Women in Science

After famous mathematician Emily Noether’s death in 1935, Einstein said, “In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Since Noether’s time, many more women have been credited with scientific contributions that revolutionized many areas of the sciences. In honor of March, Women’s History Month, here are some recent women who have progressed the sciences.

Ruzena Bajcsy, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, University of California at Berkeley. Bajcsy heads an innovative institute where researchers develop smart low-power sensors that both compute and communicate. Bajcsy believes the sensors will be “the next revolution in technology.” They can monitor energy consumption in buildings, watch for forest fires, or keep tabs on people by, for example, calling 911 if a person with Alzheimer’s disease wanders from his home.

Jacqueline K. Barton, professor of chemistry, California Institute of Technology. Barton discovered that DNA conducts electric currents, but not as well—or not at all—when its tight organization is disrupted by damage from certain chemicals or mutations. This finding should allow researchers to look for mutations using chips made of strands of DNA attached to gold on silicon wafers.

Elizabeth Blackburn, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, University of California at San Francisco. Each time a cell divides its chromosomes shorten slightly. To protect vital genes from being lopped off, chromosomes are capped with telomeres, blocks of DNA and protein. Telomeres are maintained by telomerase, an enzyme discovered by Blackburn and biologist Carol Greider. In most healthy cells, telomerase production eventually ceases, telomeres whittle down, and the cell dies. Blackburn’s research has shown that in cancer cells, the enzyme never shuts off, and cells become immortal: “Telomerase is reactivated in about 90 percent of tumors. It is a great favorite of cancer cells,” and thus a target for new drugs.

Ingrid Daubechies, professor of mathematics and applied and computational mathematics, Princeton University. To analyze the signal of an image, sound, electrocardiogram tracing, or even a turbulent gas, one must break it down into simpler parts. The parts that scientists and engineers use are Daubechies’s wavelets—mathematical building blocks that are also used for data compression and encryption.

Lene Vestergaard Hau, professor of applied physics, Harvard University.  Hau was the first to bring light, which moves at a constant, breakneck pace of 186,282 miles per second in a vacuum, to a screeching halt. She did it within a cloud of sodium atoms cooled to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

These women represent hundreds of other female scientists who are daily making giant leaps in scientific understanding. Women have historically been the unsung heroes of the scientific world, but recently they have been receiving more and more attention as they are recognized for their brilliant contributions. No doubt there will be many more in the future.


-Mackenzie Brown, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences


information on women courtesy of http://discovermagazine.com/2002/nov/feat50#.UwzVHvRdX9M

picture courtesy of http://www.nature.com/news/specials/women/index.html or http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2010/03/22/women-make-strides-in-science/




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