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Can You Name a Famous Female Scientist?


Sixty-five percent of Americans cannot, according to a recent survey.

I don't see a comparable estimate of U.S. knowledge of famous male scientists, so hard to know if American ignorance in this area is gender-specific.The good news, if you're someone who wants to see more girls entering scientific fields, is that strong majorities of Americans believe females are underrepresented in such professions and would like to see the government invest more to lure them into those occupations. The survey, titled "Women, Science, and Success: The New Face of Innovation," was conducted by L'Oreal USA, the American subsidiary of the international cosmetics, perfume, and beauty corporation.


The first female scientist who came to mind for me, for whatever reason, was primatologist Jane Goodall (to the right). Who's yours?

Photo by Jean-Marc Bouju/AP-File


Madame Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist, was probably the first female scientist I ever learned about. I believe that I first read about her in the 4th grade when I went through a stage of reading biographies written for kids.

Dr. Mae Jameson, doctor and astronaut.

I thought of Mae Jemison AND Marie Curie - (I thought of Jemison first, assumed she was a scientist because she's an astronaut, then went with Curie since she was definitely a scientist!)

Ecologist Rachel Carson came to my mind first, then Jane Goodall. That is probably because I taught 2 elementary grade levels that had them in our curriculum as a focus for the genre of biography.

Living in Southern California, Dr. Lucy Jones, Caltech Seismologist and geophysicist, is widely recognized - she's on the news every time we have a quake. Caltech and its sister institution, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, were quite male-dominated for many decades, but as the first woman to lead a NASA program, Donna Shirley is one of several noteworthy pioneers in JPL's history.

Sally Ride was the first I thought of.

Mae Jemison has an interesting speech on the TED website. She makes some great points about integrating science and the arts in education, while mentioning some content that should be more widely known. She deserves to be better known herself!

The other names that occurred to me: Dian Fossey (for the moviegoer), Rosalind Franklin (for the conspiracy theorist), Lisa Randall (who seems to show up on TV more often than just about any other female scientist), and Jill Bolte Taylor.

As of a few months ago I had never heard of Taylor, but she has popped up a few times recently and now I remember her name. She has an amazing personal story, and her own mesmerizing presentation on TED.

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