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Blog / 10 Amazing Women Scientists Who Changed the World
A banner image with a photo of two women scientists working in a lab on the right. On the left, there is a green background and text that reads, “10 Amazing Women Scientists Who Changed the World.”

10 Amazing Women Scientists Who Changed the World

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8th, is a day dedicated to recognizing the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. 

One area where women have made significant contributions is in the field of science! 

Many women are well-known for making groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in all the realms of science. 

From Marie Curie’s pioneering work in radioactivity to Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA, women have left their mark on the scientific world.

Let’s take a look at 10 amazing women scientists who have changed our world. 

Psst. This makes a great classroom activity! Read through or share this blog post with your students, and ask them to research one scientist from the list. Then ask them to present in small groups of 3-4.

An image of a woman scientist looking at a slide with a microscope. There are chemical lab glasses filled with colored liquids on the table.

1 – Dr. Hayat Sindi

Dr. Hayat Sindi is a brilliant Saudi Arabian scientist, inventor, and business owner who has made important contributions to the field of biotechnology. She is one of the first Saudi women to get a PhD in biotechnology and then work as a research fellow at Harvard University. 

Dr. Sindi is known for her invention of a diagnostic tool that is capable of detecting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in developing countries. 

This portable and low-cost device is the result of her work at the Diagnostics for All lab, which she co-founded. 

Dr. Sindi is also a champion for women’s education and empowerment and has founded multiple organizations dedicated to promoting science education among women in the Arab world.

In recognition of her work, she has won a number of prestigious awards and, in 2012, Arabian Business Magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful Arab women.

A gloved hand is shown using a syringe to put liquid into a Petri dish.

2 – Marie Curie

Marie Curie is one of the most famous female scientists. She was a physicist and chemist who is best known for her research on radioactivity, which earned her two Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry. 

She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the first person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes in different categories. 

Curie and her husband, Pierre, found two new elements: polonium and radium. They also came up with ways to separate radioactive isotopes. Their work made a big difference in the field of medicine, especially in how cancer is treated. 

Curie was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, where she founded the Curie Institute, which remains a leading center for scientific research today.

A photograph of Marie Curie, a famous woman scientist, and her husband, Pierre Curie, on the left. The photograph is in black and white.

3 – Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou is a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist who has made important changes to how malaria is treated. 

In the 1960s, Tu was hired to work on treating malaria. She was in charge of a team whose job it was to test how well traditional Chinese herbal treatments worked against malaria. She eventually discovered artemisinin, a compound derived from the sweet wormwood plant, which proved to be highly effective in treating malaria. 

Artemisinin and its derivatives are now widely used around the world in the treatment of the disease and have saved countless lives. 

For her work, Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015, becoming the first Chinese woman to receive the honor. 

Her discovery has had a profound impact on global health, and her innovative approach to drug discovery has inspired countless researchers to explore the potential of traditional medicine in the treatment of disease.

An image of a reading passage about malaria. There is also a shot and a vial of liquid next to the writing.

4 – Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made crucial contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. 

She is best known for creating X-ray images of DNA that were critical to understanding its double helix structure. 

Her famous Photo 51 provided critical evidence that DNA had a helical structure and James Watson and Francis Crick used this to create their famous DNA model. 

At the time, Franklin’s contributions to the discovery were not appreciated as much as they should have been, and she did not get the credit she deserved. Her contributions were finally recognized after her death, and her work has since been praised as an important part of understanding DNA structure. 

Franklin’s groundbreaking work in crystallography also made important contributions to the study of viruses and other biological molecules. She is still an important figure in the history of science, especially for her role in helping us learn more about the molecular structure of life.

An up-close and 3D image of the DNA double helix.

5 – Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison is an American physician and astronaut who made history as the first African-American woman to travel into space.

In 1992, she flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist. Jemison got a degree in chemical engineering and then went on to get a degree in medicine before she started working at NASA. She worked as a general practitioner before joining NASA’s astronaut program in 1987. 

