As we bid farewell to Women’s History Month, let’s take a moment to uncover the untold stories of countless women who have been overlooked in STEM. From the shadowed accomplishments of trailblazers like Ada Lovelace and Chien-Shiung Wu to the ground-breaking work of unsung heroes like Dorothy Hodgkin and Gladys West. These women have paved the way for modern-day breakthroughs, all whilst pushing back against a patriarchal system that tried to silence them. So, let’s raise a beaker (or a Bunsen burner, or a motherboard, or whatever your STEM tool of choice may be) to these incredible women and to all the women who are currently making waves in their respective fields.
Science has always been a male-dominated field, and women have often been overlooked or even erased from history despite their significant contributions.
Women have been making waves in STEM for centuries, even if their achievements were often overlooked or outright ignored. So that’s why we’re taking a closer look at Ada Lovelace’s ground-breaking work in computer programming and retelling the distressing story of the wronged Rosalind Franklin and her contributions to understanding the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite.
Back in the 1800s, women were expected to stay at home and take care of the family, not pursue a career in science or technology: but Ada Lovelace was different. Despite science being an occupation that only men should pursue, she dared to challenge that societal norm and became known as the “first computer programmer” in history. Lovelace’s brilliant mind was ahead of its time, as she developed a series of algorithms that Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could process. This machine was designed to perform calculations that were too complex for humans to handle.
So why are we talking about her now? This is interesting because Ada Lovelace’s accomplishments were overshadowed by the patriarchal society that dismissed her as a mere woman. Her male peers actively refused to take her seriously and worked to dismantle her work and legacy. It wasn’t until the 1950s, more than a century later and long after her death, that Ada Lovelace received the recognition she deserved for her outstanding contributions to computer science.
Ada Lovelace’s impact on society today is significant, as her work and legacy continue to inspire and influence the field of computer science.
For instance, NVIDIA is, a leading technology company that designs graphics processing units, system-on-a-chip units, and other computing devices, has named its latest graphics processing architecture after Lovelace. This is important as they are known for their advanced graphics technology and are a significant player in the gaming industry. NVIDIA aims to honour her legacy and contributions to computer science by naming its architecture after Ada Lovelace. The Lovelace architecture is NVIDIA’s most significant breakthrough in graphics processing technology in recent years. The company hopes that Ada Lovelace’s spirit will continue to inspire the next generation of innovators.
Rosalind Franklin was a brilliant scientist and trailblazer in the field of crystallography, so why did the scientific community so tragically wrong her? In the early 1950s, Franklin worked at King’s College in London, studying DNA structure using X-ray crystallography. Her work was meticulous and ground-breaking. She was on the verge of making a major breakthrough when her data was stolen by a colleague and given to James Watson and Francis Crick, who used it to publish the first model of DNA’s double helix structure without her consent or acknowledgement.
Franklin’s contributions to the discovery of DNA’s structure were instrumental, but her male colleagues ignored and dismissed her work. She was often excluded from meetings and conferences, and her ideas were frequently dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant. This was not an isolated incident – throughout her career, Franklin faced numerous obstacles and was often excluded from scientific circles because of her gender. Undoubtedly, her legacy was marred by the mistreatment she met at the hands of her male colleagues, who stole her data and denied her the credit she deserved.
She wrote in a letter to a friend, “It’s not easy to be a woman in science. I feel like I’m constantly fighting against the odds, trying to prove myself to people who don’t believe in me.”
But she refused to let these setbacks define her and continued to push forward with her research. Ultimately, Franklin’s contributions to science were recognised, but only posthumously. It is a tragic reminder of the systemic injustice women in STEM face, even today. Despite her challenges, Franklin remained committed to her passion for science and made significant contributions. We remember Franklin as a brilliant scientist and a pioneer for women in STEM. Her research on the structure of viruses helped pave the way for the development of vaccines, and her legacy continues to inspire generations of scientists
We seek to honour both Ada Lovelace and Rosalind Franklin’s legacies by working to create a more inclusive and equitable society where women and other marginalised groups are given the support and recognition they deserve.