Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of celebration that helps people learn about the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, inspiring others and creating new role models. We asked editors at Nature Research to talk about female scientists who’ve made major contributions to their fields.
If you’d like to tell us about a scientist who’s inspired you, get in touch with @nresearchnews and we’ll share some of our favourite tweets.
Biomedical engineering is a field with the prerogative of solving problems in healthcare and is usually associated with advanced high-tech and best-in-class facilities. Rarely does the majority of the population benefit from what only wealth can buy.
Great women here come few and far between. Rebecca Richards-Kortum has managed not only to excel as a bioengineer, but is making a world leader in what I consider the most challenging aspect of global health: the delivery of point-of-care diagnostic solutions in low-resource settings.
Providing real-time diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancers as well as the early detection of oral and bladder cancers, making the methods less expensive to implement, takes more than good will. It is rather a feat of understanding cultures with diverse values such as those found in sub-Saharan Africa, it takes convincing people to care, and it takes guts. Rebecca is a 2016 MacArthur fellow, rightly deserved.
3D printing can turn complex computer designs into highly functional real-world objects, and the lab headed by Jennifer Lewis is responsible for many enabling developments and innovations that may transform manufacturing as we know it in a number of different fields.
With engineering and manufacturing still male-dominated, Jennifer Lewis inspires by simply – and impressively – getting on with the job of exploring basic materials science, fluid handling and robotic assembly so that 3D printing can create functional, structural and biological materials with unusual properties.
This ranges from different cells printed onto chips to create artificial organs that can serve as a powerful new platform for disease modelling and drug screening; to the realization of octobot, the first soft-bodied robot that is completely self-contained.
So uplifting to think of these accomplishments when coming across James Brown crooning that it is a man’s, man’s, man’s world!
You can read a Review Jennifer Lewis co-authored in Nature here: Printing soft matter in three dimensions (free-to-access link via SharedIt).
It feels timely to honour Amita Sehgal for her contribution to the development of the circadian clock and sleep fields this year, when the Nobel Prize for Physiology was awarded to three circadian biologists, including Michael Young.
Dr Sehgal began her postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University in the laboratory of Micheal Young, where she discovered the second circadian clock mutation timeless, and cloned its gene. Her research group identified the action mechanisms of Timeless as a time-resetting component of the circadian clock, which keeps our physiological rhythms at 24-hr period. The Sehgal group also has been at the forefront in discovering numerous sleep genes, helping us understand why we need to sleep. Explore further here, here, and here.
Dr Sehgal has produced 43 trainees, twelve of whom became prominent women investigators and six of whom the women leads in various industry. It is much anticipated that she will continue to inspire more women scientists.
Owing to my academic background in Raman spectroscopy of graphene, I have been deeply inspired by Prof Mildred Dresselhaus (1930-2017), the “Queen of Carbon Science”, who made outstanding contributions to the physics of fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene. She pioneered Raman spectroscopy as a sensitive tool for the characterization of carbon-based nanomaterials. Millie was a true leader in championing a more significant role for women in science.
She co-founded the Women’s Forum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and encouraged women to pursue a career in physics, engineering and related fields of research that were traditionally male-dominated. When Millie arrived at MIT in 1960, the percentage of women amounted to just 4% of the overall undergraduate student population. The female presence today is 40%. Besides being an exceptional scientist, for me, Millie was also a gateway to precious personal stories and anecdotes about Enrico Fermi, whom she met at the University of Chicago.
A few years ago, some colleagues and I were organising a conference on the applications of graphene. We had to choose a distinguished scientist to give the opening address. We all immediately agreed on one name – the MIT professor, Mildred Dresselhaus.
Mildred Dresselhaus, or Millie as she was known, was an inspiration to many. Born in 1930, she had, through intelligence and determination, risen to the forefront of solid-state physics by the 1960s, when the field was decidedly male dominated. She contributed to our understanding of carbon in all forms, with pioneering work on graphite, fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene. She won a large number of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Enrico Fermi Award, and is still the only woman to have been awarded the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.
I was fortunate enough to meet her on a number of occasions and was deeply saddened by the news of her death last February. Her legacy will though endure for many years to come.