Women in Science Who Changed the World
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly decided to celebrate February 11 as “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” in 2015, in order to encourage women and girls to exist in the fields of science, technology and engineering. In addition, the UN has set this year’s theme as “Investing in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth”. Despite gender inequality from past to present, women have achieved many successes in science throughout history.
Despite significant progress in women’s empowerment and gender equality, especially in recent years, UN data reveal that “less than 30 percent” of researchers worldwide are still women. Although there are prejudices in many societies that “men are the best” in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, many scientists have achieved great success by making important discoveries and inventions throughout history.
World’s first computer programmer: Ada Lovelace
“Ada Lovelace”, whose real name is Augusta Ada Byron, born in 1815 in London, the capital of England, is known as the world’s first computer programmer. Having carried out many studies in the field of mathematics and logic with Charles Babbage, one of the important mathematics professors of the period at Cambridge University, Lovelace succeeded in attracting the attention of her teacher with her talent in mathematics.
Lovelace, who translated the review article of the Italian mathematician Louis Menabrea, published in French in 1842, for an English scientific journal for Babbage’s primitive computer called the Analytical Machine, added her notes to this translation and published the article in 1843. In the notes that Lovelace added to the translation, she detailed how to calculate Bernoulli numbers with Babbage’s machine. This method was considered by historians to be the world’s first computer program, and Lovelace became the “first programmer”. This machine designed by Babbage is the basis of today’s computers.
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The woman who died for the sake of science: Madame Curie
Poland-born French physicist and chemist Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934), known as “Madame Curie”, is one of the inventor women who achieved significant success in the world of science. Pioneering subatomic particle physics with her studies in the field of radioactivity, Curie was the first to discover the increased efficiency of subatomic particles in her experiments with the element uranium at the beginning of the 20th century. With these works, Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 and in chemistry in 1911, becoming the first woman to receive this award, and again became the first scientist to win this award twice.
Curie is also the first woman to attend the Solvay Conference (Conseils Solvay), where world-renowned physicists and chemists come together every 3 years. Madame Curie, who died of blood cancer due to exposure to excessive radiation during her scientific studies, went down in history as “the woman who died for the sake of science”.
The scientist who identified the HIV virus: Barre-Sinoussi
French scientist Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, who made history as the person who discovered that HIV causes AIDS, is among the pioneering women in the history of science. Barré-Sinoussi, who was part of a research group established in 1983 to understand whether a germ or virus caused AIDS, discovered that her assumption was correct in just two weeks. This virus was named “human immunodeficiency virus”, in other words, “HIV” with its initials, because it damages the human immune system. Barre-Sinoussi was one of the biggest supporters of the efforts to treat AIDS and solve the mystery around the disease in the following years. Discovered “nerve growth factor”, won Nobel
Born in 1909 in Turin, Italy, medical researcher Rita Levi-Montalcini carried out important studies on the discovery of the nerve growth factor, development, and differentiation of the nervous system. Levi-Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her “nerve growth factor” inventions in 1986 with her colleague Stanley Cohen, died in Rome at the age of 103. Known for her contributions to the scientific world in the field of medicine, Levi-Montalcini is also the first Nobel Prize-winning scientist to reach her 100th birthday.