11 Women in STEM Who Changed the World

Publish on February 27, 2024
STEM Education
Women in STEM Who Changed the World

Although many people’s efforts throughout history resulted in advances in science, technology, engineering, and math, some heroes are often overlooked – many of those being women.

Women in STEM

Today, we want to feature some of our favorite female STEM groundbreakers and promote their remarkable achievements! The world is a better place thanks to their hard work and talents.

Real Stars Amongst Stars

Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022)

Nichelle Nichols in the STEM World


Nichelle Nichols in the STEM World

Star Trek fans may know this talented actress for her role as Nyota Uhura. But acting wasn’t the only thing she was involved in. This actress also significantly impacted the STEM world. Nichols partnered with NASA to recruit women and minorities to the space agency. With her help, NASA recruited Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut. And United States Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut. These are just a few of the many people Nichols helped recruit from 1977 to 2015. She was also on the board of governors of the National Space Institute. Her enthusiasm and dedication to space exploration helped to change the STEM world.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy is one of the women engineers who changed history. While she has gained a reputation as a stunning actress, she also had success in STEM. For instance, one of Hedy’s ideas was the precursor to today’s Wi-Fi technology. In the 1940s, she and co-inventor George Antheil filed a patent for their work. It was a radio communications invention. Namely, this creation allowed radio communications to move between frequencies. The aim was to protect Allied torpedoes from Nazi discovery. Alas, the Navy rejected the invention. However, they later used it as inspiration for other similar technology.

Famous Female Engineers in History

Although most of those currently working in STEM fields are men, the number of women in STEM is rising. Female engineers represent over 17 per cent of those in the industry. That is up from around 13 per cent in 2016. Here are a few of the most notable women engineers in history.

Edith Clarke (1883-1959)

Edith Clarke

A patent by Edith Clarke for a graphing calculator.

Edith Clarke is one of the industry’s first female pioneers. She graduated from Vassar College in 1908, where she studied mathematics and astronomy. She then earned her Master of Science from MIT in 1919, the first time the school awarded the degree to a woman.

Edith worked on and off for General Electric over her career. But, she spent most of her working life as a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas. In fact, she was the first female professor to teach on the subject.

Moreover, Edith was the first female engineer to join the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1954, The Society of Women Engineers honored her with a lifetime achievement award.

Lillian Evelyn Gilbreth (1878-1972)

Lillian Evelyn Gilbreth

Lillian attended the University of California in Berkley. There, she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Along with her husband, Frank, she worked on several projects. Together, they closely studied how long it took workers to complete tasks. To study this, they developed a time-and-motion method. Indeed, these projects improved the efficiency of industrial workers.

Lillian also taught and wrote, furthering industry growth. After her husband’s death in 1924, she took over his consulting firm.

Famous Female Mathematicians and Scientists

Women have also been at the head of change in math and science. Here are some of history’s most famous female mathematicians and scientists.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron. Her mother wanted to reduce any likeness Ada shared with her father. So, she encouraged Ada to learn about science and math. Ada’s interests put her in touch with Charles Babbage. Babbage was an inventor and mathematician at the time. He asked Lovelace for help translating an Italian text about a machine that could perform mathematical calculations. While she worked, Ada also added her ideas and notes about the machine. She even wrote a calculation method known as the world’s first computer program.

Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)

Sofia Kovalevskaya

Born in Russia, Sofia and her husband later moved to Germany, where she received private tutoring. She worked on partial differential equations, Abelian integrals, and Saturn’s rings, and her studies resulted in a doctorate.

After, she became the first woman in that part of Europe to become a math lecturer. She taught at the University of Stockholm. The French Academy of Sciences awarded her the Prix Bordin in 1888. She also gained further honors from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1889.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935)

Emmy Noether

Born in Germany, Emmy faced several hurdles in getting a higher education. However, she earned her PhD for her work on abstract algebra. She was then elected as an unofficial associate professor at the University of Göttingen. During this time, she worked with Ernst Fischer and Felix Klein. Together, they deciphered the math behind Einstein’s general theory of relativity. She proved two theorems, one of which is still called Noether’s theorem. Sadly, she lost her position with the university in 1933 because of her Jewish background.

After this, Emmy moved to the United States and began as a lecturer. She worked at Bryn Mawr College and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She passed away due to surgical complications in 1935. Later that year, Albert Einstein wrote about her in a letter to the New York Times. In the letter, he called her a “creative mathematical genius.

Marjorie Lee Browne (1914-1979)

Marjorie became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in math. She then spent the next 30 years teaching at North Carolina Central University. In 1951, she became chair of the school’s mathematics department. She used her position to encourage other black women to enter the STEM field.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine Johnson

Katherine faced many challenges in her life. More so, as one of the first African-American women to attend West Virginia University. A math genius, Katherine graduated summa cum laude from the university when she was just 18 years old.

In 1953, Katherine joined NASA, where she worked on orbital mechanics. Her work helped the agency with its aeronautics and space programs. During this time, she made trajectory calculations for Project Mercury and Apollo 11, which helped the first spaceship reach the moon. In 2015, Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Women Who Changed the Tech World

The field of technology is ever-advancing. Some of the work that women have done has paved the way for the tools and tech that we enjoy today. Such as:

Mary Wilkes (1937)

Mary Wilkes

History knows Mary as the first person to use a computer in their home, and her work began soon after she graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. From there, she worked with early computing systems at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. That work led her to design the software for the LINC. Mary is also credited with creating the console for the LINC. As one of the women pioneers in tech, Mary’s efforts paved the way for home computers today.

Radia Perlman (1951)

Many people call Radia the mother of the internet for her work. Chiefly, she invented the algorithm behind STP (Spanning Tree Protocol). This effort impacts how networks organize and move data. It is also the foundation for the way internet traffic works today.

Engineering for Kids

At Engineering for Kids, we know that your daughter could impact the world with a STEM career. Our programs allow kids to explore the world around them and expand their creativity. If you want to inspire the next generation of women in STEM, check out our Engineering For Kids locations and set your daughter up for success so she can help change the world!

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