By Anne Jorgenson
Sexism still exists. Anyone who tries to deny it is willingly sticking his or her head in the patriarchal sand. That’s not to say things aren’t better now than they were in years past (Woo voting rights! Speaking of, has everyone registered to vote? Go, go, go!). But women still face prejudice in the workplace and their everyday lives – we still only get $0.78 to every $1.00 a man makes, what type of nonsense is that?
Yet despite all that, women still thrive. There are still badass professionals that make groundbreaking discoveries and contributions to the world in many different fields, including science.
Let’s start with artificial intelligence, a definite double-edged sword. Cool, sentient robots! But who’s to stop them from surpassing human intelligence and taking over human civilization? If you’ve seen Terminator, you know what I’m talking about. Things could go very wrong or very right with AI. Because of that, a slew of great minds have come up with different tests over the years to determine what exactly creates a real artificial intelligence. One of those tests is the Lovelace test, created by awesome female English mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace.
Back in the early 19th century, Ada Lovelace wrote algorithmic notes on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, earning her the title of the first computer programmer. In 1843, Ada argued that a machine couldn’t be considered intelligent in the same way humans are until it can create an idea that it wasn’t designed to. Her definition is now the universally accepted definition of artificial intelligence – a computer must be able to create something on its own with no explanation from the code originally programmed into it. This Lovelace test is now a key factor in determining AI. Not to mention the fact that she came up with this so many years ago, when the most technologically advanced thing was the typewriter.
Flash forward a few years to 1867, when Caroline Still Anderson, the only African-American student in her class at Oberlin College, became the youngest graduate of her class, earning her degree at 19 years old. Anderson’s father encouraged her to get an education, and Anderson took that encouragement and became one of the first African American female physicians in the United States. When she was 30, Anderson completed her medical training and applied to intern at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children. Initially rejected due to her race, Anderson went to the hospital and met with the board that had previously rejected her application. Once the board members saw her talent and skill, they rescinded their first decision and gave her the internship. Once her internship ended, she moved back to her hometown and started her own private practice, which she successfully ran until she passed away from a stroke in 1914.
In the biological research field, we have Rosalind Franklin, a chemist and x-ray crystallographer in the early 20th century. She was one of the key scientists who discovered the molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and even graphite. Without her, we wouldn’t have the understanding we do today – her x-ray images of DNA led to the discovery of the double helix. Unfortunately, her research was at a cost, for she died due to tumors caused by the x-rays from her research. Despite her illness, Franklin kept working, producing papers and research until she was unable to.
And finally, we have Chien Shiung Wu, a Chinese-American physicist that worked in nuclear physics. She helped separate uranium to create different isotopes and investigate beta-decay, and she conducted an experiment that disproved the law of conservation of parity now known as “The Wu Experiment.” In her younger years, when she still lived in China, Wu was not only one of the top students at her highly competitive school, but she was also a political leader among her peers, participating in sit-ins and protests while balancing her hefty schoolwork. Known as “The First Lady of Physics,” Wu became a professor of physics at Columbia after completing over 20 years of field research.
These are just a few examples of outstanding women in various scientific fields, and there are certainly more to come. Despite all the hardships these women faced due to their gender, race, and age, they succeeded beyond everybody’s expectations. We could all learn a thing or two from them.