Part 5/6 of a timeline of pioneering female scientists and mathematicians, juxtaposed with a timeline of human rights. This part contains women born from 1919-1943 including Rosalind Franklin, Marie Maynard Daly, Valentina Tereshkova, and Lynn Conway.
Leona Woods (1919-1986), American physicist
Woods studied for her PhD under Robert Mulliken, completing her thesis in 1943. After this, Woods worked for Enrico Fermi, as part of the group that constructed the first nuclear reactor for the Manhattan Project, Chicago Pile-1, and helped build the first atomic bomb. She was the youngest and only female member of the team.
After the World War II, Woods returned to the University of Chicago, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1953. Woods joined New York University in 1960, and became a full Professor in 1962. She later worked for the University of California, Los Angeles. It was here that she devised a method of using isotope ratios in tree rings to study changes in temperature and rainfall patterns. This allowed climate change to be studied in times before records were made.
Woods also wrote popular science books, including Creation of an Atmosphere for the Moon, which was published in 1969, the year the first people walked on the Moon’s surface, and a number of books on environmental problems and climate change. She also wrote the autobiographical The Uranium People, published in 1979.
1920 - In the US, women in all states were allowed to vote.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), British chemist
Franklin earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Cambridge in 1941, although she didn’t receive her degree, as the university didn’t award women bachelor’s degrees at the time.
Franklin gained her PhD in chemistry from the University of Cambridge in 1945. After this, she studied X-ray crystallography with Jacques Mering, and used this technique to study the structure of coal and graphite.
In 1951, Franklin began working under physicist John Randall in the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Biophysics Unit at King’s College London. Here she used X-ray diffraction to study the structure of DNA with PhD student Raymond Gosling, a position previously occupied by physicist Maurice Wilkins. Franklin and Wilkins did not get on and so worked separately.
Franklin and Gosling discovered that DNA changes shape depending on the humidity. They named the dry, short, and fat form ‘form A’, and the wet, long, and thin form ‘form B’. In 1952, Franklin produced evidence of the double helix structure of DNA, in what was known as Photo 51.
Watson had previously suggested collaborating with Franklin but she had refused. He had then spoken to Wilkins who, without Franklin’s knowledge or permission, had showed him Photo 51. This had inspired Crick and Watson to abandon their old model and adopt Franklin’s.
Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958, aged 37. The double helix model was not fully accepted at the time and she was not eligible to be nominated for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which was shared by Crick, Watson, and Wilkins, as the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.
Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003), American chemist
Daly completed her PhD in chemistry at Columbia University in 1947, specialising in the chemicals that aid food digestion. This made her the first black woman to gain a PhD in chemistry in the United States.
In 1955, Daly collaborated with Medical Doctor Quentin Deming at Columbia University. Daly and Deming showed that high cholesterol is a large contributing factor to the cause of heart attacks. Daly later became a pioneer in the study of the effects of cigarette smoke on the lungs.
1928 - In Britain, women were granted the same voting rights as men.
Vera Rubin (1928-2016), American astronomer
Rubin earned her bachelor’s degree at Vassar College, and her master’s at Cornell University, studying under physicists Richard Feynman and Hans Bethe, and completing her study in 1951. That same year, Rubin became the first to show that some galaxies are not simply moving outwards, as astronomer Edwin Hubble had suggested, but were rotating around an unknown source.
Rubin completed her PhD under physicist George Gamow at Georgetown University in Washington DC in 1954. In her thesis, she concluded that galaxies were not randomly distributed, but clumped together in clusters.
Rubin stayed on at Georgetown University as a research assistant, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1965. That same year, she became the first woman to be allowed to use a world-class telescope. She later worked as an astronomer for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DMT) at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Rubin and astronomer Kent Ford measured the rotational velocities of galaxies. It was expected that most of the mass of the galaxy would be located in the centre, which contained the most stars. This meant that the velocity of stars in each galaxy should be slower the further they are from the centre.
By 1980, Rubin and Ford had shown that this is false, and that stars in spiral galaxies, such as the Milky Way, orbit at roughly the same speed, irrespective of their distance from the centre of the galaxy. This means that either our understanding of gravity is wrong, or that the mass of the galaxy is not mostly contained in the centre, rather it is contained in the dark halo.
