What Was the Last Time a Woman Made a Scientific Discovery?
Hey, nerds (And other mortals. We’re all about inclusiveness here.)
Have you heard of the Special Theory of Relativity? It’s said to be one of Albert Einstein’s most famous theories, many tend to mistake it as the one that won him the Nobel Prize (No, it wasn’t this one. Yes, I’m serious. Have a glass of water.)
This was the theory that revolutionized Physics, opened up a completely new branch of study and gave us Physics students many many sleepless nights. (“What about Newton?” [Nervous sweating]) You can read about it on Wikipedia if you’re enthusiastic about nervously sweating.
Now, Have you heard of a woman called Mileva Maric? I doubt. Mileva Maric was a Mathematician, Physicist and one of the first women ever to attend University.
It was at this time that she fell in love with Albert Einstein, and later married him. There is evidence today that Mileva Maric may have (at least) co — authored the famous Special Theory of Relativity paper but hasn’t to this day, been recognized as a contributor
One of the bases for this speculation is that the author of these papers at that time, was an Einstein-Marity. (Marity is the Hungarian translation of Maric.)
Furthermore, in many of his letters, Einstein has written to her about “their work.”
Mathematician and Physicist Richard C. Tolman, who is said to have worked on this theory with Mileva also wrote about it in his book Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology.
But all this is merely speculation. Let us assume that Mileva had no part to play in this theory.
I will, nevertheless leave you with a quote from one of Albert’s letters to her, dated 1925, regarding an autobiography that she wanted to publish. In this, he writes —
“You did make me laugh aloud when you threatened me with your memoirs; doesn’t it occur to you that no cat would give a damn about such scribblings if the man you’re dealing with had not achieved something special. If one is a zero it cannot be helped, but one should be nice and modest and keep one’s trap shut. That is my advice to you.”
For more on this, you can read this paper published by Galina Weinstein.
Moving on from speculation, let’s talk about Jewish scientist Lise Meitner. She had collaborated extensively with Otto Hahn, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for the year 1944.
Together and independently, they made various contributions to the field of Nuclear Physics. But in March 1938, after the German annexation of Austria, she was forced to go into hiding. In the same year, she and Hahn met secretly in order to solve one of the greatest problems of that time — the ‘splitting’ of Uranium.
On her suggestion, Hahn, along with Fritz Strassman carried out various experiments, the findings of which where published in 1939. Meitner explained these findings through various calculations, thus explaining the nuclear fission of Uranium. But, the Nobel committee failed to recognize her work, and out of the three, only Otto Hahn received the Nobel.
So umm, sorry to break it to you, but a woman played a major role in discovering nuclear fission. Here, have another glass of water.
It was Rosalind Franklin’s findings, pictures and notes that were critical to the discovery of DNA. As she had passed away long before the Nobel was awarded for it, her contributions which changed modern medicine as we know it, remain largely obscure.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered Pulsars by analyzing three miles of paper obtained from a radioscope she’d assembled, all while she was Graduate student at Cambridge University, the Nobel for this, when awarded was to the professor she had worked under, Anthony Hewish and Martin Ryle, a radio astronomer at Cambridge University. All she got out of this was a little bit of sympathy from the scientific community.
Chien-Shiung Wu, aka the First Lady of Physics worked extensively on the Atomic Bomb and also disproved the Law of Parity too was left out for the Nobel, while her collaborators Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang went on too win it. For her too, just sympathy.
Melitta Bentz (Coffee Maker), Katharine Burr Blodgett (Non-reflective glass), Lynn Marguis (Role of Symbiosis in Evolution); I can name hundreds of other women who have helped shape Science as we know it today, and so can you — all it takes is a simple Google search.
Women in STEM fields have historically been underrepresented. There exists a huge gender gap, with women making up only a small fraction of workers in these fields. Out of this small fraction, the work of most women goes unrecognized due to either social or political factors. In such a scenario, it is imperative that we do not question the contributions of women to the scientific community, but narrate them to young girls, so that they may serve as inspirations.