radioactivity could damage cancer cells, paving the way for modern treatment! In 1911, Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element." (Nobel Prize, ND).

Beatrice Shilling

Like many great minds, young Beatrice showed an interest in finding out how things work and how she could fix them. After school, she became an apprentice and then graduated in Electrical Engineering from The University of Manchester. I'm sure that it will come as no surprise that she was one of only two women on the course.

In the second world war, British fighter planes had an issue; the engine would cut out during a nosedive due to the flooding of the carburettor, putting them at a massive (and potentially lethal) disadvantage. Shilling invented the RAE restrictor, allowing just enough fuel flow. This small change to RAF fighter planes helped them match the powerful Luftwaffe. In 1948 Beatrice Shilling was awarded an OBE for her contribution to Aviation.

Beatrice was not just a trailblazer in the field of engineering, she was a keen motorbike racer and 1 of only 3 women who won a BMCRC Gold Star for completing a circuit at over 100mph.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson helped put the first American on the moon using math!

Katherine was always extremely clever - she started high school at 10 and achieved a degree in mathematics and French by 18! She overcame both gender and racial prejudices to be one of the first African-American females to work as a scientist at NASA. Her team were referred to as “human computers”, working out the calculations needed for flight.

She soon began working on larger projects, including America’s first human space mission in 1961! Her calculations of orbital geometry helped to send Alan Shepard to space and bring him home, then later to take humans to the moon.

Johnson has won many awards for her work including 5 NASA Langley Research Centre Special Achievement Awards, Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and 2021 was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Hedy Lamarr

From Hollywood femme fatale to one of the top inventors of the 20th century.

Encouraged by her father, Hedy was known to study the inner workings of machinery as a child. However, her childhood passion took a backseat in 1930 when she got her first role in a small film - it didn’t take long for her to be an international sensation signed to MGM. Between takes, she was known to work on inventions and at the start of WW2, she had her most important epiphany.

Working with musician George Antheil, Lamarr wanted to help the war effort and created a secret communication system that worked with frequency hoppers to prevent the interpretation of radio waves. Although not picked up by the Navy at the time, it has influenced the current technology used in WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS - where would we be without those!

In 2014 (14 years after her death), Lamarr became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award.


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