Women scientists, In the dark page of History

Women have significant contributions to science from the earliest times. But history had overlooked about some of the pioneers of Science. Meet the women who dedicated their lives to science and made groundbreaking advances. Daniel Debbarma admires their achievements and hard work.

Portrait of  ADA LOVELACE (1815-1852)


First computer programmer

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) was an English Mathematician and writer. Countess Lovelace is considered to be a pioneer in the field of computing. Her correspondence with Charles Babbage, the forefather of the modern computer gave her a rare opportunity to transcribe and read up on his now famous lecture regarding his Analytical Engine, the first general purpose computer at the University of Turin, Italy. Her appended notes (G notes) on the transcription during the nine-month period in 1842-1843 are now considered as the first computer programme. Her notes said that the machine is suited for “developing and tabulating any function whatever the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.” Babbage was highly impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills. He called her “The Enchantress of Number”.


Portrait of  LISE MEITNER (1878-1968)


Discovery of nuclear fission

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. She worked together with chemist Otto Hahn and together with him discovered several new isotopes. In 1909 she presented two papers on beta-radiation. She also, together with Otto Hahn, discovered and developed a physical separation method known as radioactive recoil, in which a daughter nucleus is forcefully ejected from its matrix as it recoils at the moment of decay. In 1935 she along with Otto Hahn started a research program called the “transuranium research”. This program eventually led to the unexpected discovery of nuclear fission of heavy nuclei in December 1938 leading to develop formula towards creating nuclear bombs. Impressed by her work she was praised by Albert Einstein as the “German Marie Curie“.


Portrait of GRACE HOPPER (1906-1992)


Programmed the first compiler

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was an American computer Scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. In 1944, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL one of the first high-level programming languages.

In 1950s, women led the charge when it came to computer programming, and American computer scientist Hopper had the opportunity to work on the first computer Harvard Mark 1 at Harvard University. She realised that computers needed to be user-friendly and she started working on a programme that would convert source code written in one computer language into another usually less complex language, say English. This was the early version of the first compiler created. While compilers are the norm today in computer programming, in the 1950s, they were a radical departure from what the computers were expected to do then – for performing computations/arithmetic.


Portrait of NETTIE STEVENS (1861-1912)


The science of gender

Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) was an American geneticist who discovered that sex of a species is determined by a particular combination of chromosomes. In 1905, while at Bryn Mawr College, she successfully stated from her experiments on the yellow mealworm that the combination of an X and Y chromosome was and is responsible for the determination of the sex of an individual. XX for female and XY for male.


Cecilia Payne.jpg
Portrait of CECILIA PAYNE (1900-1979)


The composition of stars

Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin (1900-1979), British-American astronomer and astrophysicist, answered the question of “what are stars made of?” in 1925 whilst at Harvard University. She was accurately able to prove that the composition of stars depends on their temperature and the ionization of the atoms in the elements. She calculated the relative amounts of 18 elements in space and the results showed similar compositions in all. Stars are almost entirely composed of the two lightest elements in the Universe, hydrogen and helium. Her findings have helped astrophysicists understand the Universe better.


*Picture Credit- Google Images.

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