4 Badass Women In STEM

Taylor Gmahling - Marketing Representative

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STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has long been a male-dominated field. Unfortunately, negative gender role stereotypes and historical baggage continue to greatly influence the STEM gender gap. Today, male STEM students still outnumber female students more than three to one, which carries over into the workplace.1

The first step to breaking barriers and changing stereotypes is to recognize the badass women in the field (past and present) who kick some serious science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ass! So without further ado, we’re taking a look at four of the baddest babes in STEM history.

Science: Hypatia (355 CE – 415 CE)

Hypatia wasn’t just the earliest female mathematician; during her time, she was arguably the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer.

Hypatia was one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria and one of the first women to study AND teach mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy.2

Hypatia’s father, Theon, was a renowned scholar and one of the last members of the Library of Alexandria. Theon made sure his daughter was well-educated. He taught her mathematics and astronomy. It wasn’t long before he considered Hypatia his scholarly equal and trusted her to collaborate with him on his work.

Hypatia went on to establish herself as a scholar and academic beyond her father’s influence. She taught classes and gave public lectures (which, as far as we know, was pretty unheard of for a woman at the time)!

In fact, Theon’s in-depth editing and exploration of Book III of Ptolemy’s Almagest (the part that established the Earth-centric model for the universe) was actually Hypatia’s work!3

Fun fact: Hypatia is depicted in Raphael’s Famous Painting, The School of Athens. She is the ONLY woman in the entire painting (of 21 figures) and the only philosopher making eye contact with us, the viewer.

When asked,  “Who is the beautiful lady in the middle?”,  Raphael replied:

“She is Hypatia of Alexandria, the most famous student of the School of Athens. She was a professor of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Alexandria and certainly one of the greatest thinkers ever.”4

Read more about Hypatia here!

Technology: Carol Shaw (1955 – Present)

Ladies, it’s 2018 and we don’t have to tell you that videos games aren’t just for boys. But for a looong time, women weren’t part of the gaming world… and especially not as programmers and designers.

That all changed when Carol Shaw came on the scene in the 1970s.

 

Shaw’s love for math and programming started in high school. She went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in both Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as a master’s degree in Computer Science.5

Before finishing her masters, Shaw interviewed and secured a job at the arcade game company, Atari.

Atari’s President at the time, Ray Kassar said of Shaw’s arrival, “Finally, we got a woman game designer. She can do interior decorating and cosmetic color matching in games.”6 Think again, Ray!

In 1978, Shaw became the first documented woman video game designer and programmer with Polo, a Polo-themed video game that was meant to be released with Ralph Lauren’s Polo cologne).7 #girlswhocode

Shaw remembers, “At that time one person would do the whole game – the coding, the graphics, the sounds, a gameplay interface, everything!” 8

Shaw is most known for her game River Raid, a top-down scrolling shooter game that tasks players with piloting a jet in enemy territory over the fictional River of No Return. River Raid won several awards, including Best Action Video game in 1984.9

Shaw recently received The Game Awards Industry Icon award in 2017.

Engineering: Chien-Shiung Wu (1912- 1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu is known as “the First Lady of Physics” for her significant contributions to nuclear physics.

After completing her Ph.D. in 1940 at the University of California, Berkeley, Wu moved to the East coast where she began teaching at Smith College.

Soon after, Wu accepted an offer from Princeton University, making her the first female instructor EVER to join the faculty there!

In 1944, Wu moved on to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University. At this time, Wu developed a process that produced large quantities of uranium, which is used as fuel for atomic bombs.10

Aware of the gender-based injustice in her field (which most likely kept her from being awarded the Nobel Prize alongside her colleagues in 1957), Wu stated, “I wonder whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.”11 

Wu spent the rest of her career in the Department of Physics at Columbia University as the undisputed leading experimentalist in beta decay and weak interaction physics.12

Wu continued to campaign for gender equality in her profession (and beyond), correcting anyone who called her by her husband’s name and insisting on being paid the same as her male colleagues at Columbia.13 #timesup

Mathematics: Katherine Johnson (1918 – Present)

You may recognize her name from the 2016 Oscar-nominated feature film, Hidden Figures, in which actress Taraji P. Henson brought Katherine Johnson’s remarkable and untold story to life.

Johnson was born in West Virginia in 1918. By 10 years old, she had already completed the eighth grade and was obvi extremely advanced at everything related to math and numbers. At 18, Johnson graduated top of her class (summa cum laude to be exact) in both mathematics and French from West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University).14

In 1952, Johnson didn’t hesitate to apply to NASA when she heard they were hiring African-American women to work as “human computers,” i.e., people who performed and checked difficult calculations for technological developments.15

Johnson said regarding her start at NASA, “The women did what they were told to do. They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”16

After just two weeks, Johnson had not only proven that she was indeed an absolute baller at math, but that she deserved a seat at the big boys’ table.

