Catalyzing Solutions: Celebrating Women in STEM

By SIMONE HALL

“The failure of women to have reached positions of leadership has been due in large part to social and professional discrimination,” said Rosalyn Yalow in in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech for physiology or medicine in 1977. “The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half its people if we are to solve the many problems which beset us.”

This October, Dr. Frances H. Arnold joined Yalow as one of the 3 percent of female Nobel Prize Winners in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine. Arnold, who was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry — along with two other colleagues — for her work with directing the evolution of enzymes, was the fifth woman out of the 177 scientists who have been honored by the Nobel committee for achievements in chemistry since 1901.

The history of snubbing female scientists in lack of Nobel recognition is just one symptom of a trend that has persisted globally into the current century. In both research and medicine, women make up more than a third of the scientific workforce. Recent findings by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics found that 39 percent of PhDs in chemistry were awarded to women in 2014, and a 2015 study found that 36 percent of employed chemists were women. Still, their work goes largely uncelebrated when compared to their male counterparts.

A recent publication “These female scientists should have won a Nobel” from C&EN — a publication of the American Chemical Society (ASC) — highlighted many women whose contributions have been overlooked in collaborative achievements in favor of their male colleagues.  Rosalind Franklin, a major contributor to the discovery of the DNA helix, has only recently been introduced into curriculum, after Watson and Crick famously won the Nobel prize for chemistry after using data collected by Rosalind Franklin to confirm the structure. She is only one of many unrecognized women whose work in breakthrough discoveries continue to better the world today.   

In order to more accurately display the contributions women have made, recent efforts by the ACS have focused on improving and increasing the biographies of esteemed women in STEM. Colorado College’s Professor Rebecca Barnes has implemented these goals on campus by having students create and improve the Wikipedia entries of female scientists. Only seven to 11 percent of the biographies of scientists listed on Wikipedia document women, and most of the entries are minimal in size when compared to those about their male contemporaries.

Barnes’s project, which was recognized by the ACS in their article “Where are Wikipedia’s female scientists,” gives the CC community agency in a global effort to create a lasting impact on the remembered legacy of female scientists and inspire future generations of women in STEM.

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