Women in Biology

The #MeToo and #UsToo movements have highlighted the impact of assault and harassment that women face daily.  This is not exclusive to one demographic nor is it excluded from the science.  To celebrate women who have made significant advances in biology, and other other scientific disciplines, I have compiled some history, some inspirational women, and some links to aid in our pursuits and to help us have a deeper appreciation of those who struggled to give us the benefits we see today.  While women have a ways to go to be treated as "equals", we have made strides in the last few years.  We must continue to support each other in all the ways we can!


Here is a link to an interesting article regarding Women Scientists Who Were Overlooked Due to Sexism

Here are some links that have resulted from the #MeToo movement and its impact on female scientists.

  • A report from the National Academy of Sciences which shows the extent of harassment on women in science and is rather disturbing
  • A link to a page discussing how to prevent and support scientists who are victims of harassment and assault
  • A popular article on sexual assault in the sciences
  • A call to awareness of the problem

We need to support women who have come through this system.  To do this, I honor those who came before me.  Have role models you would like me to add?  Please send them along!

Women in Science

Notable women in Biology

How to promote women in biology

Good resources for women scientists


Here is a link to an interesting article regarding Women Scientists Who Were Overlooked Due to Sexism!


Notable Women in Biology

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

Rachel Carson an American marine biologist and a science writer is best known for her book "Silent Spring" where she explored the long term effects of synthetic pesticides. She Carson initially started working as a biologist with the U.S Bureau of Fisheries and later on became a known figure and researcher in that field.


Estella Eleanor Carothers (1883-1957)

E. Eleanor Carothers an American biologist was born in 1883 and is known for demonstration of an independent chromosome assortment. Working mostly on grasshopper cytology and physiology, she taught at the University of Pennsylvania from 1913-1933, and then continued her groundbreaking genetics research at the University of Iowa.

Lynn Margulis (1938-2011)

Lynn Margulis is an American biologist. She is best known for her work on the origin of the eukaryotic organelles which lead to the hypotheses that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as intracellular bacteria. She is also known for her seminal contributions to the endosymbiotic theory and faced great controversy over her theories.


y-h-4Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992)

Barbara is considered as the one of the greatest biologists of the twentieth century. Her research focused on color mosaicism in maize during the 1940s. She is responsible for producing the first genetic map for maize. She also discovered the transposons, mobile genetic elements that tend to move between locations in the genome, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983. She was also responsible for demonstration of different basic genetic phenomena including meiotic crossing over and elaborated on the roles of centromeres and telomeres.

Christiane Nusslein Volhard (1942 - )

Christiane Nusslein Volhard worked on identifying and characterizing genetic control in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (common fruit fly). Her discovery of many transcription factors, including those including the homeobox proteins, was pivotal in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying embryonic development and continues to have applications far outside the fruit fly. She was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1991 and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995.

Charlotte Auerbach (1899 – 1994)

Charlotte Auerbach, a German zoologist and geneticist, attained recognition when she discovered the mutations that mustard gas could cause in fruit flies. Her approach was biological rather than chemical in that, while she acknowledged that mutation took place in the chemistry of the gene, she adhered to the idea that it was the biological interaction that gave the process its complexity. Her work formed the basis for the science of mutagenesis. She was awarded the Royal Society Darwin Medal in 1977 and she also wrote a book of fairy stories under the pen name of Charlotte Austen.

Elizabeth (Liz) Helen Blackburn (1948 - )

Elizabeth Blackburn is a biologist at the University of California. She is known for her study of the telomere which is a structure at the end of a chromosome that is responsible for protecting the chromosome. Blackburn also discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the ends of chromosomes, a discovery for which she received a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009.

Linda B Buck (1947 - )

Linda Buck is an American biologist and is best known for her work on the how pheromones and odors are detected in the nose and interpreted in the brain. She was the recipient for the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work on the olfactory receptors. She was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2004. Buck was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Martha Cowles Chase (1927 –2003)

Martha was an American geneticist who, in 1952 worked with Alfred Hershey to conduct one of the most famous experiments in biology in the 20th century. This experiment was conducted to demonstrate that DNA rather than protein is the genetic material of life..


Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920 - 1958)

Rosalind was a biophysicist whom worked with the infamous Watson and Crick. She is known for her important contributions to understanding the X-ray molecular structure determination of DNA, coal, graphite and viruses. Crick and Watson published their model in Nature on 25 April 1953 in an article describing the double-helical structure of DNA with only a footnote acknowledging "having been stimulated by a general knowledge of" Franklin and Wilkin's 'unpublished' contribution. She was never formerly recognized for work on DNA structure as she passed away in 1958 while Watson and Crick collected the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1962 (Nobels are not awarded posthumously). After her contribution to DNA work, Rosalind also worked on polio and tobacco mosaic viruses.

y-h-5Nettie Maria Stevens (1861 - 1912)

Nettie Stevens was born in 1861 and was one of the early American geneticists. She did not start her research until her thirties but completed her Ph.D. in 1903. She was among the first researchers who described the chromosomal basis of sex, first in insects and then in humans. One of her advisors, Thomas Hunt Morgan, claimed she was more of a technician than a true scientist in her obituary in Science. Her early discoveries laid the basis for the Morgan’s mapping the first gene locations onto chromosomes of fruit flies though it was Stevens who introduced fruit flies to Morgan’s lab. She passed away just prior to accepting a faculty position.


Ruth Dixon Turner (1914-2000)

Ruth Turner was a marine biologist and was a renowned expert on teredos, bivalved mollusks called shipworms, that were responsible for destroying boats and docks and adversely affecting maritime shipping industry. In recognition of her accomplishments the U.S. Navy dedicated their book on "Biodegradation in the Sea" to Professor Turner. At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she became the first woman scientist to utilize the Deep Submergence Research Vehicle ALVIN to study the deep sea. She held the Alexander Agassiz Professorship at Harvard. She published more than 200 scientific articles and had an illustrious and successful career as a marine researcher.



Jane Goodall (1934 - )

Jane Goodall is best known for her studies of the chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream Game Reserve on Lake Tanzania. She discovered that they are omnivores and that they use tools. She became a passionate advocate of animal rights and has become the global leader of efforts to protect wild apes and their habitats. Her unconventional practices, such as giving names to the chimpanzees she studied, have brought criticism from some scientists, some of whom resent her high media profile.



Dian Fossey (1932 - 1985)

Dian Fossey was originally an occupational therapist, until she met Louis Leakey. In 1966, through him, she began long-term research on mountain gorillas, first in Zaire and then in Rwanda. She strongly supported active conservation through anti-poaching patrols and preservation of natural habitat. She was brutally murdered in the bedroom of her cabin in 1985, felled by a blow to the head from a poacher's weapon that she kept as a souvenir. The perpetrator has never been found but there is speculation that it was either poachers in a revenge killing or an effort to prevent her disrupting profitable plans for tourism.



Anne McLaren (1927-2007)

Anne McLaren made fundamental advances in developmental genetics and lead the way for the development of in vitro fertilization. She also contributed to initial discussions on the fraught ethical issues that surrounded IVF. As a researcher in London she worked with mice, studying the effects of super ovulation on fertility. She produced the first litter of mice grown from eggs that had developed in tissue culture and then been transferred to a surrogate mother, paving the way for embryo transfer in human IVF. Her work also contributed towards the development of new contraceptive methods for women. For her contributions to science, we was made a Fellow-Commoner of Christ's College, Cambridge and an officer of the Royal Society.


Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)

Beatrix Potter, best known for her Peter Rabbit series of children’s books, was interested in nature but was rejected as a student at the Royal Botanical Gardens because she was a woman. However, she observed and drew numerous species, particularly fungi, and was first people to hypothesize that lichens were actually a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae. She recorded her observations in exquisite paintings and became respectfully reputed as a mycologist. Her work on the germination of spores was rejected to the Linnaen Society and The Royal Society primarily due to her gender.


Virginia Apgar (1909 - 1974)

Known for: Virginia Apgar developed the Apgar Newborn Scoring System, increasing infant survival rates She was pioneer in anesthesiology including helping to raise the respect for the discipline; she warned that use of some anesthetics during childbirth negatively affected infants. Virginia Apgar also helped refocus the March of Dimes organization from polio to birth defects.

