Exploring the inventions and accomplishments of scientists introduces students to the limitless possibilities of our world. New ideas, fresh discoveries, and scientific breakthroughs have altered students’ lives whether they’ve noticed it or not.
So much has been achieved in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for generations, but very little recognition has gone to women in science and STEM fields. This lack of recognition and awareness has discouraged women and girls from pursuing science and STEM-related education and careers.
Women working in science and other STEM fields today
The total number of female scientists working in STEM fields today is concerningly low. Even though the global community has made an effort in the last two decades to inspire and engage women and girls worldwide, they’re still often excluded and discouraged.
According to the United Nations, less than 30 percent of researchers around the world are women and only 30 percent of all female students select a field in science in their pursuit of a higher education. So what can be done today to get those numbers to rise?
Take the time to introduce your students to female scientists who broke down barriers in the past and women working in science today.
Below you’ll find nine women who’ve made achievements in science and who will be remembered throughout history for what they’ve accomplished. Find ways to create excitement around these women in science, such as the following:
- Highlight one of these scientists at the start of a unit in their respective fields. Then, use the tools highlighted below to spark interest and create engaging hands-on lessons.
- Have students choose one of the female scientists below, or another female scientist, to research and report on.
- Have students research female inventors and scientists who had their ideas or the credit for their ideas stolen by others (middle school students, especially, will love researching injustice!).
- Display posters such as the History of Women In Science Poster, Women in STEAM Poster Set, and the Visionary Women In STEM Posters that feature female scientists so that your students can always learn and be inspired.
- Celebrate special days with your students like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th, which recognizes the role women and girls have in science and technology.
- Take time to point out the women each year who receive Nobel Prizes on December 10th for their achievements in science and other STEM fields.
Cynthia Kenyon’s genetic studies from over 20 years ago found that a hormone receptor mutation doubled the lifespan of a worm without impacting its quality of life. This sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging. Her findings have led to the discovery that an evolutionarily conserved hormone signaling system controls aging in other organisms as well, including mammals.
Now she works for Google’s Calico Research Labs as the Vice President of Aging Research where her research is aiming to potentially lengthen the lives of humans by 100 years.
You can introduce your students to genetics with the Dynamic DNA Kit that helps students better understand how the genetic information in DNA is revealed and used. Students can assemble the nucleotides, feel the hydrogen bonding of the A-T and G-C base pairs, and discover the double helical structure of DNA.
Mary Lowe Good intended to become a home-economics teacher, but during a college chemistry class, she learned about Marie Curie and was captivated by her achievements in science. She switched her major to chemistry and started a new career path.
While working as a chemistry professor in 1967, she pioneered an experimental technique called Mössbauer spectroscopy, which used gamma rays to figure out the molecular structure of complicated compounds containing metal ions. With this technology, she could learn in an afternoon what would previously have taken an entire year of research.
Good was a long-time advocate of science and technology, and this advocacy earned her appointments to the National Science Board, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and the Department of Commerce. She advised on science and technology under presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Students can explore chemistry with Happy Atoms, a revolutionary approach to teaching chemistry. This set of physical and digital kits let students discover the world of molecules in a hands-on way. Students will use a set of atom models representing different elements so that they can assemble their own molecular models.
Dr. Tanya Atwater is a leading modern geophysicist and master of plate tectonic theory. She has worked with various groups on ships characterizing the details of sea floor spreading centers (the lines along which all the ocean floors were created) and has also focused on the tectonic evolution of western North America, devoting her time to studying the San Andreas Fault.
Today she teaches at the University of California Santa Barbara. She is most known for her video animations, which visually demonstrate the complicated fault and tectonic systems in accessible ways. Her work has simplified the complexities of structural geology for students and teachers around the world.
Demonstrate tectonics to your students with the Tectonics Model Kit. Using 3D manipulative models, your students will learn plastic tectonic principles, plate boundary interactions, and the geometry and relative motions of faulting geologic layers.
Let your students dive into sea floor concepts with the Sea Floor Simulation Kit. The hand-held or submerged seascape model teaches students about sea floor topography, seafloor currents, and plate tectonics.
Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who calculated and analyzed the flight paths of many spacecraft in orbit during her time at NASA. She was a fast learner as she started high school at just 10 years old and college at 15. In the 1960s, her calculations of orbital mechanics helped send astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission and many more spaceflight missions during her career that spanned over 30 years.
