Here’s a look at three women scientists who were trailblazers during a time when men dominated the field of science.
Rosalind Franklin Probably the most well-known of these women is Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920 –1958). Franklin was an English chemist whose work led to the discovery of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). But her role in this revolutionary finding would go largely unrecognized until after her death. In fact, even though Franklin herself obtained the very first image of DNA fibers using X-ray crystallography and she had several working papers describing the structural qualities of DNA in progress, her yet-to-be-published discovery was shared with others (unbeknownst to her). And in 1953, American biologist James D. Watson(born April 6, 1928) and English physicist Francis Crick (1916 – 2004) took credit for the discovery of the three-dimensional double helix structure of DNA in their published article “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in the 171st volume of Nature. Although they included a footnote acknowledging that they were “stimulated by a general knowledge” of Franklin’s unpublished contributions, it was Watson and Crick who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in 1962.
Chien-Shiung Wu A similar set of events occurred when Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997), a Chinese-American female experimental physicist, upended a law of physics but her findings were credited to two male theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, who initially approached Wu to help disprove the law of parity (the quantum mechanics law that held that two physical systems, such as atoms, are mirror images that behave in identical ways). Wu’s experiments using cobalt-60, a radioactive form of the cobalt metal, overturned this law which led to a Nobel Prize for Yang and Lee in 1957, although Wu was excluded.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born July 15, 1943), an Irish astrophysicist, discovered the first radio pulsars as a 24-year-old postgraduate student in Cambridge on November 28, 1967. While analyzing data printed out on three miles of paper from a radio telescope she helped assemble, Bell noticed a signal that was pulsing with great regularity and strength.Despite having been the first to ever observe a pulsar, Bell Burnell was largely excluded from the initial accompanying accolades associated with this discovery. In fact, her supervisor, Antony Hewish would go on to earn a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974 (along Martin Ryle) while Bell Burnell was excluded.