A Step in the Right Direction: Female Scientists are Finally Getting Credit for their Contributions

Sara Dozai is a KCL Law student from Croatia who is passionate about the creative arts such as writing, drawing, painting & music. She loves fashion and foreign languages, and would therefore like to work for a magazine one day. Besides this, she loves to drink coffee with her friends at all times, even if it’s 3AM.

[Featured Image: Emmannuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna – sixth and seventh women to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry – stand in front of an artistic background. Source.]

Female scientists have been overlooked throughout history, with their successes usually being attributed to their male colleagues. Some of the notable female scientists who did not get the recognition they merited include Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Esther Lederberg, Chien-Shiung Wu, Lise Meitner and Nettie Stevens. While they are not the main focus of this article, I will briefly name what they were working on, as they were never truly given the credit they deserved until recent years.

Rosalind Franklin’s case is perhaps one of the most well-known instances of a female researcher being robbed of credit. Franklin took a picture of DNA by using x-rays, which would pave the way for changes in biology as a field. Jocelyn Bell Burnell detected pulsars while she was still a graduate student in radio astronomy. Esther Lederberg laid the groundwork for future discoveries involving genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation and genetic recombination. She is best known for her discovery of lambda bacteriophage, which is a virus that infects bacteria. Chien-Shiung Wu was a female scientist recruited by Columbia University who participated in the development of the atom bomb and who overturned the law of parity. Lisa Meitner’s work was the cornerstone for the creation of the atomic bomb, as her work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission. Nettie Stevens worked on studies that were central to the determination of the fact that an organism’s sex is dictated by its chromosomes rather than by environmental or other factors.

All of these women helped shape the world we live in today and provided us with knowledge that was crucial for further developments in their respective areas of study. Unfortunately, they were not recognised for doing so. However, in 2020, female scientists are receiving better treatment and are finally being recognised. This can be seen from the fact that for the first time in history, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to two women. Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna won the award for their development of CRISPR-cas9 genetic scissors. By using these, the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms can be changed with immensely high precision. This development has had and will likely continue to have a revolutionary impact on life sciences. While many say that genetic modification is equivalent to playing God – which usually has negative connotations – this technology could improve the lives of people, as it is already being used in the hope of finding new cancer treatments and curing inherited diseases.

Charpentier and Doudna were surprised upon finding out that they had won. The two women remained humble – even though they made a breakthrough in science and in society – and hoped their accomplishments could to encourage  more girls to study science and get involved in STEM. To conclude, Charpentier and Doudna’s win is a step in the right direction when it comes to eradicating sexism in the sciences, as well as a huge inspiration for thousands of young girls who want to study or are interested in STEM, but who – as a result of the society we live in – have doubted their own capabilities.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/5/130519-women-scientists-overlooked-dna-history-science/
  2. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nobel-prize-emmanuelle-charpentier-jennifer-doudna-chemistry-crispr-gene-editing-tool/

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