Female Scientists in History and Today (2024)

women in science today and in history (1)

Women alongside men shaped this world and made our lives so much easier with science. Not only through scientific discoveries but women in science were breaking down barriers for all of the women who couldn’t contribute in this field and make an impact on this world.

It is time to celebrate the most famous women scientists from all over the world, in history and today. Some of these names you have probably heard of but we are sure you will learn some new names too. Put your nerdy glasses on and buckle up, it’s Grrrl science talk.

Let’s go way back in history – First Women in Science

Actually there is no exact record of who is the first woman in science known to the world, but one of the most recognized figures is Merit-Ptah.

She was an ancient Egyptian physician that lived around 2700 BCE. She is often cited as the earliest known woman in the field of medicine and is believed to have been highly respected in her time.

However, here’s a twist in the tale: there’s a bit of a question mark hanging over whether Merit Ptah actually existed. It’s like she’s the science world’s version of a legend or myth. But, real or not, she’s become kind of an icon, an inspirational figure for women everywhere in the world of medicine and science. She’s like the mascot for girl power in science and medicine, whether she walked the earth or not.

The second empowering woman that we need to mention is Hypatia of Alexandria. Living in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, she wasn’t just dabbling in philosophy – she was also a star in mathematics and astronomy. This wasn’t just your average thinker; she was a leading light in Alexandria, making waves with her sharp mind and contributions to some pretty complex fields.

Now, women like Hypatia are more than just historical figures; they’re the silent powerhouses of the early science world. They’re like the understated legends who’ve been shaping science from the shadows.

It’s like discovering a secret hall of fame where women have been influential from the get-go. Pretty cool, right?

Women in Science from around the world

Now, we’re about to shine a spotlight on some remarkable women scientists from various corners of the globe.

Think of this as a highlight reel showcasing a handful of the many brilliant minds in the world of science. We’re talking about a diverse array of talents and achievements that just scratch the surface of women’s contributions in this field.

And remember, this is just a teaser. In our other pieces from the ‘Women in Science’ series, we delve deeper, giving you a more comprehensive tour of female scientific prowess from each country. It’s like opening a treasure chest of knowledge and inspiration. Stay tuned for more!

Historical Women in Science from North America

Barbara McClintock (USA):

A Nobel laureate in genetics for her discovery of genetic transposition, McClintock’s work revolutionized our understanding of gene regulation and mutation. Her perseverance in a male-dominated field is a testament to her dedication to science.

barbara McClintock woman scientist

Rachel Carson (USA):

An environmental icon, American marine biologist and a writer, Carson authored “Silent Spring,” which brought to light the dangers of pesticide use, spurring the modern environmental movement. Her dedication to conservation reshaped public policy and awareness.

Gerty Cori (USA):

Along with her husband, Cori became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Her research on carbohydrate metabolism fundamentally changed our understanding of body energy processes.

Grace Hopper (USA):

A computer science pioneer, Hopper’s work in developing early programming languages laid the groundwork for modern software development. Her innovation in computer programming is monumental.

Alice Ball (USA):

A chemist whose research led to an effective treatment for leprosy, Ball’s method was the most effective treatment until the 1940s. Her contributions were initially overlooked but later received the recognition they deserved.

Alice Ball woman scientist (1)

Contemporary Women Scientists from North America

Sylvia Earle (USA):

An oceanographer and explorer, Earle is a pioneer in marine biology and a passionate advocate for ocean conservation. Her research and public outreach have raised awareness about the importance of healthy oceans.

Mae Jemison (USA):

An engineer, physician, and the first African American woman in space. Jemison’s achievements in NASA and her advocacy for science education inspire many.

Shirley Ann Jackson (USA):

A physicist who made significant contributions to telecommunications research and was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT. Her research has had a lasting impact on the technology we use daily.

Donna Strickland (Canada):

A Nobel Prize-winning physicist recognized for her pioneering work in laser physics. Strickland’s research has opened new avenues in precision laser applications.

Jennifer Doudna (USA):

A biochemist, Doudna is a co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9, a groundbreaking gene-editing technology. Her work has revolutionized molecular biology and genetics.

Historical Women Scientists from South America

Cecilia Grierson (Argentina):

The first woman in Argentina to receive a medical degree. Grierson was a trailblazer in women’s medical education and public health.

Bertha Lutz (Brazil):

A biologist and a leading figure in both the feminist movement and herpetology in Brazil. Lutz’s work in science and women’s rights has left a lasting legacy.

Angelita Gama (Brazil):

A pioneering nuclear physicist, Gama made significant contributions to her field and broke barriers for women scientists in Brazil.

Ynes Mexia (Mexico):

Starting her botanical career later in life, Mexia became one of the most prolific plant collectors, discovering numerous new species.

Contemporary Women Scientists from South America

Suzana Herculano-Houzel (Brazil):

A neuroscientist famous for her studies on the human brain, particularly in defining the number of neurons that the human brain contains.

Adriana Ocampo (Colombia):

A planetary geologist at NASA, Ocampo has significantly contributed to our understanding of planetary impact craters and the history of our solar system.

Mónica Rubio (Chile):

A leading figure in genomics and biotechnology in Chile, Rubio’s work is vital in understanding genetic diseases prevalent in South American populations.

Gabriela González (Argentina/USA):

A physicist known for her work on gravitational waves. Her research has shed light on some of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe.

Karen Hallberg (Argentina):

A physicist specializing in condensed matter theory, Hallberg’s work using computational methods to understand new materials has earned her international recognition.

Historical Women Scientists from Europe

Marie Curie (Poland/France):

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win in two different scientific fields. Curie’s work on radioactivity paved the way for groundbreaking research in physics and chemistry.

Ada Lovelace (United Kingdom):

Considered the world’s first computer programmer due to her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, Lovelace’s vision of computing extends far beyond her time.

Lise Meitner (Austria):

A physicist who played a key role in the discovery of nuclear fission, Meitner’s work in nuclear physics was groundbreaking yet underrecognized for many years.

Rosalind Franklin (United Kingdom):

Her critical contributions to understanding the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, and viruses were fundamental to the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Emmy Noether (Germany):

Her contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics, particularly Noether’s Theorem, laid the groundwork for future scientific theories.

Contemporary Women Scientists from Europe

Fabiola Gianotti (Italy):

A particle physicist and the first woman to lead CERN, Gianotti’s work at the Large Hadron Collider has been crucial in our understanding of fundamental particles.

Sarah Gilbert (United Kingdom):

A vaccinologist who led the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Gilbert’s work has been instrumental in the global fight against the pandemic.

Magdalena Skipper (Poland/UK):

A geneticist and the current editor-in-chief of Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals. Her work has been influential in advancing genomic research.

Ursula Keller (Switzerland):

A physicist known for her pioneering work in ultrafast laser technology, Keller’s research has numerous applications in science and technology.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Germany):

A biologist and Nobel laureate known for her work on the genetic control of embryonic development. Her research has been fundamental in understanding genetics and development.

Historical Women Scientists from Africa

Wangari Maathai (Kenya):

An environmental political activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization that focuses on tree planting, conservation, and women’s rights. Her work has had a profound impact on environmental conservation and sustainable development in Africa.

Susan Ofori-Atta (Ghana):

As one of the first female physicians in Ghana, Ofori-Atta made substantial contributions to medicine and public health. She was instrumental in developing healthcare systems in Ghana and advocating for women’s and children’s health during the mid-20th century.

Susan McKinnon (Egypt/South Africa):

A geneticist and anthropologist known for her groundbreaking research in medical anthropology.

Margaret Mungherera (Uganda)

She was one of Uganda’s most respected medical professionals and a global leader in the medical community. She served as the first female and African president of the World Medical Association, representing physicians worldwide. Throughout her career, Mungherera advocated for improved healthcare systems, ethical medical practices, and the rights of both patients and healthcare workers.

Contemporary Women Scientists from Africa

Tebello Nyokong (South Africa):

A chemist known for her work in photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment, Nyokong’s research has been pivotal in developing new methods for treating cancer.

Francisca Okeke (Nigeria):

A physicist recognized for her research in lower atmospheric physics, Okeke’s work has been influential in understanding climate and weather patterns in Africa.

Segenet Kelemu (Ethiopia):

A molecular plant pathologist and the director-general of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kelemu’s work in agriculture is critical for food security and sustainability in Africa.

Maha Nasr (Egypt):

A pharmaceutical scientist known for her work in nanotechnology for drug delivery, Nasr’s research is advancing the field of targeted medicine.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (Mauritius):

A biodiversity scientist and the first female president of Mauritius, Gurib-Fakim has worked extensively on the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim (South Africa):

An epidemiologist known for her research in HIV prevention and treatment, Abdool Karim’s work has been instrumental in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Historical Women Scientists from Asia

Chien-Shiung Wu (China/USA):

A leading experimental physicist who made significant contributions to the field of nuclear physics, particularly in the study of beta decay.

Rajeshwari Chatterjee (India):

A pioneer in microwave engineering and the first woman engineer from Karnataka, Chatterjee’s work laid the foundation for numerous developments in antenna technology.

Toshiko Yuasa (Japan/France):

The first Japanese woman to receive a doctorate in physics, Yuasa’s work in nuclear physics was pioneering during a time when few women were in the field.

Yasmeen Lari (Pakistan):

Pakistan’s first female architect, Lari has also contributed significantly to conservation science, blending architecture with environmental sustainability.

Asima Chatterjee (India):

A renowned organic chemist, Asima Chatterjee made significant contributions in the fields of organic chemistry and phytomedicine. Her research on medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent played an instrumental role in developing drugs to treat epilepsy and malaria. She was also the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university, paving the way for women in the Indian scientific community.

Contemporary Women Scientists from Asia

Tu Youyou (China):

Still active in her field, Tu Youyou’s discovery of artemisinin has been a game-changer in malaria treatment. It’s not every day someone finds a life-saving medicine, but Tu, defying the odds and delving into ancient texts, did just that. Her work has saved millions of lives worldwide, showcasing a blend of historical wisdom and modern scientific practice.

Tessy Thomas (India):

Known as the ‘Missile Woman’ of India, Tessy Thomas has made significant contributions to the field of missile technology. As the Project Director for Agni-IV missile in DRDO, she’s a leading figure in India’s defense research and a role model for women in science and engineering.

Chiaki Mukai (Japan):

The first Japanese woman astronaut, who has not only ventured into space twice but also contributed significantly to space medicine and human spaceflight research. Her work helps in understanding how the human body adapts to space.

Fang-Hui Chen (China):

A leading figure in the field of radiopharmaceutical science. Her research focuses on developing new diagnostic and therapeutic solutions in nuclear medicine, contributing to advancements in the detection and treatment of various diseases.

Ainun Nishat (Bangladesh):

A prominent environmentalist and expert in water resource management. Nishat has been instrumental in addressing climate change impacts and water management issues in Bangladesh, making significant contributions to sustainable development in the region.

Women in Science from Balkans

We’re taking a moment to celebrate some remarkable women in science from the Balkans – our home and that of our neighbors.

It often seems like these incredible scientists don’t receive the attention they deserve, and we’re on a mission to change that. For a more in-depth look at these inspiring figures, be sure to check out our extended article, ‘Women in Science from the Balkan.’

But for now, let’s focus on highlighting the top three pioneering science women from each Balkan country. Their stories are not just inspiring; they’re a testament to the remarkable contributions women make in the world of science.

Women in Science from Serbia

Mileva Marić-Einstein:

Often in the shadow of her famous husband, Albert Einstein, Mileva Marić-Einstein was a physicist in her own right. She collaborated with Einstein on his early works, and some believe she played a crucial role in his theories. Her story is a blend of brilliance and mystery, intertwining with one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century.

Draga Ljočić

Serbia’s first female doctor, was a pioneering figure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Breaking barriers in a male-dominated field, she dedicated her life to women’s health and rights. Beyond her medical practice, she was a fervent advocate for women’s suffrage and social equality, combining her medical expertise with activism to effect change in both health care and society. Her legacy extends beyond medicine, symbolizing the fight for gender equality in Serbia.

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic:

A titan in the field of biomedical engineering, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic has made groundbreaking contributions to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She’s like a sculptor, but instead of clay, she uses cells and tissues to innovate ways to heal the human body.

Women in Science from Romania

Ana Aslan:

A pioneer in gerontology, Ana Aslan didn’t just study aging; she sought to ease its effects. Her work led to the development of Gerovital, a treatment she claimed had anti-aging properties, making her a revered figure in the search for the fountain of youth.

Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu:

One of the first female engineers in the world, Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu broke barriers in a male-dominated field. Her career is a testament to perseverance and intellect, proving that engineering isn’t just a man’s world.

Stefania Mărăcineanu,

A trailblazing Romanian physicist, worked closely with Marie Curie and made significant contributions to the study of radioactivity. Her pioneering research, particularly on the artificial radioactivity and the half-life of various substances, was crucial in the early 20th century, laying foundational stones for modern nuclear physics and chemistry.

Scientist women from Montenegro

Elena of Montenegro:

Studied medicine and was involved in various health initiatives, including efforts against diseases like poliomyelitis and cancer. She was a patron of medical research and training in Montenegro.

Aleksandra Klisić,

From the University of Montenegro’s Medical Faculty, is renowned for her research on biomarkers in cardiometabolic disorders and their diagnostic use. Her significant contributions, published in top-tier journals, include over 70 scientific papers and around 800 reviews. Leading international projects and the first accredited laboratory in Montenegro, Klisić’s work has earned her a place on Stanford’s list of influential scientists, highlighting her as a key figure in medical research.

Natasa Raicevic

A physicist at the University of Montenegro’s Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, specializes in the highly specialized field of experimental high-energy physics, focusing on the study of elementary particles. Her research delves into the fundamental constituents of matter. Raicevic is renowned for her contributions to the H1 experiment at DESY laboratory in Germany, particularly her precise measurements of the internal structure of protons. Her work is highly cited by scientists worldwide, making her the most referenced female scientist from Montenegro on Google Scholar and second among all Montenegrin professors. Her influence extends from experimental physicists to theorists who further develop and refine their theories based on her experimental results.

Women in Science from Croatia

Mira Zore-Armanda,

Renowned Croatian oceanographer, made significant contributions to marine science, particularly in the Adriatic Sea. Her extensive research focused on physical oceanography, examining sea currents, temperature, salinity, and their ecological impacts. Zore-Armanda’s work was pivotal in understanding the complex dynamics of the Adriatic ecosystem, making her a key figure in Mediterranean marine studies.

Vera Stein Erlich:

A distinguished social anthropologist, Vera Stein Erlich’s work in studying family structures and social changes in Croatia was pioneering. She delved into the intricacies of human relationships and cultural dynamics, offering profound insights into the societal fabric of the Balkans.

Zlata Bartl,

A Croatian scientist and innovator, is best known for creating Vegeta, the famous all-purpose seasoning and culinary phenomenon. Working at Podravka, she led the team that developed Vegeta in the 1950s, combining science and gastronomy. Her invention revolutionized cooking in the region and beyond, making her a household name and a pioneer in food science.

Women in Science from Bulgaria

Elizaveta Karamihailova

Elizaveta Karamihailova stands out in the world of physics as a notable Bulgarian scientist.

Her work in nuclear physics and cosmic rays was remarkable, especially during a time when women in her field were rare.

Collaborating with eminent scientists like Heisenberg, she delved into atomic nuclei, contributing significantly to our understanding of particle interactions. Karamihailova’s achievements not only advanced her field but also paved the way for future women scientists in Bulgaria.

Roumiana Metcheva

Roumiana Metcheva, a prominent Bulgarian ecotoxicologist, has significantly contributed to environmental science, especially in the study of pollution’s impact on wildlife. Her research, blending ecology with toxicology, provides crucial insights into how contaminants affect ecosystems and animal health.

Metcheva’s work is not just about data and experiments; it’s a vital effort to understand and protect our natural world, making her a key figure in environmental conservation efforts in Bulgaria and beyond.

Miliana Kaisheva

Miliana Kaisheva, a Bulgarian biologist and polar researcher, made her mark with her expeditions to Antarctica. Her work focused on lichenology, studying the resilience and characteristics of lichens in extreme polar conditions.

Kaisheva’s research is more than a scientific endeavor; it’s an exploration into one of Earth’s most challenging environments, offering valuable insights into climate change and ecological adaptation.

Her contributions have significantly enhanced our understanding of polar ecosystems, highlighting her as a key figure in Bulgarian scientific exploration.

Scientist women from Albania

Sabiha Kasimati

Sabiha Kasimati, an Albanian ichthyologist, was a trailblazer in the study of fish biology in her country. Her pioneering work focused on Albania’s freshwater fish, making significant contributions to understanding their biology and ecology.

Kasimati’s research was not just academic; it laid the foundation for aquatic conservation in Albania.

Her dedication to science, under challenging circumstances, marks her as a remarkable figure in Albanian scientific history, remembered for her passion and resilience in the face of adversity.

Mira Murati

Mira Murati, a trailblazing figure in the realm of technology and innovation, stands out for her significant contributions in the field. With a focus on developing cutting-edge technologies, her work pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, blending creativity with technical expertise. Murati’s role is pivotal in shaping the future of tech, making her a key figure and an inspiration, especially for women looking to make their mark in the traditionally male-dominated world of technology. Her achievements reflect a blend of vision, skill, and determination, highlighting her as a notable figure in contemporary science and technology.

Laura Mersini-Houghton

Laura Mersini-Houghton is a notable figure in theoretical physics, particularly known for her work in cosmology. Originally from Albania, she has made significant contributions to our understanding of the universe, including theories on the multiverse and dark matter. Mersini-Houghton’s work goes beyond the conventional, challenging and expanding our comprehension of the cosmos. Her research is not just about exploring the universe; it’s about redefining the fundamental questions of existence. As a leading woman in her field, she embodies both intellectual brilliance and a pioneering spirit, inspiring future generations to look beyond the stars.

