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Rosalind Franklin, photo credit:The Guardian


Five discoveries really made by women


What did Francis Crick and James Watson discover?

‘Rosalind Franklin’s notes’

This joke is about the discovery of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize (1962). Science has really developed over the years, with countless advancements even in the last year ranging from new chemicals to treat disease to NASA announcing new missions to asteroids. However, acknowledgement to all those involved in these discoveries hasn’t always occurred. So here are 5 discoveries made by women where the men took credit:

Chien Shiung Wu (1912 – 1997) was an Experimental physicist whose work with a radioactive metal (Cobalt) helped disprove one of the laws of physics. It had been assumed that all atoms act in the same way. Her discovery proved that each atom is in fact unique. The Nobel Prize (1957) was awarded to Yang and Lee. Male physicists on the team.

Henrietta Leavitt (1868 – 1921) was a ‘Harvard computer’ (part of ‘Pickering’s Harem’) a team of female colleagues, who because of their gender, were paid less. They were given the tedious task of logging images of stars and contrasting the minute differences in their luminosity over time. Leavitt discovered that the brightness of the star showed its’ distance away from Earth. Her work helped Edward Hubble measure galaxy distances and realise the universe is expanding.

Jane Wright (1919-2013) – dedicated her working career to making cancer treatments safer. She started work with chemotherapy in the early stages of its’ development and cultivated less invasive ways of providing the treatment whilst testing on individual cells rather than living patients or animals. Her work has not been recognised. Despite her death being only four years ago – no one knows her name.

Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) used a series of experiments on insects to identify that being male or female was down to whether there was a Y chromosome in the DNA. This was evidence to support the significance of DNA inherited from our parents. However, it was Thomas Hunt Morgan who won the Nobel prize (1933) for the role of hereditary chromosomes.

Alice Ball (1892-1916) developed an oil to treat leprosy. The injection was the most effective treatment till the 1940s. No credit has been given to her work

These are only a few examples of the credit for a discovery going to the wrong person just because the person who actually discovered it was female. But, as Wu said in 1964[1] ‘I wonder whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.’ We will never know the answer but at least we can give the right person recognition.


[1] MIT Symposium October 1964

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1 Comment

1 Comment



    July 7, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Very interesting and informative Article.

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