The month of March of every year is a time period set aside to look back and honor women’s countless achievements across various fields including but not limited to athletics, film, literature, fashion, media, and Interesting Engineering’s personal favorite, science, and engineering.
Across history, there have been women who have dominated their fields beating out their male counterparts, pushing the realms of science forward to better the lives of all humanity.
It is only appropriate that Interesting Engineering take the time to take a brief look at the women whose work has impacted the world so dramatically, that they have been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Prize
Before jumping into the list, here is a little refresher. For the uninitiated, the Nobel Prize is one of the highest honors you can receive in the world, given to those for their intellectual or humanitarian achievement. Alfred Bernhard Nobel, Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, was the originator of the prize.
Nobel’s last wishes were to create an organization that highlights and awards “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”
The Nobel Foundation highlights accomplishments in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economics.
Here are eleven women in the realms of science whose work has earned them a Nobel Prize.
Marie Sklodowska Curie
Category: Physics, Chemistry
Year Awarded: 1903, 1911
Marie Curie work garnered the attention of the world during the turn of the 20th century. Her contributions in the fields of both physics and chemistry make her one of the most famous scientists to have ever existed.
A Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist, her work in radioactivity that still affects you to this day.
In 1903 Curie was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in physics for the discovery of the phenomenon of radioactivity while in 1911, she was awarded another Nobel Prize for the discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium.
Year Awarded: 1935
Irene Curie made it her mission to build off of her mother’s work, continuing research into the emerging world of radioactivity. In her relentless research, Curie’s discovery that radioactivity could be artificially produced earned her a Nobel Prize.
Irene’s work on radioactive isotopes has provided the basis for many biomedical research and cancer treatments today.
Gerty Theresa Cori
Year Awarded: 1947
Born in Prague, Gerty Theresa Cori was a Jewish Austrian American biochemist whose work plays an integral role in medicine today. Cori’s work encompassed human metabolism. A discovery that is now called the Cori Cycle, it is when lactic acid forms when you use your muscles, which is then converted into glycogen in the liver.
This work has laid the framework for understanding diabetes today. She is also the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science.
Maria Goeppert Mayer
Year Awarded: 1963
German physicists and mathematician, Maria Mayer has made multiple contributions to the field of physics. Nevertheless, her proposed idea of the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus is what eventually earned her a Nobel Prize. Mayer also worked on isotope separation for the atomic bomb project.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Year Awarded: 1964
Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin’s work in chemistry has been well received in the arena of medicine. Born in 1910, Hodgkin is best known for her research in the developing of biochemical compounds.
Nevertheless, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the structures of penicillin and vitamin B12, determining that these compounds are crucial to fighting anemia.
Hodgkin also helped advance the x-ray crystallography technique, a tool that helps scientists understand the three-dimensional structures of biochemical compounds
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow
Year Awarded: 1977
The New York native, Rosalyn Yalow, was a physicist whose work contributed to the world of medicine. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine due to her development of radioimmunoassay or RIA. This extremely sensitive technique is a test of body tissues that uses radioactive isotopes to measure the concentrations of hormones, viruses, vitamins, enzymes, and drugs.
Year Awarded: 1983
Barbara McClintock challenged preconceived notions of what genes were capable of through here research, discovering that some genes can be mobile. Building off of these insights, her studies on the chromosomes in corn led to the discovery of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the potential cure for African sleeping sickness.
Year Awarded: 1986
An Italian neurophysiologist, Rita Levi-Montalcini was equally admired for her work and fearless, charismatic personality. Her 1954 discovery of nerve growth factor earned her the Nobel Prize in 1986. NGF is a protein that causes developing cells to grow by stimulating surrounding nerve tissue, playing a role in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease.
Year Awarded: 1988
Gertrude Elion has had an extensive career, she was the first woman to be in Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. Her research has led to the development of drugs that combat major diseases like Malaria, AIDS, and leukemia. Elion also developed Imuran, a drug that blocks the rejection of any foreign tissues. Her inventions have influenced many treatments in medicine.
Year Awarded: 1995
German biologist, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s work has helped explained congenital disabilities in humans, earning her a Nobel Prize. Working together with American geneticists, Volhard studied Drosophila or the fruit fly helped explain congenital malformations in humans.
Year Awarded: 2008
French Virologist, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi’s work has helped identify a disease that affects millions of people around the world. In 1983 Françoise discovered a retrovirus in patients with swollen lymph glands that attacked lymphocytes; blood cells that are very important to the body's immune system. This retrovirus would be later named Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV the cause of AIDS.
All The Other Amazing Women Worth Mentioning
Year Awarded: 2018
Born in Canada, the optical physicist Donna Theo Strickland's work in the field of pulsed lasers has rippled across the earth. An optical physicist, Strickland has discovered a method of creating ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. This laser has many different uses, including corrective eye surgeries.
Frances H. Arnold
Year Awarded: 2018
Originally from Edgewood, Pennsylvania, France Hamilton Arnold is an American chemical engineer with an extensive career background in both bioengineering, and biochemistry. Her work on the directed evolution of enzymes is what earned her a Nobel prize, developing proteins that could solve humankind's chemical problems.
Linda B. Buck
Year Awarded: 2009
An American biologist, Linda Brown Buck's work on the olfactory system earned her a Nobel Prize. Buck's research shed light on how hundreds of genes in our DNA code for the odorant sensors located in the olfactory sensory neurons in our noses.
Ada E. Yonath
Year Awarded: 2009
Alongside her colleagues Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thoma A. Steitz, Ada E. Yonath was awarded a Nobel Prize for studies on the structure and function of the ribosome. An Israeli crystallographer, she is the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize.