355 - 415

Hyperbolla, ellipse, and parabolas

Hypatia was a mathematician, great orator teacher, astronomer and philosopher.

Her work on the ideas of conic sections was a significant contribution to mathematics. She edited the work ‘On the Conics of Apollonius’, a book written by Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This concept developed the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses.

Through her writings and manuscripts, Hypatia made mathematical concepts easier to understand. She transferred that knowledge through her lectures, which were accessible to all scholars of the time.

Surviving through centuries, her mathematical work made a huge impact, since it was transferred effectively and to a large public.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

476 - 550


Aryabhata, also known as Aryabhata I or Aryabhata the Elder, was a mathematician and astronomer. Author of the book Aryabhatiya, which summarizes the mathematics and astronomy of the time.

Aryabhata interplayed numbers with consonants of the Indian alphabet and their combination with vowels. It’s been suggested that due to his use of the numbers and the formulas presented in the book, he was likely to know the sign zero and its place-value system.

While many of Aryabhata’s works have been lost, he is considered one of the first and a major mathematician of the time.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

780 - 850

Algebra and algorithms

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwārizmī developed the concept of algorithms in mathematics, which is why he is known to be the grandfather of computer sciences.

His iconic book ‘The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing’ presented quadratic and linear equations and ways to solve them. The scholar developed in it the mathematical process of ‘reduction’ and ‘balancing’ which is the possibility to take to the other side of an equation a term, and the possibility to annul same terms in the opposite side of an equation. The term Algebra is derived from his book entitled ‘Al-Jabr’.

Moreover, he contributed greatly to trigonometry by tabulating accurately sine and cosine as well as tangents.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

895 - 979

Leprosy diagnosis

Ibn-al-Jazzar-al-Quayraweni was a physician and pharmacist who first diagnosed Leprosy. He detailed his findings in his book ‘Provision for the traveller and the present's subsistence’, an iconic medical-pharmaceutical textbook where diseases were classified by their aetiology. It included descriptions of disease physiology, symptoms and treatments, as well as minor surgeries and the use of minerals. This book was frequently used by travellers and poor people who could not afford a doctor. Some of the described pharmaceutical formulations are still in use today.

Ibn al Jazzar’s name got forgotten when his books were translated to Latin by Constantine the African, who purposefully acquired his work without referencing him. However, his considerable volume of scientific work is now recognized for its value.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

903 - 986

Andromeda galaxy

The astronomer Abdou al-Rahman al-Sufi, also known as Azophi, reported the first observation of a group of stars outside of the milky way , the Andromeda galaxy in 964. He described this in his ‘Book of Fixed Stars’ published the same year.

In addition to that, to improve the work of Ptolemy, ‘Almagest’ and to account for the procession of the stars, he added a three leveled scale to measure the magnitude of the stars which increased the accuracy of the measurements of their positions. Moreover, his observation of the inclination of the ecliptic plane compared to the celestial equator was important and lead to an accurate measurement of the tropical year.

Even though the ‘Book of Fixed Stars’ is important in the history of astronomy, the first English translation appeared only in 2010, a thousand years after its original date of publishing.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

965 - 984

Science translation

Lubna al Cordoubia was famous for her knowledge of grammar and the quality of her poetry. She was an intellectual and mathematician of the second half of the 10th century, who promoted the translation of science into various languages.

Lubna was in charge of writing and translating many manuscripts. Along with Hasdai-ibn-Shaprut, she was the driving force behind the creation of the famous library of Medina Azahara, which was home to more than 500,000 books from different fields.

One of the skills that empowered her in this function was her great master of mathematics and many other sciences, as well as languages and grammar.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

980 - 1037

Father of early moderm medicine

Ali Ibnou-Abi-Sina or commonly known to westerners as Avicenna, is one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, thinkers and writers of the 10-11th century and he is considered the father of early modern medicine.

He was the first to introduce in pharmacy the concept of successful treatment through experimentation and reproducibility of the outcome (the rational causation), called propriatas in Latin. In medicine, he was famous for his sharp observational skills, experimentation and extensive detailed description of the human anatomy.

He published two iconic books, the ‘Book of the Cure’, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, and ‘The law of Medicine’, These books were the standard of medical textbooks used in medieval western and occidental universities untill 1650.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1560 - ca. 1640

Blunt-hook birth delivery

Marie Colinet was born in Geneva, Switzerland. She married Wilhelm Fabry, today called “The Father of German surgery”. Colinet was a mother and house wife but often worked together with her husband in surgery. While learning all the tricks of surgery through a wakeful eye and ear, she soon worked independently and excelled him (according to her husband).

Later, she moved into gynaecology and obstetrics because this was her true passion from an early age. Again, as a helper, this time to midwifes, she learned everything about midwifery. She soon advanced caesarean sections and introduced the use of heat to dilate and stimulate the uterus during labour to ease childbirth. Finally, thanks to her inventiveness, during a difficult delivery in 1623, she was the first to use a blunt-hook to deliver a baby.

Another important invention of hers was to remove an iron splinter from the eye using a magnet. Magnets are still in use today in modern surgery. While her husband clearly devoted this invention to his wife, it was often connected with his person.

In a time when it was unthinkable for a woman to practice medicine, Colinet was a gifted woman in both surgery and gynaecology, whose diligence, passion, and inventiveness knew no bounds.

Besides her capability and interest in midwifery and surgery, she wrote several religious books.

Written by: Theresa Burkard.

1562 - ca. 1620

Brain and body

Pioneer advocate for the use of face masks for disease prevention, Oliva Sabuco: a brilliant mind from the XVI century.

Ahead of her time, and during the turbulent times of the Spanish inquisition, the 24 years old Oliva Sabuco wrote a direct letter to the king Felipe II in which she shared her medical and philosophical book ‘Nueva filosofía de la naturaleza del hombre no conocida ni alcanzada de los grandes filósofos antiguos: la cual mejora la vida y salud humana’ (‘A New Philosophy of the Nature of Man’). In her letter, Oliva asked the king to protect her piece, describing her work as extremely innovative, a book which included discussions on why we live, die, and get sick, as well as advice to avoid a violent death.

Her book was first published in 1587, and it soon gained fame. Among interesting topics from the book, we may mention Oliva’s pioneer arguments for the use of face masks. She stated that covering nose and eyes was key to prevent transmission of the plague. This recommendation was done in a time when it was not yet accepted that the plague was transmitted through the air.

Oliva’s medicine followed a holistic approach. She challenged prior philosophers, like Hippocrates, Aristoteles, and Galenus. She defended that the origin of the thinking was the brain, and stressed that the brain and the body were connected. She stated that the mental stage could affect the body stage, potentially resulting in illness or even death.

Moreover, Oliva defended that the characters from both the mother and the father were inherited by the offspring. Contrary to Aristoteles, who believed that only characters from the father were inherited.

Despite being admired by her contemporary peers and gaining fame at the time, Oliva’s name fall into oblivion.

Throughout history, her work has been questioned by historians who misbelieved that such a pioneer work could have been done by a woman. There were those who attributed her work to men from the time, like Simon Abril, despite the contradiction between Simon’s views and those stated in the book. Likewise, when a letter from Oliva’s father (Miguel Sabuco) claiming authorship of the book was found, many gave his letter much more credibility that other letters and manifests from Oliva as author of the book. However, many historians recognised Oliva as the author. Arguments to support this were the existence of letters, the mention of Oliva’s talents in writings from her contemporaries, and analysis of the book content.

Oliva Sabuco de Nantes Barrera touched philosophy, ethics, medicine, and politics and she is considered a pioneer and a brilliant mind from the Spanish Golden Age.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1711 - 1778

Newtonian physics into Italy

An Italian physicist and academic, Laura Bassi was the first woman to have a doctorate in science and became the first salaried woman teacher at a university at age 21. Her interests were in experimental and Newtonian physics, and she was key in introducing these subjects to Italy. She presented papers on mathematics, pneumatics, fluid dynamics, mechanics, optics and electricity and authored 28 papers mostly on physics and hydraulics.

At age 65, she was appointed to the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Bologna, the only woman to hold such a position for more than a century after.

An outspoken advocate for educating women in science, she fought for open enrolment of women at universities.

-> Laura Bassi 's biography is available at ETH Zurich Library @swisscovery

Written by: Gina Cannarozzi.

1750 - 1848

Discoverer of comets

Actively discouraged from learning and trained as a house servant by her mother, Caroline Herschel’s brother, William Herschel, a musician and the astronomer who discovered Uranus, was instrumental in allowing her to get an education. Both Herschels were active in building telescopes that were technically superior to those available at the time, allowing them to discover many unknown celestial objects.

Between 1786 and 1797, Caroline discovered eight comets. She also developed a new catalogue of the heavens organized by north polar distance and spent 20 months correcting the standard star catalogue of the time.

She became the first woman in England to receive a salary for her scientific work and was honoured by the King of Prussia and the Royal Astronomical Society for her astronomical work.

-> Caroline Herschel's biography is available at ETH Zurich Library @swisscovery

Written by: Gina Cannarozzi.

1815 - 1852

Programming pioneer

Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace, is known as a computer pioneer due to her contributions to the Analytical Engine from Charles Babbage.

Her translation of Luigi Federico Menabrea’s paper on the Analytical Engine triplicated the extend of the original text, enriched by Augusta Ada King’s notes. She included a stepwise sequence of operations, and she referred to the ‘science of operation’, which may be understands as ‘computing’.  

