STEM Role Models

Women STEM Pioneers | STEM Role Models 

March / 2019

Learn about five women STEM pioneers in in this first installation of our STEM Role Models series!

To start our STEM Role Models series, we are highlighting amazing women we think your kids should know about! This new series will dive into the lives of STEM heroes that will inspire your kids and ignite their inner STEM drive, just like Blocks Rock! does.

Learn more about these spectacular women who are STEM pioneers.

Dr. Jane Goodall (1934) | Primatologist, Anthropologist, & Conservationist

The Jane Goodall Institute does a wonderful job of introducing Jane. As they say, “in July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled from England to what is now Tanzania and ventured into the little-known world of wild chimpanzees.”

During that trip in 1960, Dr. Jane Goodall discovered that chimpanzees make and use tools, which is considered to be one of the greatest scientific achievements of twentieth-century scholarship. Dr. Jane Goodall continued studying chimpanzees, which has led to ground-breaking work protecting chimps, breakthroughs in species conservation, and more.

Currently, Dr. Jane Goodall is a UN Messenger of Peace, a mentor through the Roots & Shoots youth program, renowned speaker and activist. You can learn more about her and see what she is currently doing by clicking here.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910 - 1994) | Biological Chemist

As one article describes Dorothy Hodgkin, “she may be the most famous British scientist of whom most people have never heard.” Hodgkin has had a major impact on most people’s lives, whether you know it or not.

In 1964, Hodgkin was recognized with a Nobel Prize for her work in chemistry using X-ray crystallography to find out the three-dimensional shapes of penicillin (1945) and vitamin B12 (1955). Her work helped manufacturers create semisynthetic penicillins. She was the third woman ever to with the prize in chemistry.

She continued to take on projects that most thought impossible, and in 1969 her work led to the understanding of the 3D shape of insulin. Once she had discovered insulin’s structure, she partnered with laboratories active in insulin research, gave advice, and travelled the world talking about insulin and diabetes.

Katherine Johnson (1918) | Mathematician & Physicist

When Katherine Johnson received the 2015 National Medal of Freedom, she said,“[As a child] I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.” Counting, numbers, math - this would go on to define her life and change American space flight.  

Katherine Johnson began work at the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronatuics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory in 1953. In 1961, she did trajectory analysis for America’s first human spaceflight, and in 1960 she co-authored a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight. This was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division received credit as an author of a research report.

It was in 1962 that Katherine Johnson helped NASA to prepare for John Glenn’s space mission. This was a complex task that required a worldwide communications network and live tracking stations around the world. The astronauts were nervous about putting their lives in the care of the electronic machines, so John Glenn asked that Katherine Johnson do the flight equations by hand on her desktop calculating machine. She did them, confirming the numbers, and his flight was a success that marked a turning point in American space flight.

Katherine Johnson continued working for NASA and retired in 1986 after 33 years at Langley. She is currently 100 years old. Her story was told in the 2016 Academy Award-nominated feature film “Hidden Figures.”

Mary Anning (1799 -1847) | Palaeontologist

Mary Anning is called the “the unsung hero of fossil discovery” and “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew”. When Mary was young, her father, an amateur fossil collector, took her with him as his fossil-collecting sidekick. He taught her how to look for and clean the fossils that they found. They sold the findings in his shop, but when he died suddenly in 1810, her mother encouraged her to keep finding and selling fossils to help the family pay off their debts.  

In 1811, when Mary was 12, her brother found a strange-looking fossilized skull. Mary then searched for and found the outline of its 17 foot long skeleton, which she dug out. It was the first specimen discovery of the Ichthyosaurus.

In 1823, Mary was the first to discover the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus. Georges Cuvier, known as the father of palaeontology, disputed the find at first, but after a lengthy debate he admitted he was wrong and that her fossil was real. Many of the male scientists that bought the fossils Mary uncovered, cleaned, prepared, and identified, did not credit her discoveries in their papers, even when writing about her “groundbreaking ichthyosaur find.

Mary continued to find fossils throughout her life, becoming well-versed in the scientific understanding of what she collected. Her many fossils can still be seen on display today.

Tu Youyou (1930) | Chemist and Educator

In 2015, Tu Youyou became the first woman from China to receive a Nobel Prize. Tu Youyou won for her work discovering “a novel therapy against Malaria.” Malaria is a deadly disease caused by a parasite, and Malaria was a major cause of death in China’s southern provinces.

Tu Youyou was trained professionally at chinese universities, and she also studied traditional Chinese medicine for two and a half years. To combat the issue of malaria, the government set up a secret drug discovery program which Tu was appointed the head of in 1969.

Scientists all over the world had looked at over 240,000 different compounds to find a treatment for malaria. Tu Youyou decided to screen different Chinese herbs. Her team screened over 2,000 traditional Chinese recipes in their attempt to find a way to treat malaria, and finally they had success.

Tu’s work on malaria has saved millions of lives, especially in the developing world, and is now used as the standard treatment for malaria.

Starting Your STEM Journey

These STEM role models all had a hunger for knowledge, a deep curiosity, and worked relentlessly to make these important discoveries happen.

If you’re looking for STEM activities and other information to inspire your kids, we encourage you to take a look at some of our other Blocks Rock! Resources like: