Women in Science: A book review by Bob Morris

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World Hardcover
Rachel Ignotofsky
Ten Speed Press (2016)

Standing atop the shoulders of so many “giants”

I read this book in combination with Catherine Thimmesh’s Girls Think of Everything, regretting that civilization has not as yet reached a point when achievements no longer need be identified as gender-specific. Be that as it may, both books provide valuable information and insights about creative thinking.

Rachel Ignotofsky focuses on 50 “fearless pioneers” during a time frame that extends from Hypatia (350-370 CE-415 CE [?]) until Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017). Women in the United States were not permitted to vote until 1920 and access to higher education was denied — or at least severely limited — to women who wanted to pursue a degree in medicine or in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Moreover, resistance to women’s personal growth and professional development has been even wider and deeper in most other countries.

These are among the mini-profiles of “fearless pioneers” that are of greatest interest and value to me:

o Ada Lovelace (1815-1852): Mathematician,; collaborator with Charles Babbage on first computer program
o Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910): Physician; founder of several medical societies in U.S. and England
o Alice Ball (1892-1916): Chemist; developed a new treatment of leprosy victims throughout the world
o Marie Curie (1867-1934): Physicist and chemist; Nobel laureate (twice)
o Barbara McClintock (1902-1992): Cytogeneticist; revised views of evolution and botany; Nobel laureate
o Grace Hopper (1906-1992): Navy admiral and computer scientist; invented first compiler
o Rachel Carson (1907-1964): Marine biologist and conservationist; author of the Silent Spring
o Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000): Inventor and film actress; developed frequency-hopping spread system (FHSS) used in smartphones, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices
o Katherine Johnson (1918- ): Physicist and mathematician calculated trajectories for NASA; featured in the book and film, Hidden Figures
o Jane Goodall (1934- ): Primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist; renowned for research on chimpanzees
o Valentina Tereshkova (1937- ): Engineer and Cosmonaut; first woman to travel in outer space; orbited Earth 48 times in Vostok VI
o Elizabeth Blackburn (1948- ): Molecular biologist; invented telomarase (enzyme that builds telomeres); Nobel Laureate
o Maye Jemison (1956- ): Astronaut, educator, and physician; first African-American woman in outer space; founder and CEO of several corporations

Rachel Ignotofsky concludes, “The women in this book prove to the world that no matter your gender, your race, or your background, anyone can achieve great things. Their legacy lives on. Today, women all over the world are still risking everything to discover and explore.

“Let us celebrate these trailblazers so we can inspire the next generation. Together, we can pick up where they left off, and continue the search for knowledge.

“So go out and tackle new problems, find your answers, and learn everything you can to make your own discoveries!”

That is her challenge to the young women who read this book but it is also a challenge to others — parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and clergy — who can support their efforts. I also urge those young women to keep in mind this valuable insight from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can  make you feel inferior without your consent.”




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