6 Women Who’ve Made Major STEM Contributions

In the past decade, we’ve seen a huge uptick in women and girls of all backgrounds and ethnicities showing an interest in STEM careers. With more and more women focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, we have more minds than ever striving to make our world a better and more advanced place.

However, women have been working in STEM fields for a long time! From Yvonne Brill’s contributions to rocket science in the 1920’s to Gertrude Elion’s work in medicine and drug development in the 1980’s, women have been making leaps and bounds in all sorts of fields of study! Career In STEM has put together a list of just a few of the amazing women who, in recent history, have made major discoveries or advancements in a STEM field:


1. Katherine Freese

Once the Director of Nordita, Stockholm’s theoretical physics institute, Freese now works at the University of Michigan. She works in the fields of theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics, and studies dark matter and dark energy. An alumni of Princeton University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago, Freese has also worked at several universities and centers, including MIT and the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

2. Chien-Shiung Wu

A physicist who focused especially on nuclear physics, Wu conducted several experiments and made many discoveries. One breakthrough includes creating the method of dividing uranium metal into Uranium-235 and Uranium-238 via gaseous diffusion. She received the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978 and has been dubbed as the “Queen of Nuclear Research”.

Courtesy Wikipedia

3. Yvonne Brill

A scientist and engineer whose career spanned over six decades, Brill began her work in the early 1900s. In the 1940s she was the only woman rocket scientist, and was on the team that designed the first American satellite. In addition to this, Brill also created a propulsion system that keeps satellites in orbit. Her extensive work eventually led to her receiving the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2011.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

4. Tierra Guinn

A young rocket scientist who began her work before even graduating from college, Guinn was helping NASA build a revolutionary new rocket while wrapping up her education at MIT. Guinn began her employment with Boeing – the company hired to build the rocket for NASA – as a Rocket Structural Design and Analysis Engineer in the summer of 2016, just after completing her junior year.

5. Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion made advancements in the field of medicine during the 20th century. In addition to developing the immunosuppressive drug Azathioprine, Elion also supervised the development of the revolutionary HIV/AIDS drug, AZT. For her work and contributions, Elion received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1988, sharing the award with George Hitchings and Sir James Black.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

6. Barbara McClintock

Similar to Yvonne Brill, McClintock’s scientific career spanned many decades. She graduated from Cornell in the 1920s, and dedicated her work to cytogenetics. Her research led to the discovery of gene movement amongst and within chromosomes, and she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1983. McClintock’s recognition in her field came years before receiving that award however, as she became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the mid-1940s, and was considered to be the finest cytogeneticist alive.


 Sources cited:
Torres, Jennifer Mary. “Groundbreaking Contributions from Women in STEM.” https://ecurrent.fit.edu/blog/women-in-stem/groundbreaking-contributions-from-women-in-stem/
McFadden, Christopher. “10 Greatest Women in STEM”. https://interestingengineering.com/10-greatest-women-stem
Curry, Colleen. “17 Top Female Scientist Who Have Changed the World.” https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/17-top-female-scientists-who-have-changed-the-worl/
London, Jay. “Good Housekeeping honors rocket scientist Tiera Guinn ‘17”. http://news.mit.edu/2017/good-housekeeping-honors-mit-rocket-scientist-tiera-guinn-1016
Martin, Douglas. “Yvonne Brill, a Pioneering Rocket Scientist, Dies at 88.” https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/science/space/yvonne-brill-rocket-scientist-dies-at-88.html
University of Michigan. “Dr. Katherine Freese.” http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ktfreese/
Rogers, Kara. “AZT”. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/AZT
Park, Alice. “The Story Behind the First AIDS Drug”. http://time.com/4705809/first-aids-drug-azt/
Digest of Education Statistics. “Number and percentage distribution of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees/certificates conferred by postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, level of degree/certificate, and sex of student: 2008-09 through 2014-15.” https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_318.45.asp

Picture sources:
Chien-Shiung Wu picture courtesy of Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Yvonne Brill picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Gertrude B. Elion picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.