While her contribution is still debated, and the undervalue of her achievements may be presented as an example of the Matilda Effect, there is agreement on describing Ada as a visionary.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1819 - 1885

Independent submarine

The first air-independent submarine with self-engine was invented by Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol. His submarines, called Ictineo (fish-ship) I and II, contributed to the advances in submarine navigation.

The Ictineo was a double vessel, with technology to immerse and ascent to the surface, an air renewal system, and a engine.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1820 - 1910

Modern nursing

Florence Nightingale transformed the concept and practice of nursing to the evidence-based medicinal discipline that it is today. She did so by implementing statistics, data imaging, and sanitary and organizational protocols towards.

As a pioneer in medical statistics and data visualization, Florence Nightingale invented the polar area diagram.

Her name is now visible on the façade of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) alongside other health and tropical medicine innovators.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1830 - 1902

Translator of Darwin's Origin

The self-taught scholar Augustine-Clémence Royer started her career as a secondary school teacher, but soon after, she conducted several lectures for women on the topics logic and natural philosophy. Joining the journal Le Noveau Économiste encouraged her to write her thoughts and opinions about society, with special interest on the role of women. She wrote numerous books and articles, and conducted numerous lectures. She was politically active and championed education for women. Among her texts we may mention her regular contributions to the French feminist journal La Fronde.

She translated to French the Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, and not only she translated it, but she added additional material, including a long preface and footnotes with explanations.  Subsequently, in her book Origine de l’homme et des sociétés she argued her own thoughts and discussed some of Darwin’s arguments.

She was the first woman joining the Société d’anthropologie de Paris and the Société d’économie politique.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1861 - 1912

Chromosomal sex determination

Through her research with mealworms, Nettie Stevens identified that males produced reproductive cells with two types of chromosomes, while female reproductive cells only had one type of chromosome. This led her to deduce the genetic-based sex determination.

While the chromosomal sex determination is commonly attributed to Nettie Stevens, it has also been credited to Edmund Wilson, who encounter similar findings at a similar time. However, both Stevens and Wilson were sometimes forgotten in biology textbooks, where the discovery is often erroneously credited to Thomas Hunt Morgan.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1862 - 1935

Pioneer of surface tension research

Agnes Pockels made important discoveries regarding surface tension and other physicochemical effects.

Her brother, namesake of the Pockels effect, is still well known until this day. The fact that his older sister Agnes was a pioneer of surface science, however, is almost completely forgotten. Initially inspired by observations of dishwater, she started investigating the surface tension of water and its boundary layers at the age of 19.

Even though she had strong interests in natural sciences and attended the high school for girls in the northern German town Braunschweig, it was impossible for her to attend university at that time. Instead, she was bound to stay home and care for her sickly parents.

However, her brother Friedrich studied physics, became a professor, and provided her with scientific literature along the way. In between house and care work, Agnes Pockels researched autodidactically and conducted experiments at home. She invented the so-called "Schieberinne", the predecessor of the still used "Langmuir trough". With this apparatus, she could change the investigated liquid's surface and precisely measure its surface tension.

After German professors had failed to acknowledge her work, she directly wrote to the well-known English scientist Lord Rayleigh. He had conducted similar research to hers and was impressed by her groundbreaking work. Immediately, he submitted her letter to the journal Nature, where Pockel's first article was published shortly after.

Now, after ten years of solitary work and aged 29, she was finally getting the scientific recognition she deserved. Throughout her life, some more publications followed, even though her capabilities to conduct research were limited by money and time she spent taking care of her parents or being ill herself.

Towards the end of her life, the technical university Carolo-Wilhelmina of Braunschweig awarded her with an honorary doctorate in 1932. Today, the same university has a student lab called "Agnes Pockels Labor", enabling pupils to experience natural sciences and honoring Agnes Pockel's fundamental contributions to surface science.

Written by: Katharina Kolatzki.

1863 - 1941

Stellar classification

The physicist and astronomer Annie Jump Cannon is remembered by her classification of stars based on their temperature and spectral characteristics, the Harvard Classification Scheme.

She worked in the Harvard College Observatory as a ‘human computer’, together with other inspiring women, like Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Antonia Maury, and Florence Cushman.

She classified ca. 350,000 stars manually, and she gained so much practice an expertise that she could classify up to three stars per minute.

She received several awards for her achievements. She was the first woman officer of the American Astronomical Society.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1866 - 1953

Windshield wiper

It is raining and you are driving. Turn the windshield wipers on, and the journey continues.

The entrepreneur Mary Anderson developed the first windshield wiper, a blade system to clean the car window, which was controlled from inside the car.

While Mary Anderson patented the invention in 1903, it took ca. 20 years more for the automobile industry to start implementing window wipers in their products.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1873 - 1932

Heavier-than-air aircraft

Born in Brazil, the aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who had dreamed about flying since he was a boy, did the first significant flight with a self-engine heavier-than-air aircraft.

Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his first balloon, named ‘Brasil’, in 1898. And he was awarded the Aero Club of Paris for his second balloon, ‘America’. He dedicated intense work to the steering of balloons and he won a prize for flying to the Eiffel Tower, around it, and back in a record time.

After his success with what was called lighter-than-air vehicles, he started to work on the idea of a heavier-than-air machine.

In 1906, he was awarded the ‘Archdecon Prize’ for the first heavier-than-air machine which could fly on its own. This machine, named 14-BIS, flew 220m at 6m high, at 37.3 km/h. This self-engine aircraft had a biplane frame with a design that simulated a series of boxes. It was made with aluminium, bamboo, pine, and silk.

His aircraft ‘Demoiselle’ (Grasshopper), from 1909, is considered the precursor of the modern light planes.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1874 - 1943

Aberic acid (vitamin B1)

Following the observed association between consumption of rice bran and the prevention of beriberi, the chemist Umetaro Suzuki successfully extracted a new water soluble micronutrient from rice bran, which he named aberic acid. This compound was later known as thiamine, or vitamin B1.

Isolating vitamin B1 enabled to confirm its role in the beriberi disease, now known to be caused by vitamin B1 deficiency.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1875 - 1948

Hidden genius

Born in Serbia, Mileva Marić studied physics and mathematics in the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich (todays ETH Zurich) in 1896. There were 5 people in that course, and one was Albert Einstein. In 1897, Mileva went to study in Heidelberg for one year, and she later on returned to Zurich. Mileva was an excellent student with a brilliant mind. She and Albert Einstein shared their passion for science and they intensively studied and discussed physics together. Albert wrote: “I find the work we do together very good, healing and also easier.”

Ending the course, Mileva had excellent grades (4.75/5), and even slightly surpassed her colleague Albert (4.74/5). While they often had similar grades, she got a 5/5 score in applied physics, subject in which Albert only achieved 1/5. Unfortunately, she failed an oral exam with the professor Hermann Minkowski, who gave 11/12 points to every male student, and only 5/12 to her. This reduced her overall grades to 4.0, and while the passing grade was 5, Albert with only 4.9 was declared passed and got his degree, but Mileva did not.

Mileva and Albert continued working together, and published their first article. While it is known from their private correspondence that both worked on the article, only Albert Einsteins’s name was included. It’s been suggested that this was maybe a sign of Mileva’s supporting Albert to gain renown and find a job, since, due to gender biases, including a woman’s name in the article may have been detrimental for its acceptance by the community.

Mileva's life's plan abruptly changed due to an unexpected pregnancy from an encounter with Albert. Under the conflicting circumstances, she took her second chance for the oral exam, and she was again failed. Despite her extraordinary written exams, professor F. H. Weber did not granted her the pass for the oral exam, and she did not receive her degree. This is a good example of how an outstanding student was hindered by inexplicable and likely unacceptable reasons.

With no more a student visa, Mileva had to temporarily go back to Serbia. In 1902 she gave birth to a daughter, from which most is unknown.

In 1903 Mileva and Albert got married, and they soon had two sons. At home, both would work together, often until late at night. Their continuous research collaboration on physics problems is known based on several testimonies from their friends and family. For example, Mileva’s brother noted Albert’s comment “I need my wife. She solves for me all my mathematical problems”.

And yet, Mileva’s name was forgotten, overlooked, suppressed.

Based on Mileva’s trajectory as mathematician and physicist, the numerous testimonies, their correspondence, and the gigantic gender bias of the time, it is not hard to identify Mileva Marić as an example of the Matilda Effect.

In a recent physics colloquium at ETH Zurich, the particle physicist Pauline Gagnon concluded that, in her opinion, the union between Mileva and Albert was based on love and respect, they both work together and disentangling their individual contributions will not be possible. Gagnon also added: "she merged her own aspirations with his, and saw his success as their shared success - they were 'ein Stein'." ('Note that 'ein Stein' means 'a rock' in German)

As above-mentioned, we probably will never be able to identify Mileva's individual contributions. However, many of us believe her role as Albert’s hidden research partner until their divorce in 1914. And even for those who believe otherwise, it is important to reflect on how life would be if she would have been given any credit and, most importantly, if she would have been encouraged to flourish.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1878 - 1968

Nuclear fission

The nuclear physicist Lise Meitner discovered the radiationless transition, later known as Auger emission process, named after a fellow researcher who independently discovered it after her.

She worked on nuclear fission alongside the chemist Otto Hahn. Process for which Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch provided an explanation. While this discovery led Otto Hahn to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1944, Meitner and Frisch were excluded.