Scientist women from Macedonia

Svetlana Antonovska

Svetlana Antonovska, a distinguished Macedonian architect and urban planner, has made a significant impact in her field. Known for her innovative approach, she blends modern design principles with a deep respect for cultural and historical contexts. Antonovska’s work is not just about creating spaces; it’s about crafting environments that reflect a harmonious balance between functionality and aesthetic appeal. Her projects, characterized by their thoughtful and sustainable designs, have contributed to shaping the urban landscape in Macedonia, making her a key figure in contemporary architecture and urban development in the region.

Dragica Vasileska

Dragica Vasileska stands out in the world of electrical engineering with her impactful work on semiconductor device modeling. Her contributions delve deep into the physics of these devices, driving forward technological advancements. More than just a researcher, as a professor, Vasileska plays a crucial role in educating future engineers, blending her technical expertise with a passion for teaching. Her influence extends from the academic world into the realm of practical, innovative technology, making her a respected figure in her field.

Nataša Jonoska

Nataša Jonoska, a distinguished figure in the field of mathematics and computer science, has made notable contributions, particularly in the area of theoretical computer science. Her work, which often bridges mathematics and biology, delves into the complexities of computational models and DNA computing. Jonoska’s research isn’t just about solving abstract problems; it’s about exploring the intersection where computer science meets the natural world. As an academic, she not only advances theoretical knowledge but also inspires a new generation of thinkers to explore the fascinating crossroads of computation and biology, making her a pivotal figure in her field.

Bosnia and Hercegovina

Ševala Zildžić-Iblizović

Ševala Zildžić-Iblizović, born in 1903 in Sarajevo, was a trailblazing figure in the medical field of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Overcoming societal norms, she became the first female Muslim doctor in the country. Her journey was marked by resilience; facing resistance from her community, she persevered to pursue education, enrolling in a male gymnasium with special permission and later attending the Faculty of Medicine in Zagreb. Zildžić-Iblizović’s career was distinguished not only by her medical expertise but also by her dedication to serving her patients during challenging times, including World War II. As a gynecologist, pediatrician, and one of the first in her region to operate a private practice with modern medical equipment, she left a lasting legacy in the healthcare system, remembered for her courage, compassion, and groundbreaking achievements.

Berta Bergman

Berta Bergman, a pioneering Bosnian pediatrician, was born near Sarajevo and became the first female high school graduate in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1912. After studying medicine in Vienna, she devoted her career to pediatrics across Bosnia, including Banja Luka and Mostar. During WWII, she joined the resistance, aiding partisans with medical supplies and treatment. Arrested twice for her efforts, Bergman’s bravery led to her tragic end in the Jasenovac concentration camp in 1945. Her legacy is one of courage, resilience, and dedication to both medicine and the fight against oppression.

Vera Šnajder

Vera Šnajder, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s own mathematical marvel, broke new ground as the first female mathematician in her country. Diving into the complex world of algebra, she wasn’t just solving equations; she was reshaping the landscape of linear and multilinear algebra. Šnajder’s legacy goes beyond numbers and theories; she paved a path of inspiration for countless women in science, proving that math isn’t just a man’s world. Her story is one of brilliance, determination, and breaking the mold in the mathematical community.


Ana Kansky

Ana Kansky, a Slovene chemist and chemical engineer, carved a notable path in the realm of chemistry and engineering. Her work, centered around chemical processes and engineering principles, contributed significantly to advancements in these fields. Kansky’s approach combined a deep understanding of chemical properties with practical applications, bridging the gap between theory and real-world solutions. Her contributions, marked by precision and innovation, not only advanced scientific knowledge but also paved the way for future developments, making her a respected figure in the scientific community of Slovenia.

Darja Lisjak

Darja Lisjak is a prominent figure in the field of materials science, specifically renowned for her work in Slovenia. Her research primarily focuses on advanced materials, exploring their properties and potential applications. Lisjak’s work isn’t just about understanding materials at a molecular level; it’s about pushing the boundaries of how these materials can be used in technology, from electronics to sustainable solutions. As a scientist, she blends rigorous research with innovation, contributing to advancements that could shape the future of various industries. Her dedication to exploring the uncharted territories of materials science marks her as a key contributor in her field.

Marija Strojnik Scholl

Marija Strojnik Scholl, an esteemed Slovenian physicist, has made significant strides in the field of optical science. Her work, particularly in infrared detection and optical systems, stands at the forefront of technological advancements. Strojnik Scholl’s research isn’t just about peering through lenses; it’s about pioneering developments that enhance our ability to observe and understand the world, from astronomical observations to practical applications in everyday technology. Her contributions have not only furthered scientific understanding but also opened new possibilities in the realm of optics, marking her as a leading figure in this specialized and dynamic field of physics.

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