Jemison has always been a supporter of science education and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. She started the Jemison Group, a company that focuses on research, technology, and education. She also started the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which works to improve science education in underserved communities. 

Jemison has earned a lot of awards and honors for all of her hard work, such as being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. She is a role model and an inspiration for future generations of scientists and astronauts.

An image of Mae Jemison, an African American woman, floating inside the space station.

6 – Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin was a British biochemist and X-ray crystallographer who is best known for her groundbreaking work in determining the structures of important biomolecules. 

One of her most significant achievements was the determination of the structure of penicillin in 1945, which allowed for the development of new antibiotics. She later went on to determine the structures of vitamin B12 and insulin, which were important discoveries in the field of biochemistry. 

Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, becoming only the third woman to receive the honor. 

Her groundbreaking work in X-ray crystallography made it possible to study the structure of biological molecules at the molecular level. This has had a big impact on biochemistry and medicine.

An image with a reading passage about antibiotics. Next to the reading, there are various pills and a syringe with liquid.

7 – Cynthia Breazeal

Cynthia Breazeal is an American roboticist who is best known for her work in developing social robots.

She is the founder and director of the Personal Robots Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she has been a faculty member since 2003. 

Breazeal’s work has been focused on making robots that can sense and understand human emotions. This could change the way people interact with robots in a big way.

She is also the creator of Kismet and the author of the book “Designing Sociable Robots”. Kismet is a robot that can engage in realistic social interactions with humans.

Breazeal has won many awards and honors for her work in the field of robotics. In 2003, Technology Review named her one of the “Top 100 Young Innovators” in recognition of her work.

An image of human-like robots sitting at a table on computers.

8 – Mary-Claire King

American geneticist Mary-Claire King has made important contributions to the field of genetics, especially in the study of breast cancer. 

In the 1970s, she developed methods for identifying genetic markers that allowed for the identification of individuals and their relationships. Later, she focused on how cancer is caused by genes. In 1990, she found the first gene, BRCA1, that makes people more likely to get breast cancer. 

This discovery changed the field of cancer genetics and made it possible to make genetic tests that can help people figure out how likely they are to get breast or ovarian cancer. 

King has also been an advocate for the use of genetics in resolving human rights issues, particularly in the identification of missing persons and the reunification of families. 

Many awards and honors have been given to her for her groundbreaking work in genetics. She received the National Medal of Science in 2014.

A doctor with a pink breast cancer ribbon on her jacket is talking to a patient in her office.

9 – Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock was an American geneticist who made pioneering contributions to the field of genetics. She focused her studies on transposable genetic elements, which are also known as “jumping genes.” 

McClintock was the first to discover these elements, which are sequences of DNA that can move from one location to another within the genome. Her work challenged the idea that genes were fixed and unchanging. Many other scientists did not believe that genes could jump and disregarded her research. 

However, her persistence and dedication to her research eventually led to her being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983. Her discovery of transposable genetic elements has helped genetic engineering and the development of new medical treatments in important ways. 

An image of a gloved hand pipetting a liquid into a well plate.

10 – Chien-Shiung Wu

Chinese-American physicist Chien-Shiung Wu made important contributions to the field of nuclear physics. Her most notable achievement was the experimental confirmation of the theory of beta decay. 

Wu’s work on beta decay helped us learn more about the basic forces of nature.Her discoveries led to advances in nuclear physics and particle physics. 

Wu was also known for breaking down barriers for women in science, as she faced significant gender and racial discrimination throughout her career. 

Wu didn’t give up in spite of these problems. She went on to become the first woman to teach at Princeton University and the first woman to lead the American Physical Society. Her groundbreaking work has earned her numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science in 1975. 

An image of an atom in fluorescent lighting.

Women scientists changed the world

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of women across all fields, including science. 

The women scientists I have highlighted here are just a few of the many remarkable women who have made significant contributions to the field of science.

These women have pushed the limits of scientific knowledge and changed the world for the better.

If you want posters about women scientists for your classroom, check out the ones available for free here! These are not created by me – I was lucky to find them a few years ago. They make a great classroom display!

I hope you have a wonderful day,

Emma The Teachie