Meitner received many other awards, including the 1966 Enrico Fermi Award alongside Hahn, and Strassman; and the chemical element meitnerium (Mt) is named in her honour.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1879 - 1934

Trypanosoma cruzi

Investigating the ‘barbeiro’, or ‘barber bug’, Carlos Justiniano Ribeiro Chagas identified a new type of trypanosoma, which he named cruzi in honour to his mentor Oswaldo Cruz. He described the morphology and developing phases of the parasite, and depicted a clinical, aetiological and epidemiological description of the disease.  

Today, the disease caused by trypanosoma cruzi is known as American trypanosomiasis or Chagas disease.

Despite current worldwide recognition of Carlos Chagas for his contribution to the field of tropical medicine, he did receive criticism during his lifetime.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1879 - 1968


Born in Norway, Ellen Gleditsch was a pioneer of radiochemistry, a networking master, and an activist for women in science.

As a young girl, Ellen Gleditsch inherited interest on natural sciences from her father, and at the age of 18 years old, encouraged from her parents to become independent, Gleditsch started an apprenticeship in pharmacy. During her time working as a pharmacist, Gleditsch taught pharmacy students, and with 23 years old she continued her education in chemistry, as a lab assistant. Later, she moved to Paris and grew interest in radioactivity.

Never afraid of networking and pursuing her dreams, she made her way into Marie Curie’s lab, where she worked for a few years; her main task being the purification of radium by fractional crystallisations.

In 1912, Gleditsh received a grant to become a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she led the first radioactivity research group. However, after a time in Oslo, Gleditsh missed the benefits of being part of a radioactive research community, thus, she looked for another experience abroad. She received a scholarship to study in US and, despite the initial rejection from the US universities, she managed to continued her research on radium in Yale University.

Throughout her life, Gleditsch got in touch with many women working in radioactivity. For example, she approached Lise Meitner saying: “I do wish to make your acquaintance; we have radioactivity in common.”

Gleditsh was a strong supporter of women in science. She promoted scholarships for women, co-founded the Norwegian Women Academics' Association, and led the International Federation of University Women.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1879 - 1958

Planetary climatology

Milutin Milanković was a Serbian civil engineer, mathematician, climatologist, and astronomer.

He studied and did Doctoral Studies in civil engineering in Vienna, Austria, and graduated with excellence in 1904. He did his early inventions in materials (concrete ceilings) which he also patented. During his early research days, he worked as a civil engineer in Vienna until he was offered the chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, in 1909.

In Belgrade, he then focused his research on our planet’s solar irradiance, with particular interest on the ice age, which remained insufficiently explained at the time. His break-through towards explaining this yet mysterious age was to correctly define the relationship between summer insolation (solar irradiance) and the altitude of snow line, especially in subpolar regions, including the estimation of polar wandering when calculating the planet’s insolation.

His description of the collective effects of changes in the Earth's movements on its climate over thousands and thousands of years are now called 'Milankovitch cycles'. They not only describe climatic occurrences in the geological past of the Earth but also those to come.

NASA named Milanković among the top fifteen minds of all time in the field of earth sciences. Furthermore, a crater on the Moon and a crater on Mars were given his name. The European Geophysical Society awards the Milutin Milanković Medal for outstanding contributions in long-term climate and modelling. And he received several national Orders of Honours.

He is considered the founder of planetary climatology.

Written by: Theresa Burkard.

1882 - 1935

Noether theorem

If you are a mathematician, you may be familiar with the Noether theorem, but do you know the story of the woman behind the concept?

Emmy Noether initially trained to be a language teacher, but soon after that, she followed her true curiosity and studied mathematics. She joined lectures as unofficial audience for a few years, until German universities officially opened their gates to women students. She successfully achieved a PhD in mathematics. While women were still not allowed to teach, she served as her father’s teaching substitute in many of the university lectures and professorship duties. From that moment on, her life was full of bright achievements hindered by continuous burdens for women to shine in mathematics, for example, unpaid work or miserable salaries, and laws against women in professorship positions in both Germany and the U.S., where she fled when the Nazis took power.

Among her remarkable contributions to science, we may mention her enriching of Einstein’s work when she was invited by David Hilbert and Felix Klein to address Einstein’s theories. Emmy Noether linked the concepts of conservation laws and symmetries. And she may be most remembered by the Noether theorem (one of her many theorems and concepts), which has set basis for many other concepts in mathematics and physics since then. She is considered the starter of algebra as its own mathematical discipline.

A hidden mind, recognised as a genius by her field colleagues, and yet limited by society and academic norms posing huge barriers for women.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1887 - 1920

Self-taught math genius

Ramanujan grew up in southern India under British occupancy and received only little formal education in math. However, he got hold of a book listing many theorems and short proofs. Reproducing these theorems, he built a foundation to come up with his own conclusions.

While he focused his studies mostly on math, he did not pass the exams to retain a scholarship to attend university. However, on his search for a job, he eventually got in contact with G. H. Hardy, a professor in Cambridge who recognized his genius. Overcoming religious reservations, he eventually travelled to England to collaborate with Hardy. That time was overshadowed by illness. On the other hand, he was awarded a PhD and he was elected a member of the Royal Society.

He died at the age of 32, shortly after he returned from England. His work inspired, even decades later, scientists among others in math, physics and computer science.

Written by: Tobias Lieber.

1888 - 1993

Earth’s inner core

The seismologists Inge Lehman had an outstanding contribution to the understanding of the structure and composition of our planet, specially through the discovery of the Earth’s inner core.

Studying wave patterns, Inge Lehmann theorized that the centre of the Earth had a solid inner core with a liquid outer core.

She was awarded the William Bowie medal in 1971, and there is an award from the Advancing Earth and Science (AGU) named in her honour.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1890 - 1980; 1900 - 1988; 1915 - 1999

Pertussis vaccine

Whooping cough, known as pertussis, is a respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It can difficult breathing and even lead to death.

Around the 1940s, the bacteriologist Pearl Louella Kendrick and the public health scientist Grace Eldering developed a vaccine for pertussis. While this was promising, its initial efficacy was lower than expected. The chemist Loney Clinton Gordon joined their team and isolated a very virulent strain of the bacteria, which improved the initial vaccine. Subsequently, they combined the pertussis vaccine with the ones for diphtheria and tetanus.

Nowadays, many children are vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis around the world.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1892 - 1915

First leprosy treatment

By developing an injectable form of Chaulmoogra oil, the chemist Alice Augusta Ball created the first treatment for Hansen's disease (leprosy).

The treatment was used up until the cure of leprosy was available.

Her findings were initially credited to someone else. Years after her death, her work was finally properly recognised.

Her name is now visible on the façade of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) alongside other health and tropical medicine innovators.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1893 - 1973

Pernicious anaemia

Pernicious anaemia is a condition that results in vitamin B12 deficiency. This leads to abnormally reduced levels of healthy red blood cells, which are needed to carry oxygen in our body. Additionally, it may lead to problems in the nervous system, which can cause, for example, memory loss. While now we can treat pernicious anaemia, before the origin of the disease was known and a treatment was discovered, this was a deadly disease.

The pathologist Frieda Robscheit-Robbins, together with George Hoyt Whipple, extensively researched anaemia. They investigated anaemia in dogs, and discovered that a diet with abundant liver cured it.

In 1934, Whipple, received the Novel Price in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning liver therapy in cases of anaemia." He shared the prize with George R. Minot and William P. Murphy, who implemented the findings in the clinic. However, Frieda Robscheit-Robbins was not included.

While Whipple gave credit to Robscheit-Robbins and shared the Nobel Prize money with her, we may agree that Frieda did not receive the global credit that she deserved.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1896 - 1957; 1896 - 1984

Lactic acid cycle

During intense muscle exercise, our body comes to rescue! The Cori cycle (lactic acid cycle) describes the mechanism through which our body supplies our muscles with energy while clearing the lactate during our sport session.

Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori, together with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori, both biochemists, studied the body energy usage and described the Cori cycle (lactic acid cycle).

Both Gerty Cori and Carl Cori shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1947 "for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen". She was the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize, and the first woman to be awarded in that category.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1897 - 1984

Cytogenetics and Sugarcane

The Indian botanist, geneticist, and plant cytologist, Edavalath Kakkat Janaki Ammal, made significant contributions to plant genetics, phytogeography, and evolution.

She was responsible of the creation of a new very high yield sugarcane strain suitable for Indian conditions, by cross breeding of hybrid polyploid cells. This made her a pioneer in her field.

She also discovered that the sweetest sugarcane variety imported at that time from Papua New Guinea, had actually originated in India.

However, being the only woman among male colleagues, she faced caste- and gender-based discrimination. For these reasons, she moved to England, as an assistant cytologist, and studied the chromosomes of a wide range of plants helping in understanding the evolution of species.

These years of research gave birth to a compilation of findings that she wrote jointly with the English biologist C. D. Darlington, the ‘Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants’.

Many plants and animals are named after her to honour her work (5 species).

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1897 - 1956

Artificial radioactivity

As the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, one of the most recognized couples in science of their time, Irène Joliot-Curie continued the oeuvre of her parents and discovered artificial radioactivity, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

Highly ambitious and intelligent, Irène graduated from high school with 16 years old and began to study Mathematics and Physics in 1914 in Sorbonne. During World War I, she actively supported her mother in building hundreds of mobile X-Ray stations to support medical aid in the field. In her early twenties, she started her research in the Institute du Radium, which was led by her mother. She obtained her doctorate on the alpha decay of highly toxic polonium five years later.

She married Frédéric Joliot, an assistant and admirer of Marie Curie, which grew to a fruitful marriage and working relationship: in 1934, the couple could verify that upon bombarding aluminium with alpha particles, radioactive substances form. This led to the discovery of artificial radioactivity, a new type of radiation. In 1935, few months after the death of Marie Curie, Fréderic and Irène were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements”.

Despite being strongly impaired after the birth of her two children and leukaemia, Irène accepted a professorship in Sorbonne next to her work in the Institute du Radium. In addition to that, she engaged herself politically in international Peace- and Womens’ Rights movements and intermittently as the state secretary of the ministry of research. She and her husband actively committed themselves to the prevention of nuclear weapons. She died in 1956 as a result of being exposed to harmful radioactivity without protection for years.

Written by: Magdalena Lederbauer.

1899 - 1975

Synthesis of Steroids

Percy Julian was a skilful chemist who first succeeded in synthesizing many complex molecules such as steroids from plants. With the limited tools available in the 1930s Julian was the first to synthesize physostigmine, a very important and complex to produce drug used to treat glaucoma.

Despite his outstanding qualifications, he was rejected from many faculty positions due to racist reasons. Glidden company, however, gave him the chance to work on protein synthesis from soybean. Over the course of 18 years, he succeeded to produce many molecules such as progesterone and testosterone, which led to patents. He also was one of the first to develop a cheap method for cortisone production.

According to the American Chemical Society (ACS), during his lifetime, he was also a big advocate for human rights and equality.

His work also opened the lead for the development of the contraceptive pill.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1900 - 1979

Composition of the Sun and stars

Do you know the composition of the Sun? Thanks to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, we know that hydrogen and helium constitute the bast majority of the composition of the Sun and other stars in our universe.

More than 20 years before Cambridge University granted degrees for women, Cecilia studied there and discovered her love for the stars. Later, embracing her curiosity, Cecilia moved to the College Observatory at Harvard in 1923, where she was granted a scholarship to encourage women to study science.

Only two years later, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin earned a PhD in astronomy. Her dissertation, ‘Stellar Atmospheres, a contribution to the observational study of high temperature in the reversing layers of stars’, was described by astronomer Otto Struve as “the most brilliant PhD thesis written in astronomy”.

At the age of 25 years old, Cecilia had disproved the believed that the sun was made out of heavy elements. Instead, Payne-Gaposchkin described hydrogen and helium as the key elements in the composition of the stars, including our Sun. Additionally, she identified hydrogen as the most abundant element in the universe.

Cecilia’s findings on the composition of stars were revolutionary. However, she was recommended to not publish her findings. The same person who suggested her to not pursue dissemination of her research, published a few years later the same findings through alternative research. While this person cited her, he received all the credit.

Cecilia continued studying the universe, and together with her team, they made millions of observations on stars. She became the first female full-professor at Harvard’s faculty of Arts and Science, and subsequent first female head of department at Harvard.

Thanks to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, now we know that the sun is not a planet in fire, but helium and hydrogen. Thus, next time you enjoy a sunny day, remember Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the scientist who introduced us to the Sun in its true essence.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1900 - 1996

Gas chromatography

Erika Cremer worked as a physicochemist and is the inventor of gas chromatography, an analytical method to separate mixtures of chemical compounds that is important up to this day.

Born in Munich in 1900 and as the daughter of physiologist and professor Max Cremer, Erika graduated from high school in 1921 to study Chemistry and Physics. At that time, a career in the chemical industry was said to be futile - motivated by her father and her lecturers, upon which were Nernst, Rubens, Plank and Einstein, however, she decided to pursue a scientific career.

After obtaining her doctorate in 1927 with magna cum laude, she encountered many burdens to continue her path, due to the great reluctance towards women professors at that time. However, this did not stop her. In 1940 she started working at the University of Innsbruck, and in 1959 she became a full professor in Physical Chemistry, an academic degree that was only accessible to a few women.

Shortly after World War II, the first gas chromatogram was obtained in Erika Cremer’s laboratory, which showed the separation of air and carbon dioxide on activated charcoal. She developed this method between 1944 and 1947, together with her PhD student Fritz Prior. She did not patent her work due to the high costs, as well as for her idealistic views on intellectual property.

Since her death in 1996, Erika Cremer’s work has been upon the collection of the 100 most important scientific contributions of the last 50 years, exhibited in the 'Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik' in Munich.

Written by: Magdalena Lederbauer.

1904 - 1960

Vaccine development

Biochemist and bacteriologist Ruby Hirose was born in the U.S. from Japanese parents. Hirose studied pharmacy and pharmacology at the University of Washington and pursued her doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Cincinnati in 1932. After that, she continued her research in Ohio.

Hirose published on cell and molecular biology, biochemistry and bacteriology. Her studies on serums and antitoxins strongly contributed to the development of vaccines, including the polio vaccine. At the time, polio was responsible of infantile paralysis, and developing the vaccine was the crucial step towards the polio eradication.

In 1040, Hirose was one of the ten women recognised as members of the American Chemical Society, which had a total of 300 members.

During the World War II, people of Japanese heritage in the U.S. were sent to internment camps. Unlike her parents, Hirose escaped imprisonment by remaining in Ohio, away from Washington.

In 1960, Hirose died from leukaemia. Today, we thank her for the great contribution to science.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1906 - 1992

Computer language

Known as the mother of the computer language COBOL, Grace Hopper taught computers to speak our language.

Born in New York City, Grace Murray Hopper earned her PhD in Mathematics in 1934, and subsequently, she taught mathematics in Vassar.

When the World War II started, Hopper joined the US Navy reserve, particularly the team programming the Mark I computer. This was one of the first electromechanical computers in the world.

While working in the Mark II computer, a moth interfered with the computer. After removing the moth, she mentioned that they were ‘debugging’ the computer. Nowadays, this is a cool anecdote for the term ‘debugging’, commonly used in programming.

Hopper continued advancing the computer technology. She participated in the development of the all-electronic digital computer UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer).

In 1952, together with her team, Hopper invented the first compiler, which enabled to use common language commands which were then translated into binary language. Thus, ‘she taught computers to speak our language’. This set the bases of computer programming as it is understood today, and it led to the developed of the early high-level programming language COBOL, which remains in use.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1910 - 1994

Vitamin B12

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was a biochemist and pacifist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for “her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, one of which was the analysis of vitamin B12.

Already in primary school, Hodgkin discovered her passion for science and decided to dedicate her studies to the chemistry of biologically relevant molecules and crystals. As one of very few female students at that time, she studied Chemistry in Oxford and pursued her postdoctoral studies in Cambridge to study sterols by X-ray diffraction, a method that instantly fascinated her by its broad scope and analytical power. In 1934, she returned to Oxford up until her retirement in 1977.

Over the course of her career, she was the first to determine the three-dimensional structures of cholesteryl iodide, a complex bioorganic molecule, penicillin, insulin and most notably vitamin B12. For the analysis of the latter, she used one of the first high speed digital computers at that time. To solve the complex structure of insulin via X-ray crystallography, she and her team needed approximately 35 years.

Hodgkin was the third-ever woman to have received the Nobel Prize, the third woman to be a member of the exclusive Royal Society, and the second to receive the Order of Merit by the Queen, the highest British civil honour.

Aged 28, shortly after the birth of her first of three children, Hodgkin suffered from articular rheumatism which caused life-long chronic pain. Despite this grave impairment, she continued to actively be engaged in her research, which former co-workers of her laboratory noted.

In addition to her scientific commitment, since 1962, she had been a member of the Pugwash-Conference, an international organization that seeks solutions to armed security threats and at that time aimed to bring together scientists from the East and West during the Cold War.

Written by: Magdalena Lederbauer.

1912 - 1954

Computer science

The mathematician Alan Turing had interest on the question of whether every mathematical statement could be proven true or false? To address it, he conceived a system (the universal Turing machine) that could be given a mathematical statement and return the corresponding true or false. This system needed to be previously programmed or taught the internal rules. While initially it seemed that the system would be able to solve any statement, Alan Turing deducted that there are statements or tasks that are impossible to be answered by computational systems.

Considered a pioneer in artificial intelligence (AI), Turin is often mentioned in the context of World War II, due to his important role in the decoding of Enigma, the Nazi encryption machine.

Sadly, at the time, being gay in UK was considered ‘indecency’ and illegal. At the age of 40, Turing was convicted for having a homosexual relationship. Having to choose between jail or ‘chemical castration’, Turing chose the second. Two years later, he was found death, recorded as suicide.

This is an example of how the world’s intolerance resulted in a tragic human and social lost.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1912 - 1996

Disproval of the law of 'parity'

The nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu showed that identical nuclear particles may not follow the same behaviour, disproving the law of 'parity' during beta decay.

Her work proved the hypothesis from Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, and led Lee and Yang to win the Nobel Prize 1957.

Wu was awarded with the National Medal of Science in 1975, and the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978, among other prizes.

In addition to her great contributions to the field of physics, her research contributed to the understanding of sickle cell anaemia.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1913 - 2014

Tropical medicine

Stigma and isolation remained a common burden for people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) in the 1930s in Venezuela, when the physician Jacinto Convit Garcia, working at the Leprosy Clinic of Cabo Blanco, led a change in the healthcare of these patients by replacing isolation with ambulatory treatment. At the time, Chaulmoogra oil (Ball Method) was the only treatment and there was urge for improvement. Soon, sulfones and derivatives broke through for treatment of leprosy.

Jacinto Convit implemented educational trainings about leprosy, including disease description, health education and methods for control. This initiative was later on reproduced for other communicable (infectious) diseases, like the parasitic diseases leishmaniasis and onchocerciasis.

