The Lives and Times of Pioneering Women in Physics

I was very privileged to be in the audience for this celebration of women in physics. As a teacher I have often heard the comment that “physics is a boy’s subject isn’t it”. Well this celebration shows it is just as much a girl’s subject as boys.

You can read the Institute of physics own blog for the day by clicking the link below

The day was introduced by Professor Edward Davis, Chairman of the History of Physics Group and Dr Heather Williams, Chair of the Women in Physics Group.


The contribution of women to physics: a historical overview

2000 years of women in science from the bain-marie to kevlar

By Dr Gillian Butcher


Dr Gillian Butcher is a postdoctoral research associate at Leicester University and the representative of the Space Science and Instrumentation (SSI) Group. She has been a research associate for fifteen years. She sits on various university, national and international committees concerned with women in physics and contributes to outreach activities.


Women in Science A Social and Cultural History, Ruth Watts, Routledge, 2007

Reflections on Gender and Science, Evelyn Fox Keller, Yale University Press, 1985


Although not a physicist, Merit Ptah (“Beloved of the god Ptah”; c. 2700 BCE) was an early physician in ancient Egypt. She is most notable for being the first woman known by name in the history of the field of medicine, and possibly the first named woman in all of science as well.

AGAMEDE, according to Homer (Il. xi. 739), was acquainted with the healing powers of all the plants that grow upon the earth.

Generally ancient Greece was not a great place for a woman wanting an education. Most Athenian girls had a primarily domestic education. The most highly educated women were the hetaerae, or courtesans, who attended special schools where they learned to be interesting companions for the men who could afford to maintain them.

No positive mention of any women in pre-socratic times although Gorgias did write a speech in defence of Helen of Troy, the most hated woman in ancient Greek mythology.


A bust of Socrates in the Louvre

Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He claimed to have been deeply influenced by two women besides his mother: Diotima, a witch and priestess from Mantinea and Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, who taught him the art of rhetoric.

The situation of women in archaic and classical Athens was far more restricted than in other Greek city-states. Women were generally excluded from education and political life. The sixth-century law code of Solon legalized prostitution, reflecting social acceptance of the double standard.

Attic literature of the period generally portrayed women as inferior and of dull and unpleasant character. It was thought that women should not be educated since that would make them more dangerous to men. Although Euripides portrayed many of his women characters as strong and noble self-sacrificing heroines.

Aristotle had a low view of women and he believed that inequality between men and women was based upon the law of nature. Man is superior, woman inferior.

Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), was a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Greece), and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine” in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields with which it had traditionally been associated (theurgy and philosophy), thus establishing medicine as a profession.


Above is a photograph of an image of Hippocrates on the floor of the Asclepieion of Kos, with Asklepius in the middle.

Unfortunately Hippocrates didn’t have much time for women.

The concept of “hysteria” is described in Hippocratic Corpus. The “Wandering Uterus” was a term that went hand in hand with “Hysteria” (constant mood swings and erratic behaviour). It was an ancient Greek belief that “a wandering uterus” needed to be confined and controlled and this caused women’s health problems. Hysteria made them incontinent and unable to make rational decisions.

However, despite the misogyny, some women were able to make a name for themselves.

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. The Alexandrians included her in the list of nine lyric poets. Her birth was sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BCE, but little is known for certain about her life. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, has been lost; however, her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.

Below is a fresco image believed to be of Sapho


Theano was born in Crotona c. 546 BCE.


She was well educated and a fine mathematician who later in life became a teacher and wrote a treatise describing the ‘Golden Mean”, an important concept in mathematics which is found in nature and used in both art and architecture. She was very interested in ideas and when Pythagoras came to Samos, she went to hear him. She later went on to marry Pythagoras although she was 36 years his junior.

After Pythagoras’ death she became the head of Pythagoras’ school and she continued the Pythagorean School of wisdom.

In a time when most women were denied education, the Pythagorean School was based on the belief that men and women were equals.

Agnodice or Agnodike (c. 4th century BCE) (was the first female Athenian physician, midwife, and gynecologist, whose life was recounted by Gaius Julius Hyginus. Hyginus, who lived in the 1st century BCE, wrote about Agnodice in his Fabulae.