Gertrude Bell Elion (1918 - 1999)

Known for: Gertrude Elion is known for discovering many medications, including medications for HIV/AIDS, herpes, immunity disorders, and leukemia. She and her colleague George H. Hitchings were awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1988.

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011)

Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt movement in Kenya which works to empower communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve the lifestyles. She was the first woman in central/ eastern Africa to earn her Ph.D., and the first female university department head in Kenya.  Her efforts led to a Nobel Peace Prize.

Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)

Margaret Mead, a curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1928 to her retirement in 1969, is an influential anthropologist who published her famous Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. The book, which claimed that girls and boys in the Samoan culture were both taught to and allowed to value their sexuality, was something of a sensation.

Antonia Novello (1944 - )

As the successor to C. Everett Koop as, Antonia Novello was the first Hispanic and the first woman to be United States Surgeon General. Her career as a physician and medical professor focused on pediatrics and children’s health.

Florence Sabin (1871 - 1953)

Florence Sabin has been called the "first lady of American science". She studied the lymphatic and immune systems. She was the first female full professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She was an advocate for women's rights and higher education.


Margaret Sanger (1879 - 1966)

Margaret Sanger was a nurse who promoted birth control as a means by which a woman could control her reproductive destiny. She opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established Planned Parenthood, a reproductive planning clinic.

Helen Brooke Taussig (1898 – 1986)

Helen Taussig was a cardiologist who was the first specialist in pediatric cardiology. She discovered the cause of Tetrology of Fallot (also known as called "blue babies") and developed with colleagues a medical shunt, the Blalock-Taussig shunt, to correct the condition. In 1964, Dr. Taussig received the Medal of Freedom from then President Lyndon Johnson, and in 1965 she was crowned the first female president of the American Heart Association.

Lydia Villa-Komaroff (1947 - )

Lydia Villa-Komaroff is known as a pioneer in the field of molecular cloning and DNA manipulation. Her work as a molecular biologist contributed to developing insulin from bacteria. She was only the third Mexican American to be awarded a science Ph.D. and has won many awards and recognition for her achievements.

Rosalyn Yalow (1921 - )

Known for: Rosalyn Yalow developed a technique called radioimmunoassay (RIA) which allows researchers and technicians to measure biological substances. She shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with her co-workers on this discovery.


Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)

As an 11 year old child, Mary Anning was the first to excavate and describe a fossil of Ichthyosaurus, a large crocodile-type dinosaur. In addition, she found long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl, and hundreds of other fossils which helped our understanding of the marine world during the Jurassic Period. Anning became a world-renown leader in paleontology, despite her lack of education.


Other Women in STEM

Any there are many other women of note in the whole field of science, not just biology.  Here is a link to more inspirational women across all scientific disciplines.  A shout out to Makayla and Jenna Clark for pointing this link out to me.  Thanks!!!!

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) - one of the first computer programmers  (thanks to Katie, Stacey, and everyone in the Lyndhurst STEM program for this one!)

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) - NASA mathematician, subject of the movie Hidden Figures                                                              

 <<If you have a group or student that would like to recommend links to me, I will give them credit. Just email me!>>

How to promote women in biology


 Only 30% of NIH RO1 recipients are women! It is necessary to promote and encourage women in the sciences.



How do we improve this percentage, raise visibility, and promote women scientists???


                                                                                                             “Women's Share of NIH Grants Drops With Age” by Jocelyn Kaiser on 29 April 2011

  • Make opportunities for women scientists, whether through mentoring or  encouraging collaborations                                                              

  • Get involved early – start in elementary schools and high schools getting kids excited about science

  • Be respectful to all scientists

 <<Please let me know if you think of more>>

Good resources for women scientists

 <<Please let me know if you find more that should be included in this list>>


Finding undergraduate/graduate student/postdoctoral fellowship opportunities for women

All of these links have sites you can specific choose opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities

Other resources for securing funding


Examples of fellowship applications