Female Physicists

Look at any A-level textbook or specification and you’ll find a dire lack of female role-models. Here, to help you redress the balance are a few to drop-into your lessons…

  1. Marie Curie (1867-1934): Renowned for her pioneering research on radioactivity, Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields: Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911).

  2. Lise Meitner (1878-1968): A physicist who, along with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission. Despite not receiving a Nobel Prize for her work, her contributions were crucial to the understanding of nuclear physics.

  3. Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972): An American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her proposal of the nuclear shell model. She was the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics.

  4. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997): A Chinese-American experimental physicist who made significant contributions to the Manhattan Project and later conducted the Wu experiment, disproving the law of conservation of parity in weak nuclear interactions.

  5. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994): A British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for her work on the structures of important biochemical substances, including penicillin and vitamin B12.

  6. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958): A British biophysicist whose X-ray diffraction images of DNA were crucial to the discovery of its structure. Although she didn’t receive recognition during her lifetime, her work laid the foundation for James Watson and Francis Crick’s model of the DNA double helix.

  7. Vera Rubin (1928-2016): An American astronomer who provided compelling evidence for the existence of dark matter through her observations of galaxy rotation curves. Her work revolutionized our understanding of the universe’s structure and dynamics.

  8. Sau Lan Wu (1940-present): A Chinese-American experimental particle physicist known for her contributions to the discovery of fundamental particles and phenomena, including the charm quark and the Higgs boson.

  9. Emmy Noether (1882-1935): A German mathematician and theoretical physicist known for her groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Noether’s theorem, named after her, relates symmetries in physics to conservation laws, laying the foundation for much of modern theoretical physics.

  10. Mildred Dresselhaus (1930-2017): An American physicist and electrical engineer known for her pioneering work in the study of carbon materials, including graphite, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Dresselhaus was often referred to as the queen of carbon science” for her significant contributions to the field.

  11. Émilie du Châtelet (1706-1749): A French mathematician and physicist known for her translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica” and her contributions to the understanding of kinetic energy and the conservation of energy.

  12. Laura Bassi (1711-1778): An Italian physicist who became the first woman to earn a professorship in physics at a European university. She conducted research in various areas of physics and was known for her advocacy for women in science.

  13. Sophie Germain (1776-1831): A French mathematician and physicist who made significant contributions to number theory and elasticity theory. Despite facing gender barriers, she corresponded with prominent mathematicians and made groundbreaking discoveries.

  14. Mary Somerville (1780-1872): A Scottish science writer and polymath who contributed to the understanding of mathematics, physics, and astronomy. She was one of the first women to be elected to the Royal Astronomical Society.

  15. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848): A German-British astronomer who discovered several comets and deep-sky objects. She was the first woman to be paid for her scientific work and the first to receive a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

  16. Emilie Snethlage (1868-1929): A German-Brazilian physicist and educator who contributed to the development of physics education in Brazil. She was one of the first women to receive a PhD in physics in Germany.

  17. Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923): A British engineer, mathematician, and physicist known for her work on the electric arc and the ripple effect in sand and water. She was the first woman to read her own paper at the Royal Society.

  18. Harriet Brooks (1876-1933): A Canadian physicist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to work as a nuclear physicist at the University of Cambridge.

  19. Marguerite Perey (1909-1975): A French physicist who discovered the element francium. She was the first woman to be elected to the French Academy of Sciences.

  20. Hedwig Kohn (1887-1964): A German physicist known for her work on flame spectroscopy and the application of spectroscopy to chemical analysis. She was one of the first women to obtain a PhD in physics in Germany.

These physicists made profound impacts in their respective areas of research, and their contributions are highly regarded in the scientific community. Including them in A-level physics textbooks would provide students with valuable insights into their groundbreaking work and its implications for the field of physics.