Below is an image of Agnodice dressed in all white with darker clothing as a part of her disguise as a male physician.



Agloanike of Thessaly was a Greek astronomer of the 2nd (150 BC) or 1st century BC. She is mentioned in the writings of Plutarch and in the scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes as a female astronomer. She was regarded as a sorceress for her ability to make the Moon disappear from the sky, which has been taken to mean she could predict the time and general area where a lunar eclipse would occur.

Plutarch: A later View of Classical Greece

Even though Plutarch believed that women should always be silent he believed that women should be educated in philosophy, literature, geometry and astronomy. The husband might serve as the teacher of his wife. Then husband and wife could share in the fruits of education by having a more stimulating life together. In case of disagreement, husbands ought to persuade their wives through the use of reason, not force.

Alchemy in Alexandria

Hellenistic queens in Greece, Syria and Egypt held real political power but generally the situation of women at this time was far from ideal.

Women in the colonies lacked the forms of male protection which they had known in ancient Greece. Consequently they had to learn to protect themselves. One of the most effective resources they had in this period was economic power. Through their personal wealth women were able to gain legal rights and a voice in public affairs.

Upper-class women received some degree of education and many were literate. In hellenistic Egypt there was greater literacy among women than among men. There were hellenistic women poets, such as Erinna, some of whose verses are extant. In 218 B.C. Aristodama, a woman poet of Smyrna, was granted honorary citizenship by the Aetolians.

Mary the Jewess is a figure who first appeared in the works of the Gnostic Christian writer Zosimos of Panopolis, whose sources for this are not clear.

The figure of Mary may have been developed from Miriam, a sister of Moses. On the basis of Zosimos’s comments, she lived between the first and third centuries A.D. She is credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first true alchemist of the Western world.


Engraving depicting Maria Prophetissima from Michael Maier’s book Symbola Aurea Mensae Duodecim Nationum (1617).

Someone using the name Cleopatra wrote books on gynecology in the 3rd/4th century BC.

Hypatia (born c. AD 350 – 370; died 415) was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Byzantine Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic School at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.


Hypatia, daughter of Theron, Librarian of Alexandria, 370-415 CE. Picture from The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt.

After the fall of the Roman Empire things became very quiet on the science front in Europe but developments continued in China, India and the Arab world.

As Europe came out of the “dark ages” universities were founded. Traditionally said to be founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is widely considered to be the first university. Oxford started teaching students in 1096.

Europeans translated the works that came from outside the continent around this time.

Some notable scientists of the time:


Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175 – 9 October 1253) was an English statesman, scholastic philosopher, theologian, scientist and Bishop of Lincoln. He was born of humble parents at Stradbroke in Suffolk. A. C. Crombie calls him “the real

founder of the tradition of scientific thought in medieval Oxford, and in some ways, of the modern English intellectual tradition”.

Roger Bacon, OFM (c. 1214 – June 1292?; scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, meaning “wonderful teacher”), was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empirical methods.


Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

Women in the Middles Ages

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (1098 – 17 September 1179), was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias.


Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary

In Italy women were able to matriculate at university, something that was denied British women until the 19th/20th century.

The University of Bologna even had women on their teaching staff.

Very gradually things improved for women but of course they tended to be noble, rich, or both. These things made some women powerful.

Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk (1404–1475) was a granddaughter of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. She was known to be both ruthless and acquisitive.

She donated books and gold to Oxford University, and contributed twenty pounds toward the construction of its divinity school. Unusually for the time she was a member of the order of the garter.

A 1466 inventory showed that Alice owned a number of books.


Alice de la Pole, from her tomb at Ewelme Parish Church, Oxfordshire.

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1364 – c. 1430) was an Italian French late medieval author. She served as a court writer for several dukes (Louis of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and John the Fearless of Burgundy) and the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. She wrote both poetry and prose works such as biographies and books containing practical advice for women. She completed forty-one works during her 30-year career from 1399–1429. She married in 1380 at the age of 15, and was widowed 10 years later. Much of the impetus for her writing came from her need to earn a living for herself and her three children. She spent most of her childhood and all of her adult life in Paris and then the abbey at Poissy, and wrote entirely in her adopted language, Middle French.


