Back in the early 70s, only 8% of all STEM workers were women. However, this number has risen in recent years. The National Girls Collaborative Project reveals that these days, the percentage of women in STEM is significantly higher. Women now make up 28% of the science and engineering workforce, while 26% are in the computer and mathematical sciences field — and the numbers are only growing.
In fact, below are some of the extraordinary women in STEM who have dedicated their work to the advancement of math, and who are inspiring young girls to do the same.
Noteworthy women in STEM and their contributions
Emmy Noether struggled to establish herself in the mathematical field not just because she was a woman, but because she was Jewish as well. Despite these characteristics, Noether became a researcher and lecturer at Bryn Mawr College and at the Institute for Advanced Study. Lady Science even writes how Albert Einstein recognized Noether as the “most significant” mathematical genius since the education of women began. She worked with Einstein to develop the mathematical foundations for his theory of relativity.
Katherine Johnson was a key figure in John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission and in the first few successful crewed space flights. She spent 35 years working for NASA and was considered a “human computer” due to her ability to perform complex calculations. In 2015, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments. Johnson passed away in 2020, leaving behind a legacy for other young women in STEM to follow. Her character and achievements have been immortalized by actress Taraji Henson in the movie “Hidden Figures.”
Valerie Thomas invented the Illusion Transmitter. The Illusion Transmitter is a 3D imaging technology that enables 3D imaging to be used in TV, movies, and video games today. Thomas also worked for NASA in the past as a developer and engineer. During her time in the space agency, she even led a team that was in charge of receiving the first satellite images from outer space. After her retirement, she worked as an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research. Thomas also encourages and mentors young people through the Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology, Inc. and the National Technical Association.
Maryam Mirzakhani was a mathematician and professor at Stanford University. Her research has contributed to the formation of many theories such as hyperbolic geometry, which has direct applications to space relativity, and symplectic geometry, which is used to analyze immeasurable shapes (like mountains and cliffs). Maryville University notes that Mirzakhani is the first woman — and the only one at that — to be awarded the Fields Medal for mathematical excellence. Her work on Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces allowed her to be the first Iranian to receive this prestigious award as well — a proud achievement for all women in STEM.
The majority know Rachel Riley as someone on TV since she has been on the UK game show “Countdown” since 2009. She was only 22 years of age then, and Countdown is a game that requires mathematical skills. She graduated with a degree in mathematics from Oriel College, Oxford. A goal of hers is to encourage more women to participate in STEM careers, and she does so by visiting schools to share her joys of mathematics.
Mae Carol Jemison
The first African-American woman to go to outer space is Mae Carol Jemison. Jemison took part in the Endeavor Space Shuttle that launched in 1992. Prior to becoming an astronaut, she was a physician in the Peace Corps. In addition to these accomplishments, Jemison is also an engineer and mathematician. At present, she motivates the youth to pursue careers in STEM.
The impact of STEM on society is undeniable as discussed in our post “Looking beyond STEM.” For this reason, everyone should have equal opportunities to study in the field. These women in STEM have shown that by pursuing what they want and working towards their goals, they can establish themselves and achieve excellence.
Written exclusively for www.ineducationonline.org
by Amber Canary
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