25 Quotes from Powerful Women in STEM Who Will Inspire You

These powerful women in STEM never backed down from pursuing their passions, and those enduring legacies continue to move other women into the STEM fields.

25 Quotes from Powerful Women in STEM Who Will Inspire You
Lise Meitner (left), Nichelle Nichols (right) 1, 2

As today is International Women's Day, we wanted to celebrate those women who revolutionized their fields. These women persevered despite oppressive institutions, restrictions on higher education, gender barriers, and race-driven division within their research fields.

While women continue to push forward in the STEM fields and they're slowly becoming a bigger part of the sciences, they still only constitute roughly 30 percent of all scientists in the field.

Depending on the industry, those numbers can get drastically small -- especially when considering the number of men in leadership positions within those fields in comparison to women. 

These 25 quotes celebrate the women who inspired revolutions in both their industries with groundbreaking discoveries and in society with unshakeable pride in being women who love STEM fields. 

1. Chien-Shiung Wu

"It is shameful that there are so few women in science...There is a misconception in America that women scientists are all dowdy spinsters. This is the fault of men." Chien-Shiung Wu, experimental physicist.

Wu became known as the "First Lady of Physics" and made extensive contributions to the Manhattan Project. This "Queen of Nuclear Research" broke barriers of both race and gender as a Chinese woman working alongside (and leading) some of nuclear physics' biggest names. 

2. Barbara McClintock

"If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off... no matter what they say." - Barbara McClintock, cytogeneticist and winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

3. Francoise Barre

"Certain people – men, of course – discouraged me, saying [science] was not a good career for women. That pushed me even more to persevere." - Francoise Barre, virologist who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine

4. Rosalind Franklin

"Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment." - Rosalind Franklin, chemist, molecular biologist, and one of the key figures behind unlocking the structure of human DNA

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Franklin's skills in molecular biology were overlooked as Watson and Crick became known as the pair credited with uncovering some of the world's biggest revelations about DNA. However, Franklin had perfected her X-ray crystallography technique by the spring of 1952, significantly earlier than Wilkins. 

5. Emilie du Chatelet

"Let us choose for ourselves our path in life, and let us try to strew that path with flowers." - Emilie du Chatelet, mathematician, physicist and author

6 and 7. Mae Jemison

“Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”  - Mae Jemison, first African American woman astronaut in space

"Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity."

Powerful, profound, brilliant. Mae Jemison has lived a life most Renaissance leaders would envy and most scientists only dream of accomplishing.

Not only is Dr. Mae Jemison an astronaut, she's a chemist, biologist, linguist, accomplished dancer, and humanitarian. However, it all started with her being an inquisitive young girl from Chicago. 

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(She's just so good we had to put her on this list twice. Seriously, Jemison is one of the most inspiring people ever to reach space, and she continues to make that possible for women and men of all races and backgrounds around the world.)

“Sciences provide an understanding of a universal experience, Arts are a universal understanding of a personal experience... they are both a part of us and a manifestation of the same thing... the arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity” - Mae Jemison 

8. Marie Curie

"I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy." - Marie Curie, 'female STEM superhero,' first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman in history to ever win it twice, and the only human to ever win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences

Few other humans hold as much impact on scientific discoveries as Curie's did on the rest of the world. Not only did she accomplish so much, she did so defying gender and class and biases nearly every step of the way. 

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9 and 10. Lise Meitner

"Life need not be easy, provided only that it is not empty." - Lise Meitner, physicist and one of the key reasons we actually understand what nuclear fission is today

“Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.” - another one from Meitner

11. Eugenie Clark

“We ignore public understanding of science at our peril” — Eugenie Clark, aka the 'Shark Lady' who redirected public discussion regarding sharks by focusing on their role in the marine food chain

12. Stephanie Kwolek

“All sorts of things can happen when you’re open to new ideas and playing around with things.” — Stephanie Kwolek, chemist who invented Kevlar and winner of the Lavoisier Medal for technical achievements

13. Susan Greenfield

“As always in life, people want a simple answer . . . and it’s always wrong.” — Susan Greenfield, neurochemist currently researching Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases

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14. Marie Daly

"Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging." -- Marie Daly, the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry and discovered the relationship between cholesterol and clogged arteries. 