Certain scholars have argued that Christine should be seen as an early feminist who efficiently used language to convey that women could play an important role within society.

By 1405, Christine had completed her most famous literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. The first of these shows the importance of women’s past contributions to society, and the second strives to teach women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities.

Of course there was the danger that a clever woman could be accused of being a witch.

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester (c.1400 – 7 July 1452), was a mistress and the second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. A convicted sorceress, her imprisonment for treasonable necromancy in 1441 was a cause célèbre.


Some women were allowed to work as surgeons in 16th century York.

Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban, QC (22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626), was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, essayist and author. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. After his death, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution. His ideas were influential in the 1630s and 1650s among scholars.


Portrait of Francis Bacon, by Frans Pourbus (1617)

He believed that science was master of man over nature and that nature was feminine.

The Royal Society (before gaining royal charter in 1660) was initially formed in 1612 as a private members club for gentlemen (no women allowed).

In 1620 James 1st of England introduced legislation on gender roles (he wasn’t particularly pro-woman) preventing women from dressing mannishly in the streets and throughout the 17th century life was particularly difficult for women who were accused of being witches.

During the Civil War (1642 to 1651) and the commonwealth certain groups such as the Diggers questioned the existing hierarchies. They wanted more equality for men (not women).

Leveller women asserted some political rights in the commonwealth; and Margaret Fell published a rationale in 1664 for allowing women to testify and preach in church, as Quakers often did

At the restoration of 1660 gender distinction became more marked with a shift in attitude and a fear of sexuality. King Charles the 1st had a particular view of women, and men in general were rather scared of women’s sexuality.

Charles was very pro-science and gave the Royal Society (in its current form although women are now actively involved) its charter in 1662.

During the 17th century natural philosophy started to branch in two ways: mechanical and hermetic. Hermetic was the original form and included such areas as alchemy (holistic), occult, astrology and magic). Mechanical philosophy was and is a term for an aspect of the scientific revolution of Early Modern Europe, in which an innovative branch of natural philosophy arose in the period about 1620 to 1650, describing the universe as similar to a large-scale mechanism.

Science or witchcraft – an act of God or an act of Satan

There were crossovers however:

Johannes Kepler was an astronomer, mathematician and an astrologist;

Francis Bacon was a scientist but also interested in the occult

Robert Boyle was a chemist and an alchemist

Isaac Newton was a physicist, mathematician and an alchemist.

Robert Hooke was very much a believer in mechanical philosophy

This change in ideas did have some benefits especially for some women.

There were opportunities for women in the 17th and 18th century in science, and some other areas, including technology, astronomy (telescopes), micrographia (microscopes), printing and translation. They were also in a slightly better position to argue for the rights of women to a decent education.


Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681) was an English biographer and the first person to translate the complete text of Lucretius’s De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”) into English, during the years of the interregnum (1649–1660). A rare female Latin scholar, she found her liberation in science.,_Duchess_of_Newcastle-upon-Tyne


Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623 – 15 December 1673) was an English aristocrat, a prolific writer, and a scientist.

She was a poet, philosopher, writer of prose romances, essayist, and playwright who published under her own name at a time when most women writers published anonymously.,_Viscountess_Conway

Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway (née Finch; 14 December 1631 – 18 February 1679) was an English philosopher whose work, in the tradition of the Cambridge Platonists, was an influence on Leibniz. Conway’s thought is original as it is rationalist philosophy, with hallmarks of gynocentric concerns and patterns, and in that sense it was unique among seventeenth-century systems.


Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (5 June 1646 – 26 July 1684) was a Venetian philosopher of noble descent, and the first woman to receive a doctoral degree from a university.


Elisabeth Catherina Koopmann Hevelius (1647–1693) is considered one of the first female astronomers, and called “the mother of moon charts”.


