Visible Women

How one woman helped pioneering female scientists to reclaim the spotlight

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani in a poster celebrating female scientists

Her poster series aims to highlight the women in STEM who have fallen through the cracks of history

How many female scientists can you name?

If I was to answer that question myself, I would say two. There’s Marie Curie, the French scientist who discovered polonium and radium and was awarded the Nobel Prize for her work in the field of radioactivity. And then there’s Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who helped calculated the exit trajectories of astronauts in the space race, as immortalised in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Both these women figure in the Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s stunning poster project “Beyond Curie.” Featuring 40 collage-style posters of overlooked female scientists from various fields throughout history, Phingbodhipakkiya hopes that her posters, six of which are available to download for free, will be printed out and tacked to wardrobe doors, bedroom walls, classroom boards and more. 

Curie features in name only as the jumping off point for the series, but Johnson is one of the 40 women profiled. Alongside her is Mae Jemison, a NASA astronaut and the first African American woman to travel into space.

There’s also Maryan Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to be awarded the Fields Medal, one of the top prizes for mathematicians. Also part of the series was 19th century geologist Florence Bascom and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a British chemist and Nobel Prize winner instrumental in understanding X-ray technology and penicillin.

Phingbodhipakkiya’s project is only one of many aiming to highlight how history has erased female scientists from the narrative of progress.

Jess Wade, a British physicists, has made it her mission to increase the information about female scientist on the internet. So every year she writes 270 Wikipedia pages, spotlighting the pioneering women that history has forgotten.

“I kind of realised we can only really change things from the inside,” Wade told the Guardian. “Wikipedia is a really great way to engage people in this mission because the more you read about these sensational women, the more you get so motivated and inspired by their personal stories.”

Wade was inspired to start her project by the stagnation of growth in female students in science, maths, computer studies and engineering at both a higher education and tertiary level. According to STEM Women, though the number of women graduating in these subjects has increased - by an absolute fraction, about 320 students a year - the overall growth dropped from 25% to 24% due to an increase in male students in the same field. 

Basically, we need more women in science, technology, maths and engineering. We need more women talking about these topics. So get reading! Go to Wikipedia and click on a few articles about female scientists. Get printing. Download those posters and stick them to any bare surface you can find. Say the names of these female scientists out loud. Remember them. 

The Forgotten Women series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.

Images: Beyond Curie