She talked her way out of the African-American female computing pool and into the flight division research department, where she would go on to be part of the team that was directly responsible for getting a human into space (and back)! 17

Later, after computing machines started taking over most of the calculations, the math at NASA still needed Johnson’s eye and trusted stamp of approval.

She played a crucial role in both the historic 1969 Apollo 11 trip to the moon and ensuring the safe return of Apollo 13 in 1970.18

Johnson retired from NASA in 1986.

In November 2015, President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom! #makingherstory

When asked to give advice to the NASA employees following in her footsteps, Johnson simply said, “Like what you do and then you will do your best.”19

Sounds like good advice, ladies! Let’s get on it.

 

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Notes & Gossip 📌

  1. “Women in STEM.” Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/women-in-stem/
  2. Zielinski, Sarah. (March 14, 2010). “Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria’s Great Female Scholar.” Revtreived from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hypatia-ancient-alexandrias-great-female-scholar-10942888/#kzyrZowGwlr0c3P3.99
  3. Zielinski, Sarah. (March 14, 2010). “Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria’s Great Female Scholar.” Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hypatia-ancient-alexandrias-great-female-scholar-10942888/#kzyrZowGwlr0c3P3.99
  4. Pierson, Olivia. (9/12/15). “The Beautiful Lady in the Middle – Hypatia of Alexandria.” Retrieved from http://www.oliviapierson.org/blog/the-beautiful-lady-in-the-middle-hypatia-of-alexandria
  5. Symonds, Shannon. (2017-07-19). “Preserving Carol Shaw’s Trailblazing Video Game Career” Retrieved from http://www.museumofplay.org/blog/chegheads/2017/07/preserving-carol-shaws-trailblazing-video-game-career
  6. Pajot, Lisanne and Swirsky, James. (Dec 9, 2017). “Carol Shaw: The Game Awards Industry Icon (Extended).” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a78uBNlI8Z0
  7. Symonds, Shannon. (2017-07-19). “Preserving Carol Shaw’s Trailblazing Video Game Career” Retrieved from http://www.museumofplay.org/blog/chegheads/2017/07/preserving-carol-shaws-trailblazing-video-game-career
  8. Pajot, Lisanne and Swirsky, James. (Dec 9, 2017). “Carol Shaw: The Game Awards Industry Icon (Extended).” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a78uBNlI8Z0
  9. Symonds, Shannon. (2017-07-19). “Preserving Carol Shaw’s Trailblazing Video Game Career” Retrieved from http://www.museumofplay.org/blog/chegheads/2017/07/preserving-carol-shaws-trailblazing-video-game-career
  10. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Chien-Shiung Wu Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  11. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Chien-Shiung Wu Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016 
  12. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Chien-Shiung Wu Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  13. SCUTTS, JOANNA. (June 14, 2016). “The Manhattan Project Physicist Who Fought for Equal Rights for Women.” Retrieved from http://time.com/4366137/chien-shiung-wu-history/
  14. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  15. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  16. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  17. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  18. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  19. Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016

Scholarly Shout-outs 🌟

  • “Women in STEM.” Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/women-in-stem/
  • Pajot, Lisanne and Swirsky, James. (Dec 9, 2017). “Carol Shaw: The Game Awards Industry Icon (Extended).” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a78uBNlI8Z0
  • Pierson, Olivia. (9/12/15). “The Beautiful Lady in the Middle - Hypatia of Alexandria.” Revtreived from http://www.oliviapierson.org/blog/the-beautiful-lady-in-the-middle-hypatia-of-alexandria
  • Scutts, Joanna. (June 14, 2016). “The Manhattan Project Physicist Who Fought for Equal Rights for Women.” Retrieved from http://time.com/4366137/chien-shiung-wu-history/
  • Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Chien-Shiung Wu Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  • Staff, Biography.com. (February 27, 2018). “Katherine G. Johnson Biography.” Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016
  • Symonds, Shannon. (2017-07-19). “Preserving Carol Shaw’s Trailblazing Video Game Career” Revtrieved from http://www.museumofplay.org/blog/chegheads/2017/07/preserving-carol-shaws-trailblazing-video-game-career
  • Zielinski, Sarah. (March 14, 2010). “Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria’s Great Female Scholar.” Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hypatia-ancient-alexandrias-great-female-scholar-10942888/#kzyrZowGwlr0c3P3.99

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