Johannes Hevelius and Elisabeth making observations

Mary Astell (12 November 1666 – 11 May 1731) was an English feminist writer and rhetorician. Her advocacy of equal educational opportunities for women has earned her the title “the first English feminist

Maria Margarethe Kirch (née Winckelmann; 25 February 1670 – 29 December 1720) was a German astronomer, and one of the first famous astronomers of her period due to her writings on the conjunction of the sun with Saturn and Venus and Jupiter and Saturn in 1709 and 1712 respectively.


This picture is of Maria when she was a young woman

Judith Drake (fl. 1696–1707) was an English intellectual and author who was active in the last decade of the 17th century. She was part of a circle of intellectuals, authors, and philosophers which included Mary Astell, Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas, Elizabeth Elstob, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and John Norris.

When Judith Drake and the other intellectuals of her circle began writing, they were still a minority and subject to much nay saying. Recently there had been a loosening of censorship of printed books. A few women including Judith took this opportunity to publish on gender relationships.


Portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (17 December 1706 – 10 September 1749) was a French mathematician, physicist, and author during the Age of Enlightenment. Her achievement is considered to be her translation and commentary on Isaac Newton’s work Principia Mathematica. The translation, published posthumously in 1759, is still considered the standard French translation.

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (31 October 1711 – 20 February 1778) was the first woman in the world to earn a university chair in a scientific field of studies. She received a doctoral degree from the University of Bologna in May 1732, only the third academic qualification ever bestowed on a woman by a European university, and the first woman to earn a professorship in physics at a university in Europe. She was the first woman to be offered an official teaching position at a university in Europe.


Elizabeth Carter (16 December 1717 – 19 February 1806) was an English poet, classicist, writer and translator, and a member of the Bluestocking Circle.


Elizabeth Carter as Minerva, goddess of wisdom, by John Fayram (painted between 1735 and 1741, NPG)

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (16 May 1718 – 9 January 1799) was an Italian mathematician and philosopher.

She is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus and was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna.



Caroline Lucretia Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) was a German British astronomer and the sister of astronomer Sir William Herschel with whom she worked throughout both of their careers. Her most significant contributions to astronomy were the discoveries of several comets and in particular the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which bears her name.

She was the first woman to be paid for her contribution to science, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville). She was also named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy (1838). The King of Prussia presented her with a Gold Medal for Science, on the occasion of her 96th birthday (1846)

Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze (20 January 1758 in Montbrison, Loire, France – 10 February 1836), was a French chemist. She was the wife of Antoine Lavoisier (Madame Lavoisier), and acted as his laboratory assistant and contributed to his work.


Portrait of M. and Mme Lavoisier, by Jacques-Louis David, 1788 (Metropolitan Museum)


Marie-Sophie Germain (April 1776 – 27 June 1831) was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Despite initial opposition from her parents and difficulties presented by society, she gained education from books in her father’s library and from correspondence with famous mathematicians such as Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss. One of the pioneers of elasticity theory, she won the grand prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences for her essay on the subject. Her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem provided a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject for hundreds of years after. Because of prejudice against her gender, she was unable to make a career out of mathematics, but she worked independently throughout her life. In recognition of her contribution towards advancement of mathematics, an honorary degree was also conferred upon her by the University of Göttingen six years after her death. At the centenary of her life, a street and a girls’ school were named after her. The Academy of Sciences established The Sophie Germain Prize in her honour.

Jane Marcet (née Haldimand) (1 January 1769 – 28 June 1858) was a successful Swiss writer of popular introductory science books.



Mary Fairfax Somerville (26 December 1780 – 28 November 1872) was a Scottish science writer and polymath, at a time when women’s participation in science was discouraged. She studied mathematics and astronomy, and was nominated to be jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society at the same time as Caroline Herschel.

During the industrial revolution (1760 – 1849) divisions between the roles of men and women became more polarised. It helped that the women who did make progress in science and education were wealthy or had connections, especially in the world of physics.

The rise in professional science and scientists did begin in the 19th century but it was seen as being more acceptable to the growing urban and commercial middle classes than the upper classes that tended to do the classics at university. This situation provided more opportunities for female scientists. However access to Oxford and Cambridge was closed to them. Scottish universities were more open and accessible.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the age, including Henry Cavendish and its first president, George Finch, the 9th Earl of Winchilsea, “for diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life”.