He was a member of the World Health Organization and leader of several institutions for surveillance, healthcare, and public health for infectious diseases, and specially leprosy. On top of his medicine training, he trained in epidemiology and biostatistics.

Seeking to better treat leprosy, he developed a pioneer immunotherapy. This combined a bacteria (leprosy bacilli) obtained from armadillos and the tuberculosis vaccine (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, BCG) as adjuvant. Additionally, a similar method was later on used for leishmaniasis.

During the last years of his live, he researched cancer.

Jacinto Convit Garcia died in Caracas, Venezuela, at the age of 100.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1913 - 2009

Pioneer of nuclear magnetic resonance

Don’t you find amazing that we can look at the internal structures of our body (in a non-invasive way) using a magnetic field and radiofrequency? This is currently done with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), enabling the diagnosis of many diseases and body conditions.

Current MRI builds on top of Mildred Cohn’s research, who studied the structure of molecules using magnetic forces. Cohn contributed to the development of medical techniques and instruments, and her research aided depicting the structure of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key molecule in the use and storage of energy by our cells.

Born in New York, Cohn pursued becoming a chemistry scientist despite those who tried to discourage her. She gained her doctorate in the team of Harold C. Urey., and, throughout her career, she conducted research with several Nobel Laureates. For example, Gerty and Carl Cori.

Seeking to pursue independent research, Mildred Cohn started a new field of research, which, in her own words, “turned out to be fairly successful”. Cohn started her radioactive isotope laboratory and was a pioneer in the use of electron spin and nuclear magnetic resonance to study metabolic processes and the behaviour of enzymes and other proteins in the body. Her research set basis for the current MRI and enriched the medical research at the molecular level.

Mildred Cohn was the first woman president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the first woman to receive the National Medal of Science (U.S., 1982) in biological sciences for “pioneering the use of stable isotopic tracers and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the study of the mechanisms of enzymatic catalysis.”

She died in November 2009, with 96 years old.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1914 - 2000

Frequency hopping communication

An incredible mind hidden by glamour and fame. Known for her acting, she is today admired for her inventions. 

Together with her colleague George Antheil, they invented a communication system aimed to guide crafts, like torpedoes, during the World War II. This spread spectrum system used frequency hopping to serve as a secret communication system.

This invention was a precursor for today’s communication systems, like WIFI and Bluetooth.

Not only her movies will last forever, but more importantly, her scientific legacy.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1917 - 1965

Colour-wheel television

Aiming to bring color to black and white televisions, the electrical engineer Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena invented the colour-wheel. He developed an adaptor that enabled every television to receive and transmit color images.

While this was not the first color television ever, it was the first patented in U.S. and Mexico, and it was used by the NASA to take images of Jupiter.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1917 - 2013

Down Syndrome

Irene Ayako Uchida is a Canadian genetics researcher and pioneer of cytogenetics. Her significant studies shined the light on the anomalies that might occur in chromosomes. She is the first researcher to use fluorescence microscopy to detect these anomalies.

One of her discoveries is related the Down Syndrome. She proved that the supplementary chromosome that causes Down Syndrome can derive from both parents, not just the mom.

She also contributed significantly in establishing the evidence of the harm that X-rays can cause when pregnant women are exposed to these radiations.

In 1960, she conceived the first blood test to establish the chromosomic karyotype of new-borns.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1918 - 1999

New path for drug development

The tragic death of her grandfather from cancer shaped Gertrude Elion’s life mission, to cure this devastating disease.

Although she was told that women don’t do chemistry, Gertrude had a clear objective, help others. Also, her family encouraged her to pursue high education. Thus,
after her graduation from college, and after being rejected 15 times, she finally got accepted in a master program and conducted her masters at the University of New York, while working as a teacher. Afterwards, it took some time for her to find a job, but she managed.

She started working at the Burroughs Wellcome Company with George Hitchings, and over the course of three decades, she worked synthetizing purine derivatives (organic molecules) and testing their activity against infective agents and cancer. The fruits of this work included thioguanine and mercaptopurine (treatments of leukaemia), allopurinol (treatment of gout), azathioprine (immunosuppressive drug for organ transplant), and acyclovir (treatment of herpes virus).

While it is already impressive to highlight the list of medicines that resulted from her research, Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1988 (with James Black) for their novel approach to the development of new drugs. They opted for a rational strategy instead of the standard trial-and-error. They understood that cells with rapid growth, like bacteria or cancer cells, require certain needs. Thus, targeting these needs could disrupt the growth of these cells and serve as treatment for their associated diseases.

Her biography by The Nobel Prize states: “Simply put, Elion changed the way researchers develop drugs. As a result, although she died in 1999 at the age of 81, Gertrude Elion is still saving lives.”

In her book ‘Women Scientists: Reflections, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries’, Magdolna Hargittai describes Gertrude Elion’s office walls displaying many quotes or letters from people who thanked and admired her. This was Gertrude’s greatest success, the happiness and wellbeing of people.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1918 - 2020

Spaceflight trajectories

Katherine Johnson was one of the first ‘human computers’ in NASA. She worked calculating trajectories and launching windows for the Mercury and Apollo projects. Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program in US, and the Project Apollo was the spaceflight program which successfully landed humans for the first time on the Moon.

“Math, you are either right, or you are wrong. That, I liked about it.” said Katherine Johnson.

During her early time in NASA, when she requested to attend the briefings, the answer she got was “Well, the girls don’t usually go”. But this did not stop her, and she started attending and continued her career growth.

Today, she is recognised as an extraordinary mathematician. She received many awards. She overcame barriers of gender and ethnicity bias in the US, and became an excellent role model.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1918 - 2003

Semiconductor materials

The physicist and mathematician Lin Lanying was a pioneer and strong contributor to the research of semiconductor materials.

After her PhD in the U.S., Lin Lanying returned to China. There, she and her team synthesized crystals of aerospace and semiconductor materials, including China’s first mono-crystals of silicon and of gallium arsenide. Her research set the foundation for microelectronics and optoelectronics (light-emitting and -detecting devices). She also led the production of high-purity vapor and liquid phase materials.

Among many awards and recognitions, Lin Lanying was twice awarded the National S&T Progress Award, she received four times the first prize in CAS S&T Progress Award, and she was given the Henry Fok Achievement Award.

On top of her academic achievements, she was a social activist and politically active.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1920 - 1951

HeLa cell line

While not a scientist, Henrietta Lacks has been included in the Wall of Scientists due to her great contribution to science.

Without her knowledge or consent, her tumour cells were taken, resulting in the first immortalized human cell line, named HeLa. The same tumour that took Henrietta Lacks’ life is the source of numerous advances in medical care. Many profited from the use of the cells, often forgetting the woman from whom they originally belonged, and the racial inequity present in Henrietta Lacks’ story.

The HeLa cell line continues as a pillar of medical research, and despite ethical concerns, Lacks’ family agrees with its used, always remembering and acknowledging Henrietta Lacks and her story.

The HELA100 initiative highlights Henrietta Lacks’ legacy. Additionally, the WHO reminds us that to avoid perpetuating the injustice, medical advances done with the HeLa cell line should be available to everyone.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1920 - 2007

CO2 in seawater

The Japanese name Katsuko means 'victorious'. Honouring her name, katsuko Saruhashi was a pioneer in geochemistry of oceans. She successfully conducted research at the Japan’s Meteorological Research Institute (MRI) for 35 years.

At a time when talking about CO2 was less common, Katsuko was a pioneer in measuring CO2 levels in sea water. Her work included the development of a method to identify carbonic acid in water based on three water parameters: the temperature, the pH level, and the chlorinity. This method was later on named the Saruhashi’s Table.

She also had interest in measuring the radioactivity in water, and she developed a method to investigate the levels of nuclear pollution. This enabled to identify the contamination of oceans with radioactive material, which triggered subsequent restrictions on nuclear experimentation in the ocean in 1963.

Saruhashi overcame several glass ceilings. She was the first female doctor in chemistry from the University of Tokyo (1957), first female member of the Science Council of Japan, and first woman winner of the Miyake Prize for geochemistry (1985).

She promoted the Society of Japanese Women Scientists, and created her own award, the Saruhashi Prize, to support women in science.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1920 - 2006

Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift

Marie Tharp was a pioneer in the field of Earth sciences. Ocean floor topography and marine geology, as we know them today, have been shaped immensely by her scientific contributions. Her ground-breaking discoveries and exploration of the ocean floors eventually led to the establishment of the research field of plate tectonics.

Having earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1943, she further pursued a master's degree in Geology. The opportunity arose from the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which caused a lot of young men to abandon their studies to join the armed forces. While collecting her first job experience in the world of petroleum geology, a male-dominated field, in which women were not granted to carry out the field work, she pursued another bachelor's degree in mathematics.

At Columbia University she met Bruce Heezen, with whom she conducted research in marine geology. Her background as a mathematician proved as an immense advantage when analysing the copious amount of data collected from the field work aboard the research ships, which Tharp, as a woman, had not been allowed to board for many years. It took more than a decade of analysing data until Tharp was allowed to join an expedition and explore the oceans for herself.

Thanks to her findings, the theory of continental drift, which had been originally proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, was corroborated and found a renaissance in the early 1960s. This theory was originally widely scrutinized by the scientific community. Even when Tharp found evidence supporting this theory, her findings were initially dismissed as "girl talk" by her collaborator Heezen.

In 1977, Tharp and Heezen concluded their work on devising the first-ever complete world map of the ocean floors, which proved essential to explain the origin of plate tectonics and the resulting continental drift.