15. Gerty Cori

“For a research worker the unforgotten moments of his life are those rare ones which come after years of plodding work, when the veil over natures secret seems suddenly to lift & when what was dark & chaotic appears in a clear & beautiful light & pattern.” -- Gerty Cori, Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine for her work in metabolizing carbohydrates

16. Rachel Carson

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” - Rachel Carson, marine biologist, conservationist and author

17. Elizabeth Blackburn

“I didn’t want to just know names of things. I remember really wanting to know how it all worked.” — Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine

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18. Karen Nyberg

"When I was in high school, I was certain that being an astronaut was my goal. It was a very important time -- Sally Ride was making her first flight into space and she had a real impact on me. Those 'firsts' kind of stick in your head and really become inspirations for you." -- Karen Nyberg, NASA astronaut

19. Zaha Hadid

"I used to not like being called a 'woman architect.' I'm an architect, not just a woman architect. The guys used to tap me on the head and say 'you're OK for a girl.' But I see an incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it can be done, so I don't mind anymore." -- Internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid

Dame Zaha Hadid redefined modern architecture around the world. She died in 2016, but Hadid's legacy of curve, clever use of construction materials, and distinctive personality live on through her work. 

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20. Nichelle Nichols

"Science is not a boy's game, it's not a girl's game. It's everyone's game. It's about where we are and where we're going. Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain't stopped yet. There's more exploration to come." -- Nichelle Nichols, former NASA Ambassador and Star Trek actress. 

"Science is not a boy's game, it's not a girl's game. It's everyone's game."

Nichols's groundbreaking performance as Lieutenant Uhura inspired black women everywhere to both break into acting and pursue aeronautics. Through her commanding performance, she broke racial barriers on American television.

Lieutenant Uhura and Nichols herself weren't relegated to small parts that simply propped up the white male leads. Often, Uhura stole the show and saved her team through insights and quick thinking.

During her time as a representative for NASA, Nichols helped recruit Dr. Mae Jemison and other black women to join the space program. 

21. Danica McKellar

"If you're beautiful, you're led to believe that you can't also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you'll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life." -- Danica McKellar, mathematician and The Wonder Years actress of iconic character Winnie Cooper

Not only does McKellar continue to act once in a while, but she also offers her own math assistance for anyone struggling to understand certain mathematical concepts. 

22. Sarah Parcak

"When I was a kid we'd rent Indiana Jones movies on VHS tapes. It inspired a whole generation of scholars because we saw the excitement, and the passion, and the drama. What's amazing to me about archaeology is the stories are even better than what you see in a Hollywood movie." -- Sarah Parcak, space archaeologist

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We've written about Sarah Parcak's revolutionary archaeological findings before on Interesting Engineering, as Parcak hasn't slowed down since winning the $1 million TED prize in 2015 to find more ancient civilizations.

In fact, her technique of combining high-resolution imagery from satellites with thermal imaging has helped find an additional 17 pyramids, 1,000 tombs, and over 3,200 ancient settlements within a single year.

Parcak has been a force for women in STEM since she started her research nearly 20 years ago.

23. Marissa Mayer

"People ask me all the time: 'What is it like to be a woman at Google?' I'm not a woman at Google, I'm a geek at Google. And being a geek is just great. I'm a geek, I like to code, I even like to use spreadsheets when I cook." -- technologist Marissa Mayer and former CEO of Yahoo.

While her recent career path has been fraught with trouble and security breaches at Yahoo, Mayer was one of the few women at the top in the IT industry.

Her time at Google, however, led to a number of inspirational quotes and discussions. Mayer helped shed light on the lack of female CEOs and entrepreneurs throughout Silicon Valley. 

24. Fabiola Gianotti

"This job is a great scientific adventure. But it's also a great human adventure. Mankind has made giant steps forward. However, what we know is really very, very little compared to what we still have to know." -- Higgs Boson physicist Fabiola Gianotti

Gianotti quickly became one of the most powerful women in STEM thanks to her position with CERN and her fervor for international scientific collaboration.

25. Regina Agyare

"When I was young I was very interested in science and technology, and my dad brought home the first computer. I played pac man and I was hooked! By learning to create technology, girls learn to speak up." -- Regina Agyare, founder of Ghana-based Soronko Solutions

Agyare not only brought a major tech presence to a nation most other people throughout the world wouldn't expect, but she spends her spare time investing in initiatives that give young African girls the chance to learn to code. Most recently, she set up a formal coding academy in West Africa called the Soronko Academy. 

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