Much of its initial funding and the initial proposal for its founding were given by the Society for Bettering the Conditions and Improving the Comforts of the Poor, under the guidance of philanthropist Sir Thomas Bernard and American-born British scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford.

Throughout its history, the Institution has supported public engagement with science through a program of lectures, many of which continue today. The most famous of these are the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, founded by Michael Faraday.

The British Science Association, formerly known as British Association for the Advancement of Science or the BA, (founded 1831) is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between scientific workers. The Association’s main aim is to improve the perception of science and scientists in the UK. Membership is open to all.

The Association was founded in 1831 and modelled on the German Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte. The prime mover (who is regarded as the main founder) was Reverend William Vernon Harcourt, following a suggestion by Sir David Brewster, who was disillusioned with the elitist and conservative attitude of the Royal Society. Brewster, Charles Babbage, William Whewell and J. F. W. Johnston are also considered to be founding members. The first meeting was held in York (at the Yorkshire Museum) on Tuesday 27 September 1831 with various scientific papers being presented on the following days.

At one of the lectures 1500 women turned up. More women wanted to be scientists.

Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) was an American astronomer who, in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. She won a gold medal prize for her discovery which was presented to her by King Frederick VI of Denmark – this was remarkable for a woman. On the medal was inscribed “Non Frustra Signorum Obitus Speculamur et Ortus” in Latin (taken from Georgics by Virgil (Book I, line 257) (English: “Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars”). Mitchell was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer.


Maria Mitchell, painting by H. Dasell, 1851

Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (28 April 1854 – 23 August 1923) was an English engineer, mathematician, physicist, and inventor. She was awarded the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society for her work on electric arcs and ripples in sand and water.


Mary Adela Blagg (17 May 1858 – 14 April 1944) was an English astronomer.


Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (August 9, 1861 in San Francisco – October 5, 1942 in San Francisco) was an astronomer. She was Director of the Bureau of Measurements at the Paris Observatory and was elected a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.


Annie Jump Cannon (December 11, 1863 – April 13, 1941) was an American astronomer whose cataloguing work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. With Edward C. Pickering, she is credited with the creation of the Harvard Classification Scheme, which was the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures.


Dame Maria (May) Matilda Ogilvie Gordon DBE (30 April 1864 – 24 June 1939) was an eminent Scottish geologist and palaeontologist. She was the first women to be awarded a Doctor of Science from University of London and the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Munich. She was also a supporter and campaigner for the rights and equality of children and women.


Marie Skłodowska-Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win twice in multiple sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.


Henrietta Swan Leavitt (July 4, 1868 – December 12, 1921) was an American astronomer who discovered the relation between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars.


Elsa Neumann (August 23, 1872 – July 23, 1902) was a German physicist. She was the first woman to receive a PhD in physics from the University of Berlin, in 1899.


Harriet Brooks (July 2, 1876 – April 17, 1933) was the first Canadian woman nuclear physicist. She is most famous for her research on nuclear transmutations and radioactivity. Ernest Rutherford, who guided her graduate work, regarded her as being next to Marie Curie in the calibre of her aptitude.


Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women’s scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.


Ellen Gleditsch (29 December 1879 – 5 June 1968) was a Norwegian radiochemist and Norway’s second female professor. Starting her career as an assistant to Marie Curie, she became a pioneer in radiochemistry, establishing the half-life of radium and helping demonstrate the existence of isotopes.


Emmy Noether (March 1882 – 14 April 1935) was an influential German mathematician known for her contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. She was described by Pavel Alexandrov, Albert Einstein, Jean Dieudonné, Hermann Weyl, and Norbert Wiener as the most important woman in the history of mathematics.


Inge Lehmann ForMemRS (May 13, 1888 – February 21, 1993), was a Danish seismologist who discovered the Earth’s inner core. In 1936 she postulated from existing seismic data that the Earth’s core is not a single molten sphere, but that an inner core exists, which has physical properties that are different from those in the outer core. This conclusion was quickly accepted by seismologists, who up to this time had not been able to propose a workable hypothesis for the observation that the P-wave created by earthquakes slowed down when it reached certain areas of the inner Earth.