Written by: Valentina Gasser.

1920 - 1958

DNA structure

Her work with X-ray diffraction imaging was crucial to depict the structure of the DNA, RNA, and viruses.

Photo 51, a DNA’s picture taken by her student Raymond Gosling, was key evidence to determine the DNA’s double-helix structure.

Four years after Franklin’s death, Crick and Watson received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 1962, shared with Maurice Wilkins, who had worked on DNA in the same lab as Rosalind Franklin.

While she was recognised for her contribution to chemistry and virus structures, her exclusion from the DNA’s structure discovery is often mentioned as an example of the Matilda Effect.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1921 - 2003

Cholesterol and clogged arteries

Maria Maynard Daly was an African American biochemist who made important contributions in understanding protein synthesis, specifically new types of histones, and she identified the distribution of the nucleic acids forming the DNA. Her discoveries are now considered fundamental in cell biology and genomics.

She continued to work on diseases and health after her post-doc, and she unveiled the link between cholesterol and clogged arteries. During the time at Columbia University, she also demonstrated that high blood pressure is a strong indicator of pre-atherosclerosis development.

On top of advancing science, she advocated for minority students by creating a fund to help them financially and to enhance their enrolment in college.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1922 - 2006

Lambda bacteriophage

The lambda bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, was discovered by Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg. And this led to the discovery of the fertility factor, which she named the F factor.

She and her husband, Joshua Lederberg, developed a method for bacteria replica planting, enabling to picked up bacteria colonies from a petri dish and successfully placed them into another (Lederberg method). While both are credited for this method, only her husband received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1958 "for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria".

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1923 - 2010

Hot towers, tropical meteorology

Who has not spent hours laying on the grass looking at the clouds? Maybe this is how Joanne Simpson started admiring them, for later on becoming an extraordinary meteorologist. Indeed, before Joanne Simpson, clouds were deemed unimportant in meteorology. But thanks to her, now we know that clouds are key players of the atmosphere.

Most commonly known for her discoveries in the field of tropical atmosphere, and her famous work on hot towers, Joanne Simpson’s life is an example of perseverance, curiosity, and talent.

Born in 1923 in Boston, US, Joanne was already flying with his father on a two-passenger high-wing monoplane at the age of six. This was the first of many flights throughout her life. At 17 years old, as a college student, Joanne was already piloting small aircrafts as a civilian pilot, while studying meteorology, air navigation, and the physics of aircrafts and their engines. Soon after that, she gained her commercial pilot license.

During her bachelor, World War II started, and volunteers were needed. The opportunity was there. Encouraged by C. G. Rossby, a worldwide renowned atmospheric scientist, she joined the Army Air Corps. Doing so, she could continue her studies and learn more about aviation and meteorology.

After the war, women were expected to abandon their career interest and become house-wives. But that was not Joanne’s plan. Against all odds, and being pregnant, she gained her master of science. After that, she pursued a PhD with Rossby as main supervisor, despite his opinion on the topic being: “No woman has ever earned a PhD in meteorology. No woman ever will. Even if you did, no one would give you a job.”

Joanne started investigating tropical cumulous clouds. At the time, clouds research was not given much importance. Rossby even mentioned that this was a good job “for a little girl”, hindering that clouds had no important role on the weather. But despite discouragements, she embarked on the field of tropical meteorology, alongside Herbert Riehl as PhD advisor. She profiled atmospheric parameters, took samples, and designed mathematical models. And in 1949 she accomplished her PhD.

She worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, where she was given a navy aircraft. At the time, little was known from the important role of the tropics in the Earths global atmosphere, field in which Joanne’s job was key.

In 1958, working with Riehl, Joanne proposed the ‘hot tower’ hypothesis, which described that the big thunder clouds in the tropics power hurricanes and trade wins, influencing the Earths global atmospheric circulation. This tropical convection became key in the understanding of global climate.

After Woods Hole, Joanne taught in California and Virginia, became advisor to the US Weather Bureau’s National Hurricane Research Project, and joined the Experimental Meteorology Laboratory. She also led the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a satellite program to study hurricanes, rain fall...

Joanne faced burdens in her career, but she ‘flew over them’ and succeeded. As a curiosity, she published under three married names, which makes difficult to follow her career.

She received many awards, including the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, highest award in atmospheric science. Additionally, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has a research award on her name, The Joanne Simpson Tropical Meteorology Research Award, which “is granted to researchers who make outstanding contributions to advancing the understanding of the physics and dynamics of the tropical atmosphere.”

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1923 - 2014


Looking for a strong, stiff, and light weight fabric, the chemist Stephanie Kwolek developed Kevlar®.

Through her work with polymers, she created an unusual, very watery, and opalescent polymer solution, which, although initially seemed not optimal for fiber production, it resulted in the desired material. “It was unlike anything we had made before”, said Stephanie Kwolek.

Kevlar® is used in bullet proof vests, thanks to its capacity to absorb and dissipate the impact. It is also flame resistant and it can protect to up to 426°C.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1925 - 2018; 1926 - 2019

Immunoglobulin E

Spring is coming, is your nose itching? Kimishige Ishizaka and Teruko Ishizaka together extensively contributed to the research of allergy. Together, they discovered the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, crucial in allergic reactions.

Additionally, they elucidated the mechanisms of allergy, including those triggering histamine release, explaining the allergy symptoms.

Their discovery enabled a better understanding of allergic diseases, and therefore, the basis for better prevention and treatment.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1925 - 2004


At the age of 26, the chemist Luis Ernesto Miramontes Cárdenas synthesized norethisterone for the first time ever. Norethisterone is a highly active progestogen with good oral bioavailability. Soon after, he patented this discovery along with Carl Djerassi and George Rosenkraz.

In 1957, norethisterone constituted the first oral contraceptive for women, considered one of the most remarkable inventions in the XX century, and marking a key point in history. While Miramontes made possible the development of the contraceptive pill, he gained less fame that his colleague Djerassi.

Paradoxically, Miramontes had ten kids, and according to them, sexual intercourse or sexuality were never discussed at home. They also mentioned that Miramontes supported equal education opportunity for women and was happy with the invention.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1926 - 2017


At a time in which neuroscientists believed in the fixed nature of the brain, Marian Diamond and her team described neuroanatomical changes in rat brain, suggesting the dynamic characteristic of the brain. This was the first evidence of neuroplasticity.

Embracing neuroplasticity and, therefore, foreseen brain rehabilitation as a possibility, opened a window of opportunities in neuroscience and healthcare.

If there is an opportunity to improve your brain, you want to be there” Marian Diamond said in the film My Love Affair with the Brain.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Multispectral scanner

Virginia Norwood is best known for her contribution to the Landsat program, having designed the Multispectral Scanner, which was first used on Landsat 1.

She is called ‘The Mother of Landsat’ for this work, the first satellite launched into space to monitor Earth’s surface.

Thanks to her Multispectral scanner, we could see the earth from space and scan for multiple parameters such as natural resources and weather conditions.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1928 - 2016

Dark matter

Vera Rubin was an American astronomer whose observations contributed significantly to the confirmation of dark matter. She was a pioneer in the study of the galaxy rotation problem, a discrepancy between the predicted and observed motion of galaxies. Her research showed that galaxies must contain at least 5-10 times as much dark matter as ordinary matter. Without this additional dark matter, the galaxies would fly apart because of their high rotational speeds. She is considered to be one of the most influential astronomers of her time.

After receiving a Bachelors from Vassar College in 1948, she wanted to enroll in Princeton’s graduate program but could not because women were not allowed in the graduate astronomy program until 1975. Instead, she did a masters in physics at Cornell University. In 1954, she obtained her PhD with a thesis that concluded that, rather than being randomly distributed, galaxies clustered together, an idea which was not further pursued until decades later. In 1965, she was the first woman to be authorized to use the instruments at the Palomar Observatory, where a new restroom had to be built, as women’s facilities were not yet available.

Throughout her career, she faced discrimination but managed to have both a family and a successful career. She became a staunch champion of women in science and is the first woman to have a major observatory, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, named after her.

-> Vera Robin's biography is available at ETH Zurich Library @swisscovery

Written by: Gina Cannarozzi.


The Earth’s shape

How often do you use the GPS? The mathematician Gladys West programmed a computer to precisely modelled the Earth’s shape using satellite data. The program was taught how to interpret Earth’s forces like gravity and tides.

This mathematical model, and particularly Gladys West’s contribution, were crucial for the subsequent global positioning system (GPS).

After a successful 42-year career in the U.S. Navy, including leading the radar altimetry project of the Seasat (the first satellite to monitor oceans), Gladys West gained a PhD in public administration and policy affairs, at the age of 70.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1930 - 2007

First coronavirus

In these pandemic times, we remember the virologists June Almeida, who identified the first coronavirus.

Working with electron microscopes, June Almeida developed a new technique to facilitate the observation of viruses. She used antibodies from previously infected people to mark the corresponding virus. She was able to describe the structure of numerous viruses, for example, rubella.

Invited to study samples from a flu-like virus that others were struggling to identify, she managed to visualize it and compare it to previously observed viruses with similar appearance and not yet labelled. It was therefore identified as a new type of virus, and named corona due to its appearance of a crown.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Artemisin (malaria treatment)

Malaria is a devastating worldwide burden, with 229 million estimated cases in 2019 (WHO). Thus, the discovery of artemisin, current first-line malaria treatment, is considered an outstanding finding.

