From the discovery of radioactivity to the discovery of pulsars, here are the stories of 10 women who changed the course of physics.
Maria Sklodwska-Curie (1867-1934)
This name needs no introduction. The legendary Marie curie was the winner of two Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry, the first woman to win the Nobel and also the only person to win the prize in two different field. She did pioneering work in the field of radioactivity, discovered two new elements and also invented mobile X-rays that saved many lives in world war I.
Vera Rubin (1928-)
Vera Rubin saw something strange in galaxies; stars in the outer part of the galaxies orbit as quickly as those in the centre. She surmised that each galaxy contains more mass than meets the eye. It was the first observational evidence of dark matter which is now one of the most studied topic in cosmology.
Joselyn Bell Burnell (1943-)
Joselyn Burnell,while pursuing her doctorate, was working with a radio telescope when she noticed radio signals coming from somewhere in the sky. She had discovered pulsars which are rapidly rotating neutron stars. This discovery won his guide a Nobel and took her career to new heights.
Sara Seager is a Canadian-American astronomer and planetary scientist. She is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been recognized for her research by Popular Science, Discover Magazine, Nature, and TIME Magazine. Seager developed a parallel version of the Drake equation to estimate the number of habitable planets in the galaxy.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
(The First Lady of Physics)
In her extraordinary career, Chien Wu disproved a “law” of nature, the conservation of parity, worked on the Manhattan Project, became the first female instructor of physics department at Princeton University and earned a reputation of the leading experimental physicist of her time.
Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941)
Cannon was an American astronomer hired by Edward Pickering to work at the Harvard Observatory mapping and classifying every star in the sky.
During her career she observed and classified over 200,000 stars. But more importantly, she devised a star classification system to categorise stars based on spectral absorption lines. Though her contributions were not recognised during her forty-year astronomy career, her work lives on in the mnemonic device “Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me!” which helps astronomy students remember star types in order of decreasing temperature.
Emmy Noether (1882-1935)
Emmy Noether was the pioneer of abstract algebra. She was also a trailblazer who refused to accept that women should not join the pursuit of knowledge. When Germany’s Nazi government hounded her out of academia, she taught in secret.Today, Noether’s theorem underpins much of modern physics.
Sandra Faber (1944-)
As a child, Sandra Faber spent countless evenings lying in her backyard, gazing at the stars. Decades later, when the first photos from the Hubble Space Telescope came back blurry, she led a team that diagnosed and solved the problem, enabling the telescope to capture the most stunning images of the cosmos.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin studied at Cambridge, but was denied a degree because it didn’t grant them to a woman until 1948. She pursued her PhD in the United States and showed that the Sun is composed of mainly hydrogen and helium. It has been called, “the most brilliant theses ever written in astronomy”.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
(Inventor and Actress)
To get secret messages past the Nazis, Hedy Lamarr co-invented a frequency hopping technique that helped pave the way for today’s wireless technologies. For years, her achievement was overshadowed by her other career, as a Hollywood star.