Marietta Blau (29 April 1894 – 27 January 1970) was an Austrian physicist.

Blau is credited with developing (photographic) nuclear emulsions that were usefully able to image and accurately measure high energy nuclear particles and events. Additionally, this established a method to accurately study reactions caused by cosmic ray events. Her nuclear emulsions significantly advanced the field of particle physics in her time. For her work she was nominated for the 1950 Nobel Prize in Physics by Erwin Schrödinger.


Irène Joliot-Curie (12 September 1897 – 17 March 1956) was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date. Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.

Access to education improved for women in Britain in the second half of the 19th century.

Oxbridge opened its doors to women in 1870/1880 but did not award them degrees.

London University allowed women to graduate in 1878

Woman in Science is a book written by H. J. Mozans (a pseudonym for John Augustine Zahm) in 1913. It is an account of women who have contributed to the sciences, up to the time when it was published.

The comprehensive theme that is depicted throughout Woman in Science is that of women’s biological capacity. It is asserted that a woman being less prominent than men in science is due to the lack of educational and career opportunities available rather than, the biological aspects of brain size or structure. In addition, the book encompasses the many developments of science throughout history. The main objective of the author/book was for women to become more involved and gain a respected position in the scientific field, in addition to increasing educational and career opportunities for women interested in science. It was one of the first collaborations of women’s contributions to the scientific community, and it “explored the barriers to women’s participation in science.

Oxford awarded women degrees in 1919-1920

Women’s engineering Society was set up in 1919.

Optomistic women though that things could only get better.

In 1928 all women finally had the vote

In the United States during the 1920s 14% of people who had a doctorate in the physical sciences were women. By 1960 this had dropped to 5%.


Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (May 10, 1900 – December 7, 1979) was a British–American astronomer and astrophysicist who, in 1925, proposed in her Ph.D. thesis an explanation for the composition of stars in terms of the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium.


Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright DBE FRS (17 December 1900 – 3 April 1998)[2] was a British mathematician. With J. E. Littlewood she was the first to analyse a dynamical system with chaos.


Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, DBE FRS (née Yardley, 28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971) was an Irish crystallographer, who finally proved that the benzene ring was flat by X-ray diffraction methods in 1929. She was the first to use Fourier spectral methods while solving the structure of hexachlorobenzene in 1931. During her career she attained a number of firsts for a woman scientist, including one of the first two women elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1945 (along with Marjory Stephenson), first woman tenured professor at University College London, first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.


Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 28, 1906 – February 20, 1972) was a German-born American theoretical physicist, and Nobel laureate in Physics for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. She was the second female Nobel laureate in physics, after Marie Curie.


Marguerite Catherine Perey (19 October 1909 – 13 May 1975) was a French physicist. In 1939, Perey discovered the element francium by purifying samples of lanthanum that contained actinium. She was a student of Marie Curie. In 1962, she was the first woman to be elected to the French Académie des Sciences, an honour denied to her mentor Curie. Perey died of cancer in 1975.


Dorothy Mary Hodgkin, OM, FRS (12 May 1910 – 29 July 1994), known professionally as Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin or simply Dorothy Hodgkin, was a British biochemist who developed protein crystallography, for which she was won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964.


Emmeline Jean Hanson FRS (14 November 1919 – 10 August 1973), commonly known by her middle name Jean, was a biophysicist and zoologist known for her contributions to muscle research.


Eleanor Margaret Burbidge (née Peachey), FRS (born August 12, 1919 Davenport) is a British-born American astrophysicist, noted for original research and holding many administrative posts, including Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.


Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her DNA work posthumously achieved the most profound impact as DNA plays a central role in biology, as it carries the genetic information that is passed from parents to their offspring.


Stephanie Louise Kwolek (July 31, 1923 – June 18, 2014) was an American chemist, whose career at the DuPont company covered over forty years. She is best known for inventing the first of a family of synthetic fibres of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—better known as Kevlar


Throughout history:

Women have contributed to science;

But their progress has not been linear. It has depended on the time, place and religion.

I think even if I tried not to choose physics, it would choose me. It is such a fascinating subject that no matter what other work I did, I would still want to learn about physics. ~United States

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