The pharmacological chemists Tu Youyou researched the plant sweet wormwood (Artimisia annua), used to treat intermittent fever (malaria symptom) by ancient traditional Chinese medicine. She and her team isolated the active ingredient responsible for the therapeutic effect of the plant, ‘Qinghaosu’ or artemisin.

Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”, and she described artemisin as “a true gift from old Chinese medicine”.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Humpback whales

Idelisa Bonnelly is a marine biologist, conservationist, and lecturer, who encourages us to safeguard the ocean and its mysteries.

Bonnelly’s love for the ocean started while growing up, driven by great curiosity towards unravelling the great unknown. Since the Dominican universities did not offer studies in marine biology, she graduated in New York and, after working in the city aquarium, she returned to Dominican Republic.

In the 1960s, Bonnelly founded the first high education program for marine biology in the Dominican Republic, the Institute of Marine Biology (later known as Marine Biology Research Center, CIBIMA). Eight years later, she founded the National Academy of Sciences in the Dominican Republic, and later on, the School of Biology at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo was created.

Bonnelly extensively work towards enabling high education on marine biology and to preserve the oceans and their resources.

Her work to protect the humpback whales led to the declaration of the first protective zone for these beautiful animals in 1986 (Santuario de los Bancos de Plata y Navidad). Additionally, in her search to safeguard the cost and its ecosystem, she founded the Dominican Foundation of Marine Studies (FUNDEMAR).

Among other awards, Idelisa Bonnelly de Calventi received the United Nations Environment Program’s Global 500 Hall of Fame in 1988, the UNESCO Madame Curie Medal in 2009, and she was awarded the Orden al Mérito de Duarte, Sánchez y Mella. Moreover, in 2016, the National Authority for Marine Affairs (ANAMAR) in Dominican Republican named in her honour a marine strait or channel through which whales regularly pass to access the Dominican waters.

An example to us all, and an outstanding figure from Latin America.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Chimpanzee research

Did you know that chimpanzees kiss, hug, scream, and cry? It’s estimated that the population of chimpanzees went from 1 million in 1900 to 340,000 today.

In 1960, following her curiosity, the 26 years old Jane Goodall travelled to what today is Tanzania to observe, monitor, and study chimpanzees. She observed her social interactions and described behaviours that were at the time unknown. For example, she noted that chimpanzees are omnivores and they create and use tools.

Jane Goodall is an example of inspiring educator and conservationist, and she is devoted to protect our world and its wildlife. She wrote several educational books and children story books. Interestingly, there are several videos of her reading these and other stories about her life and the chimpanzees.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1937 - 2012

Ticinese Architecture

Pioneer of the modern Switzerland, architect, educator and connector of opposed architectural productions; meet Flora Ruchat-Roncati. Flora was born in 1937 in Ticino, and obtained her degree in architecture and design from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, in 1952, and she became the first appointed female professor at ETH Zurich (1985-2002).

Over her years of teaching at ETH Zurich, she inspired generations of young Swiss architects into adapting a new fresh perspective on every project they imagine, giving more importance to the users experience and acceptance over professional critics.

In addition, throughout her career, she added a political flexible federalist dimension to her work when she broke cultural boundaries between the Italian, German and French speaking Switzerland, participating into and achieving the construction of major architectural works. This included the TransJurane infrastructural project, part of the EPFL campus, as well as many notable constructions in her native region Ticino. Part of her philosophy was her pronounced preference for projects in shared partnerships and cooperative authorships. For example, she shared practices with Renato Salvi, Dolf Schnebli and Tobias Ammann.

Her influence on the architectural world grew big in the mid-1970s, named the ‘poet of concrete’. One of her strongest signatures was to have no architectural signature and to be sceptical towards her own expositions. Inspired by Le Corbusier, she tried to find solutions to social and technical developments by a strong deliberate use of concrete as a material.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1938 - 2019

Phi29 polymerase enzyme

The biochemist Margarita Salas Falgueras is known for her great contributions to the DNA research. She discovered that biologic mechanisms to read the genetic information on the DNA follow only one direction, and she contributed to identify the stop codon that leads to the end of the protein synthesis. 

Together with her colleague Luis Blanco, they isolated and characterized the 29 phage DNA polymerase enzyme. This discovery has great impact on methods for DNA amplification.

She received the European Inventor Award 2019 in the Lifetime Achievement category, by the European Patent Office.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1939 - 2020

First moon-based camera

Is there anything more beautiful than the Earth from the space?

George Carruthers designed and built the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph, which constituted the first moon-based observatory. This invention provided the first global picture from the planet Earth upper atmosphere, using ultraviolet light.

George Carruthers was awarded with the National Medal of Technology in the United States, 2013.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Anti-bodies diversity

Susumu Tonegawa is a molecular biologist who discovered and described the genetic mechanism through which the adaptive immune system generates millions of different antibodies.

By comparing the DNA of mature and embryonic B cells from mice, he noticed that the genes have been moved to different locations, recombined and also deleted to form the diversity of the antibodies regions.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 1987 for this discovery. The diversity of production of anti-bodies by the adaptive immune system has been a central question in immunology for the past 100 years.

Before this big discovery, Tonegawa also uncovered the first cellular transcriptional enhancer element in association with the antibody gene complex.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.


HPV & cervical cancer

Following her training as physician and pathologists, Nubia Muñoz continued her education in public health, epidemiology and virology. Her interest on cancer epidemiology led her to research the association between infectious agents and cancer. As head of her team, she focussed on human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. They created an international network to research the topic and they identified HPV as a strong risk factor for cervical cancer.

Her research and perseverance catalyzed the development of the HPV vaccine.

Among other rewards and recognitions, she was named ‘Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur’ by France, and was awarded The Cross of Boyacá in Colombia.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.

1940 - 2011

Environmental protection

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.” Wangari Muta Maathai

The biologist Mangari Muta Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, the first female professor in Kenya, and the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Born in Kenia, Mangari Muta Maathai’s love for the global environment started early on, when as a girl she would plant trees and admire the forest.

After her studies in Biological Sciences in the US and pursuing a PhD in Germany and the University of Nairobi, she become professor and chair of the Veterinary Anatomy Department of the University of Nairobi and joined the National Council of Women of Kenya.

Concerned about the deforestation of her region, Mangari Muta Maathai started an initiative to plant trees, specially for women groups, aiming to provide the women with the means to gain independence and claim for their rights, while safeguarding the environment. Founder of the Green Belt Movement, she made possible the planting of over 30 million trees.

Her love for nature, and her deep understanding of the dependency of humans and the environment, led her to become the exceptional woman who fought for human rights, democracy, and environmental conservation, all through planting trees.

In 2004, Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."

Wangari Muta Maathai’s legacy and the power of her words will always be remembered.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Organic chemistry & NMR spectroscopy

Atta-ur-Rahman was born in Delhi, India. Family ties brought him to Karachi, Pakistan, at the age of 10. He studied organic chemistry at Karachi University and graduated in 1964. Obtaining a highly competitive Commonwealth Scholarship allowed him to pursue doctoral studies at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.

Atta-ur-Rahman has had an exceptional career, most of which took place at Karachi University. He performed research on molecular structure and synthesis that has led to the production of numerous compounds of biological interest like the cancer-fighting alkaloids obtained from the rosy periwinkle. During his career he wrote several highly praised books also used for teaching.

Rahman was elected as Fellow of Royal Society (London, 2006). Furthermore, he received the UNESCO Science Prize (1999), which is given to people for an outstanding contribution to scientific and technological research. In his case, the research in the various areas related to natural product chemistry.

Besides performing world class research, he founded the world's most comprehensive encyclopaedia on natural product chemistry entitled "Studies in Natural Products Chemistry" including 70 volumes under his editorship over the last 35 years.

He was also politically active and held the position of Federal Minister for Science and Technology and later Chairman of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission (until 2008) in which he changed the country’s approach towards science, technology, engineering and medicine. During this time, he further initiated a major programme of academic collaboration and linkages with Chinese universities and other institutions. In recognition of his contributions in the higher education sector in Pakistan, Atta-ur-Rahman was conferred several highly prestigious awards around the word including Pakistan, China, South Africa, and Austria.

He is seen as a key figure for reviving the higher education and research practices in Pakistan.

Written by: Theresa Burkard.


Discovery of pulsars

Astrophysicists Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars. A pulsar is a big star that shrunk, resulting into an object of very large density. This object is spinning itself around and has a magnetic field axis, emitting radio signals to us in a pulsating way, depending whether the beam is facing us or not.

During her PhD research Jocelyn Bell Burnell examined radio frequencies from celestial objects. Looking for new quasars, which are very big black holes, she raised the number of known quasars at the time from 20 to about 200. And in the process, she discovered a new signal that indicated something different from what was already known to exist in the universe. She noticed that this signal was "coming and going", like a pulse. Digging into this new signal and what it could mean, Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the pulsars!

Interesting to hear from her story is how she scanned the radio frequencies along more than 5 km of paper, and she not only discovered the first pulsar, but more afterwards!

While her discovery was deemed of great importance for radio astronomy, it was her supervisor, Antony Hewish, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics 1974 “for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars", shared with Martin Ryle.

In 2018 Jocelyn Bell Burnell received the Breakthrough Prize for the discovery of pulsars, and she donated the 3 million dollar prize to set up a fund for postgraduate students in physics from minorities in the field.

On top of her scientific achievements, Jocelyn Bell Burnell devotes her career to be a role model for women in science and to give minority people the opportunity to do research. She provides time, expertise, and resources for this purpose.