Take your students for a spin with the Trippensee® Elementary Planetarium Model, an economical model that illustrates solar and lunar eclipses and the phases of the moon with light. It has a base dial marked with the seasons, months of the year, and signs of the zodiac.
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American physicist who contributed to the Manhattan Project during World War II. She developed the process of separating uranium metal into U-235 and U-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion, advancing knowledge of nuclear science. The process was then replicated on a grand scale.
Wu remained in the U.S. to teach physics courses at Smith College and Princeton University, where she was the first female professor in the physics department.
Introduce students to the basic principles of physics with a wide range of hands-on investigations for your students with the SciQuest® Forces, Motion, and Simple Machines Multi-Group Kit to enhance your science curriculum. This kit covers the fundamental science concepts of forces, motions, and machines.
Edith Clarke was the first full-time female electrical engineer and the first full-time professor of electrical engineering. Her most well-known contribution was the “Clarke Calculator” in 1921, a graphical device that was used to simplify the equations that electrical engineers used to understand power lines.
Students can detect and investigate the direction of current flow and magnetic fields, voltage, amperage, short circuits, fuses, batteries and chemical voltaic cells, series and parallel circuits, and more with the Current Electricity Kit. This interactive kit will add an electric dimension to your in-place science curriculum.
Have students enjoy the thrill of destructive testing with the Model Bridge STEM Pack. This popular activity is an exercise in creative problem solving as students will be challenged to design and construct their own wooden bridges. Once constructed, students can calculate their bridge’s efficiency to determine the best design.
Annie Easley started her career at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as a “human computer” doing computations for researchers. Over the span of her career, she contributed to numerous programs as a computer scientist and eventually evolved into a computer programmer for NASA. As a programmer, she developed and implemented code used in research energy-conversion systems, analyzing alternative power technology.
She was a strong advocate for women in technology and encouraged other people of color to enter STEM fields.
Introduce students to the world of physical computing through programming and hardware interaction with the Inventor’s Kit for the BBC micro:bit Handheld Computer. Students will learn how to construct and control electronic circuits by using easy-to-follow tutorial book guides. The 12 experiments in this kit will teach students at any experience level how code and electronics combine to create real-world, everyday practical solutions.
Jennifer Doudna is a biochemist and the inventor of CRISPR-Cas9, a technology for editing genomes. The technology allows scientists to make ultra-precise edits to DNA in cells and it could potentially help cure genetic deformities and diseases, including cancer. She received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Emmanuelle Charpentier, for the development of the technology.
Have your students find and understand the difference between chromosomes at microscopic scale and at molecular scale with Chromosome Connections Kit. Use this hands-on kit to explore cell cycles, cell division, and genetics.
Head into the lab with your students for an in-depth investigation of genetics, heredity and variation in organisms, and DNA with the Genetics & DNA Experiment Kit. With this kit, students can see genetic material with their own eyes as they isolate the DNA from a tomato in a test tube. They can assemble a model to see the double-stranded helical structure of DNA and then crack the genetic code to find out how the different parts, called nucleotides, fit together.
Erica Mackey is the co-founder of Off Grid Electric, the world’s first massively scalable off-grid electric company that’s dedicated to providing affordable and reliable energy. The company utilizes distributed renewable energy to sell power as a service to customers who suffer from an expensive or unreliable grid or have no electrical grid access at all.
Through her company, she found a way to replace unhealthy kerosene lamps that half of the population of Africa relies on with a solar solution that gave East Africans 50 times more energy sources for less money at a reduced health risk due to the bad impact on health kerosene lamps cause. With the innovative prepaid solar model that her company provides, she and her team are connecting millions to modern and clean electricity.
It’s time for your students to think green with the Snap Circuits® Alternative Energy Kit. Your students can build over 125 fun projects using the award-winning Snap Circuits® that will teach them about environmentally-friendly energy such as geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells, wind, solar, tidal, hydro, and others and how the electricity in their home works.
Don’t let the inspiration stop here. After you introduce your students to the nine women featured above, take time to do your own research and find more female scientists to introduce them to. The knowledge that students gain from learning about women in science and participating in hands-on activities will empower their young minds and may set them on a path towards innovation and discovery.