This mass does not shine like stars, and so was considered evidence of dark matter, a term coined by Fritz Zwicky, who had first suggested its existence in order to explain observations of the Coma galaxy cluster, in 1933.
Rubin’s results suggested that 90% of the universe is composed of dark matter, and scientists still don’t know exactly what this is.
1929 - In Canada, women were legally considered ‘persons’ for the first time.
Willie Hobbs Moore (1934-1994), American physicist
Moore earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1958, she stayed on to gain her master’s degree in 1961, and her PhD in 1972, making her the first black woman to receive a PhD in Physics in the United States. Moore went on to work for the Bendix Aerospace Systems Division, and later became an executive at the Ford Motor Company.
Helen Edwards (1936-2016), American physicist
Edwards gained her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1957, she stayed on to receive her master’s degree in 1963, and her PhD in 1966. She then became a Research Associate, working with the 10 GEV Electron Synchrotron particle accelerator at Cornell University. Edwards became Associate Head of the Booster Group at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in 1970.
Edwards became Lead Scientist in the design and construction of the Tevatron in the 1980s. This was the world’s highest energy particle accelerator at the time, although it has since been surpassed by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The Tevatron was completed in 1983, and used to discover the top quark in 1995.
Edwards was promoted to Head of the Accelerator Division in 1987, and Head and Associate Director of the Superconducting Division in 1989. She pushed the button to shut the Tevatron down in 2011.
Valentina Tereshkova (1937), Russian cosmonaut and physicist
Tereshkova was an amateur skydiver before she applied to train as a cosmonaut, and became the first woman, and the first civilian in space, piloting Vostok 6 in 1963.
Tereshkova was picked from over 400 applicants after intensive training and examinations. This included weightless flights, isolation and centrifuge tests, pilot training in jet fighters, tests on rocket theory, and 120 parachute jumps. After several months, Tereshkova and three other candidates were commissioned as Junior Lieutenants in the Soviet Air Force.
Tereshkova orbited the earth 48 times during her three-day mission, logging more time in space than all the American astronauts who had flown before her combined. During this time, she took photographs of the atmosphere that were later used to identify aerosol layers.
Budget cuts meant that the female cosmonaut group was dissolved in 1969, the year that people first walked on the Moon. Tereshkova continued studying engineering. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, and stayed on to earn her PhD in 1977. She is now retired and has an asteroid named after her call sign during her space flight, Chaika.
Lynn Conway (1938), American computer scientist and engineer
Conway worked as an electronics technician before obtaining a degree in engineering from Columbia University in 1962. She obtained a master’s degree the following year, and then began working for IBM in New York, where she helped design supercomputers. Conway is a trans woman, and was fired in 1968 after she revealed to her employees that she wanted to transition.
After her transition, Conway joined Xerox PARC, a research and development company in California. While working at Xerox PARC, Conway co-authored Introduction to VLSI Systems. This was considered a groundbreaking work and became a standard university textbook.
Conway has received numerous awards and honours including election as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest professional recognition an engineer can receive.
Ada Yonath (1939), Israeli chemist
Yonath gained her PhD in X-ray crystallography from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1968. In the mid-1980s, Yonath became a pioneer of cryo bio-crystallography. This is the application of crystallography - the science that examines the arrangement of atoms in solids - at cryogenic temperatures.
Yonath used cryo bio-crystallography to study the 3D structure of ribosomes at the molecular level. Ribosomes are molecular ‘machines’, found in every living organism, that translate instructions written in the genetic code into proteins. Yonath’s results ultimately explained the mechanics behind this process.
Yonath discovered the 3D structure of ribosomes in the late 1990s, publishing her results in 2000 and 2001. She shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan for her studies on the structure and function of ribosomes. Yonath is the fourth (and the latest) woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
1941 - In Britain, the National Service Act allowed the conscription of all unmarried women between 20 and 30 years of age. This was later extended to include married women, and women up to the age of 43.
Originally published on my blog www.TheStarGarden.co.uk.