We, the Wall of Scientists, had the great pleasure to meet her and told her about this initiative. She was flattered and thank us. But it is us who should thank her for being an outstanding role model for all of us. Thank you Jocelyn.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.



Theoretical physicist Sylvester James (Jim) Gates is known for his contribution to supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.

He is co-author of several books in the field (e.g. Superspace), and he engages with video documentaries.

Among other awards and recognitions, in 2013, Sylvester Jim Gates received the U.S. National Medal of Science “for his contribution to the mathematics of supersymmetry in particle, field, and string theories and his extraordinary efforts to engage the public on the beauty and wonder of fundamental physics.”

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Deep-sea bioluminescence

The explorer of oceans Edith Anne Widder is a marine biologist specialist in bioluminescence, the light produced and emitted by living organisms. Ocean organisms use bioluminescence to communicate, to hunt, and event to camouflage.

Edith A. Widder describes undersea gardens as magical places. Her research enlightens us on the incredible ocean ecosystem and the big yet to know world. Widder reminds us that our home Earth is an ocean planet, and we should safeguard it.

In 2015 she founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), which focusses “on reversing the trend of oceanic and near-shore marine ecosystem degradation" (teamorca.org). She leads the discovery and development of systems and tools to research the deep sea, for example, the ORCA’s Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS). This is a remotely operated deep-see camera. Among organisms recorded with the EITS we may mention the rare giant squid.

Public speaker, featured in documentaries, and author of ‘Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea’.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Higgs boson

The Moroccan nuclear physicist Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli contributed significantly to the discovery of the Higgs boson with the construction of the electromagnetic calorimeter in the ATLAS detector, which is one of two general-purpose detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Thanks to her significant scientific contribution, she received the L’Oreal-UNESCO award for Women in Science as a Laureate representing Africa and the Arab States in 2015.

In addition to her scientific contributions, Cherkaoui is also an activist who promotes the education of African and Moroccan girls and incites them to pursue sciences and knowledge. She advocates for the improvement of the quality of research in Morocco.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.


Space exploration

The engineer, physician, and NASA astronaut Mae Jemison dreamed on reaching the starts, and she made it.

Jemison knew from early on that she wanted to study science. She grew up admiring Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman who went into space, and the women from the Mercury 13. She was also inspired by Lieutenant Uhura, character from the Star Trek television show.

Following a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in African and African-American studies, Jemison graduated with a medical degree and started practicing medicine.

After Sally Ride went into space, Jemison saw the opportunity and applied to the astronaut NASA program. And in 1992, Jemison and other six astronauts went into space on the Endeavor shuttle, for a 8-day journey. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman traveling into space.

Jemison founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which among other initiatives, includes science camps for students worldwide. She leads the 100 Year Starship US project, which aims to make feasible interstellar space flight (travel to another star) within the next 100 years.

Jemison strongly advocates for diversity in space exploration, science, and technology, including efforts from kids’ education to the selection of team members in the work force.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Insect research

Segenet Kelemu did her undergraduate degree in Ethiopia. Due to her excellent performance, she received a scholarship to pursue her Masters and PhD Degree in molecular biology with a focus on plant pathology in the U.S.

After her degree, she worked in the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia for 15 years, where she was in charge of disease of forage plants (i.e. crop). She describes her work as solving problems for society, especially for developing countries. Because to put it in simple terms “plants get sick just like humans from infectious agents, and if they get sick, there is no food”.

During her years in Columbia, she educated many scientists who brought back their knowledge to their home countries, mainly developing countries. Among these scientists were many from China. In 2006, the Chinese government awarded her the "Friendship Award”, the highest award in China, because they attributed their agricultural and economic development partially to her teaching.

Segenet Kelemu describes the same year also as a turning point, because she felt that Africa needed her. She came from a poor village and knew how people lived and struggled to survive / make ends meet in rural Africa.

During the following 5 years, she established the Agricultural Technology Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, from scratch. She then moved on to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) - also in Nairobi - which she is directing today. The ICIPE solves agricultural constraints in Africa. The research on insects which is performed there is important for society in two ways:

1)To keep the planet liveable in the many years ahead and to manage food security. Thus, Segent Kelemu reasons that we have to learn and know about insects, both about the problems and benefits they bring. On the problem side: insects will start to influence other places than developing countries as the globe gets warmer. And African problems will become problems in developed countries, e.g. mosquito transmitted diseases. On the benefit side, insects harbour many valuable edible proteins and sources for pharmaceuticals like antibiotics. Unfortunately, people are not aware of the properties of insects. So she believes in research and education to solve this problem.

2)The products which are developed at ICIPE help farmers in Africa and beyond. The technologies are environmentally friendly and sustainable to maintain the natural equilibrium. For example, they generated bio pesticides now marketed in many countries.

Written by: Theresa Burkard.


HIV infection and prevention

Quarraisha Abdool Karim is an infectious disease epidemiologist whose research focuses on HIV infections and prevention.

For more than 32 years, her research focused on protecting young women and girls from HIV infections through prevention and understanding of the factors of acquisition, as well as the mechanism of virus propagation using genetic sequencing.

Her clinical trial study for the Tenofovir gel CAPRISA 004, an anti-HIV vaginal topical gel, showed impactful results in reducing HIV infection incidence in women as well as HSV-2. This discovery was ranked among the top 10 scientific breakthroughs in 2010 by Science.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.


Photo-active materials

The research from the chemist Vivian Yam Wing-Wah focuses on light absorbing or emitting materials. Her work combines, among other disciplines, photochemistry, luminescence, photophysics, and material sciences. The discovery of new materials capable of absorbing or emitting light in an accommodated way contributes to novel technology for solar energy, as well as innovative materials for light displays.

Vivian Yam Wing-Wah describes chemistry as “a science of great creativity”, enabling to create, study, and manipulate molecules. She tackles environmental and energy related problems. She fosters and motivates students and she champions multidisciplinary teams to achieve our common goals for a better world.

On top of may awards, she was the youngest person elected to Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Recommended source for more info: Vivian YAM Lab.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Sickle cell disease

Julie Makani is Associate Professor in the Department of Haematology and Blood Transfusion at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) (http://www.muhas.ac.tz), the main clinical, academic and research center in Tanzania.

Tanzania has recognized sickle cell disease (SCD), as a major public health problem and it has been included as a priority condition in the national strategy for Non-Communicable Diseases in the Ministry of Health. With global partnerships, Muhimbili has developed a systematic framework for research, integrated into health, advocacy and education. With prospective surveillance (2004 – 2016) of over 5,000 SCD patients, this is one of the largest single-center, SCD research programs in the world. Tanzania is establishing networks at institutional, national, regional (REDAC), African (Sickle Pan-African Network - 17 countries), and global level (http://www.globalsicklecelldisease.org). In order to develop platforms for advocacy, Tanzania has supported the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania (2010 - 2018) and the Tanzania Sickle Cell Disease Alliance (Established 2016). Scientific themes include clinical research, biomedical research (including genomics) and public health [including ethics, social/behavioral science, population health and health policy]. The aim is to use SCD as a model to establish scientific and healthcare solutions in Africa that are locally relevant and globally significant.

Julie trained in Medicine (Tanzania) and Internal Medicine (UK), and completed her PhD in clinical epidemiology of SCD (UK). She has received several national and international awards for her academic and scientific achievements. She was a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow [Training (2003 – 2009), Intermediate (2012 - 2017)], Tutu Leadership Fellow (2009) www.alinstitute.org and Honorary Visiting Research Fellow, University of Oxford (2003- 2016). She received the 2011 Royal Society Pfizer Award for her work in using anemia in SCD as a model of translating genetic research into health benefit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sd17odE1YLs . She is a Consultant Physician in Hematology and Blood Transfusion and Principal Investigator (PI) for Sickle Pan African Consortium (SPARCO)/ SickleInAfrica http://www.sickleinafrica.org/; Site PI for MUHAS for H3ABioNet https://www.h3abionet.org/ and Co-PI SickleGenAfrica http://sicklegenafrica.com/ She is a Fellow of Royal College of Physicians of United Kingdom and Tanzania Academy of Sciences.

Written by: Julie Makani / Janeth Manongi.


Diabetes and the bedouin population

The geneticist and biomedical engineer Habiba-Sayeed-Alsafar and her team conducted the first genetic study on diabetes in the Bedouin population. Her research identified genetic risk factors for diabetes among the Bedouin population, including five genes associated with type 2 diabetes, among which the most notable one was the PRKD1 gene.

This finding is remarkably relevant due to the high diabetes prevalence in the United Arab States, which is the second highest prevalence of diabetes worldwide.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.

1977 - 2017

Symmetry of curved surfaces

In recognition of her contributions to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces”, Maryam Mirzakhani won the 2014 Fields Medal, high prestige award in mathematics.

Maryam Mirzakhani’s research focused on mathematical structures and solving problems related to them.

She initially engaged with math as a challenge, and soon discovered the beauty of it. “It is not only the question, but the way you try to solve it”, said Maryam Mirzakhani.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.


Ionosphere and climate change

Francisca Okeke is a physicist who studies the ionosphere as well as the earth magnetic field, particularly the equatorial electrojet episode.

In her research she focuses on the daily variation of the ionic currents in the upper atmosphere as well as geomagnetism and climate variability. For her impactful discoveries, she was awarded the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award.

Okeke's research brings us closer to understanding how big natural events such as tsunamis and earthquakes occur, since the solar ionosphere activity impacts the earths equatorial electrojet episode. These investigations could help explaining the occurrence of such natural phenomenons as well as their strength.

Written by: Fatma Abdi.