12 Women scientists who changed the world

History is full of great scientist, women, brilliant minds who have been key players in the advancement of humankind: researchers, doctors, engineers, inventors… They are an inspiration, and, despite living in societies full of prejudice, they made their way and demonstrated that there are no limits.

This February 11, the date we commemorate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022, we wanted to review 12 scientists who broke paradigms. Through their stories, we can show our daughters, nieces, neighbors, and any girl that they can achieve their dreams.

Let’s fight to reduce the gender gap in STEM areas.

Scientists who inspire us

1. Marie Curie

Poland, 1867-1934

Physics and chemistry

She discovered two radioactive elements: polonium and radium. Her research on radioactivity led her to become the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize (for Physics) jointly with her husband, Pierre Currie, and Professor Becquerel. In 1911 she won a second Nobel Prize, now in Chemistry, for her discovery of radium. During World War I, she created the first radiological centers for military use.

Marie Curie. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Marie Curie. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2. Rosalind Franklin

England, 1920-1958

Chemist, crystallographer, and scientist

Her work was fundamental to understanding the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, carbon, and graphite. In May 1952, she managed, with the X-ray diffractometer, to photograph the B side of hydrated DNA: the famous Photo 51, the backbone of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Rosalind Franklin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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3. Lise Meitner

Austria, 1878-1968

Physicist and scientist

She was the discoverer of the element protactinium and nuclear fission, an achievement that took her four years to complete. Her partner, Otto Hahn, was unfairly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944.

Lise Meitner. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

4. Maria Sibylla

Germany, 1647-1717

Naturalist, entomologist, explorer, and scientific illustrator.

As a child, she collected insects to study their behavior and illustrate their different stages of life. At that time, scientists only dedicated themselves to analyzing dead specimens, but she bred, observed, and carefully recorded the transformations in life. She drew in detail the process of metamorphosis when no one else had and documented thousands of insects unknown to science at the time.

Alice Ball United States, 1892-1916 Chemistry
Maria Sibylla. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

5. Alice Ball

United States, 1892-1916


Alice developed the only effective treatment for leprosy before the advent of antibiotics in 1940. Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that causes skin and nerve damage. Until then, the sick were imprisoned, and their life expectancy was practically nil.

Alice Ball. Photo: Wikimedia
Alice Ball. Photo: Wikimedia

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6. Ada Lovelace

England, 1815-1852

Mathematician and writer

Ada is the first programmer in history. She is famous for her work on Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer called the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognize that the apparatus had applications beyond pure calculation. She published what is known as the first algorithm.

Ada Lovelace. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Ada Lovelace. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

7. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

England, 1967


She is credited with one of the most outstanding scientific achievements of the 20th century: she discovered the first radio signal from a pulsar (neutron star) in 1967. Although she found pulsars, in 1974, his thesis supervisor, Antony Hewish, was awarded the Nobel Prize. It was highly criticized.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Jocelyn Bell Burnell Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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8. Barbara McClintock

United States, 1902-1992

Physician specialized in cytogenetics

In the 1930s and 1940s, Barbara McClintock showed that chromosomes were not fixed and stable chains of information but instead contained bits of DNA that jumped from one side to the other. She called them “transposable” genes. This discovery was fundamental to understanding hereditary processes. For her contribution, they gave her the Nobel Prize in 1983, many years after her studies.

Barbara McClintock. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Barbara McClintock. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

9. Katherine Johnson

United States, 1918-2020

Physics, rocket science, and mathematics

Her orbital mechanics calculations as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent human-crewed space flights in her country. Taraji P. Henson played the role of Johnson as the main character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, she received the United States Congressional Gold Medal.

Katherine Johnson. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Katherine Johnson. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

10. Wang Zhenyi

China, 1768-1797

Poetess, mathematician, and astronomer

She was a famous scientist in the Qing Dynasty; she had her theories about how eclipses work. She studied the Chinese calendar and used her telescope to measure the stars and explain the solar system’s rotation.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

11. Rita Levi-Montalcini

Italy, 1909-2012

Neurologist and scientist

Working with snake venom, tumors, and mouse saliva, she discovered nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that regulates nerve growth and keeps neurons healthy. Her findings have been key in understanding the control mechanisms that regulate cell growth. For this finding, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1986, shared with the scientist Stanley Cohen.

Rita Levi-Montalcini Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Rita Levi-Montalcini Photo: Wikimedia Commons

12 Hedy Lamarr

Austria, 1914-2000

Inventor and actress

She was the inventor of the first version of the spread spectrum that would allow long-distance wireless communications. Her technology was used to control torpedoes and communication. To date, the principles of her work are in use in Bluetooth technology, mobile networks, and Wi-Fi.

Hedy Lamarr. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Hedy Lamarr. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version