The woman who photographed a black hole and 6 other trailblazing women scientists
Women Scientists: Dr Katie Bouman photographed a black hole for the first time, but did you know that women have been blowing scientific minds for hundreds of years? Read about these six incredible women scientists with your daughter, and watch her eyes go wide with wonder.
Words Sophie Phoon
Every little kid has a dream of being something when they grow up: a footballer, a singer, a lawyer, a crazy scientist who turns a car into a time machine – the limit does not exist for the aspirations of children. Rarely if ever do our childhood dreams turn into realities, sometimes because we change our minds and even more often because we are told that those dreams are just not realistic. The same could be said for these incredible women scientists who pursued these dreams and didn’t give up!
For 29-year-old Harvard professor, Dr Katie Bouman, her dreams came true last month when the computer program that she and her team developed made it possible for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight connected telescopes around the world – to capture an image of a black hole for the very first time.
Now, we take a look at six other remarkable ladies who not only rocked the world with their incredible discoveries, but prove that dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin began their epic journey on 20 July 1969, their lives were in the hands of hundreds of NASA scientists, including Margaret Hamilton. A hardware-related problem on board the lunar module Eagle could have wrecked the day, but the software designed by Hamilton and her trusty team of engineers compensated for the fault and allowed the boys to safely land on the moon.
In 2016, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama, who said, “Her example speaks of the… spirit of discovery that exists in every little girl and little boy who know that somehow to look beyond the heavens is to look deep within ourselves.”
Pictured above with her chimp teddy Mr H, the inspiring story of Jane Goodall started with a childhood dream to see the African wilderness. After working as a secretary, she saved enough money to travel to Kenya. During her expeditions to the Gombe Stream Reserve, she gradually gained the trust of the chimpanzees and made many surprising discoveries.
She discovered that chimps not only make and use tools, but they can form close relationships and experience a range of ‘human’ emotions like joy, despair, fear and love. Today, she is an avid conservationist, a United Nations Messenger of Peace and has even been knighted by the Queen.
During the time of King George III while Jane Austen was writing her famous collection of novels, a young Mary Anning was digging about in the dirt on the now-named Jurassic Coast in England, looking for what she called ‘curiosities’. Later, she would discover that they were actually fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.
Her many incredible finds, including full skeletons of an ichthyosaur, a plesiosaur and a pterodactyl (think of the flying dinosaurs in Jurassic Park) are now on display in the Natural History Museum in London. Oh, and she also pioneered the study of fossilised poo.
Rightfully known as ‘Amazing Grace’, this mathematician and computer programmer is remembered for her invaluable contribution to modern computing. Grace Hopper served in the US Naval Reserves during World War II and made it her life’s work to make computers accessible to the general public. She developed a programming language called COBOL, which was based on actual English words instead of numbers and was the first person ever to receive the Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award.
Would any list of distinguished scientists be complete without Marie Curie? She and her husband Pierre Curie made many notable scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of two new chemical elements, namely polonium and radium.
After her husband’s death in 1906, she continued her work, eventually discovering a way to measure radioactivity. This earned her a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Three years later, she invented the Petits Curies, which were mobile X-ray units that were used to diagnose battle injuries during World War I.
Valentina Tereshkova was not only the first woman to ever visit space, she also remains the youngest person to ever do so. She was selected for the mission because of her expertise in parachute jumping. In 1963, at the age of 26, she spent three days flying in space and orbited the Earth a whopping 48 times. On her return, Valentina Tereshkova was so well-liked and respected, she ended up on a Soviet stamp.