11th February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science a day dedicated to raising awareness of the inequalities between women and men in science and technology with the goal of eliminating this gulf between the sexes. In honour of this, we wanted to acknowledge 6 of the most influential female scientists who are making a huge difference today.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna
In 2020, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women; Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. The prize honours their work on the technology of genome editing as they discovered the Crispr-Cas9 genetic scissors that make specific and precise changes to DNA contained in living cells. Their work has already contributed to important research and will be revolutionary in treating inherited illnesses. It is currently being tested for its potential to treat sickle cell anaemia.
I hope that this will provide a positive message specifically for young girls who would like to follow the path of science… and to show them that women in science can also have an impact with the research they are performing.Emmanuelle Charpentier
This is the first time that any of the science prizes have been awarded to two women without a male collaborator listed on the award.
Nina Tandon is a biomedical engineer and the founder and CEO of EpiBone, a company that grows bones for skeletal reconstruction. Her work has enabled practitioners to repair bone defects by using a patient’s stem cells to grow new healthy bones within a laboratory. These bones are created to exact measurements so that the patient’s body accepts the new bone without the risk of rejection.
Using the same methodology, Nina Tandon has successfully extended the application of her work to construct beating hearts. As a result of her work she has won a number of accolades including becoming a TED fellow and being named as a 2015 Global Thinker by Foreign Policy magazine.
At 16, Kiara Nirghin was named winner of the 2016 Google Science Fair for her creation of a super absorbent polymer made from orange peel and avocado skins. Capable of retaining over 100x its mass, this polymer offers the opportunity to revolutionise water conservation and to sustain crops during a drought. It also has the potential to be applied to agriculture fields and to increase global food security, particularly in countries that suffer from droughts.
We can encourage more women and girls to pursue STEM careers by showcasing more positive role models and other women’s success stories. Role models are so important because they are proof to young girls and aspiring scientists that they too can achieve their dreams.Kiara Nirghin, UN Women’s I am Generation Equality campaign
Fei- Fei Li
A computer scientist and prominent pioneer of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Fei-Fei Li is the co-founder of AI4ALL, a non-profit aimed at improving diversity in AI. She is also recognised for her work on the ImageNet project where she trained the first computer to recognise, interpret and understand images. By doing so she contributed to the development of a database of over 15 million images.
At her lab in Stanford, Fei Fei Li is currently working on the creation of interactive agents that understand the world using perception and actuation.
Hamilton Bennett, the Senior Director of vaccine access and partnerships at Moderna, has become one of the unsung heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic. In January 2020, when little was known about the Coronavirus, Moderna, a US-based biotech company, became the first to start working on a vaccine.
Two days after the first genome of the virus was mapped and shared publicly, Hamilton Bennet’s team finalised their Covid-19 vaccine: mRNA-1273. It is now one of two vaccines being administered across the US.
Hamilton Bennett had also previously managed Moderna’s Zika program, where she successfully produced a vaccine in a record 10 months.
These amazing scientists illustrate just how influential women and girls can be in the field of science.
At present, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 – 2016), only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (3%), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5%) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%)United Nations
Addressing this inequality between men and women in the industry is hugely important. To find out more about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, click here.
Do you know any influential women in science and engineering? Tell us on twitter.