On Sunday 11 February, we celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science!
Established by the United Nations (UN), it is a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the STEM field.
To mark this day, we took a look at some of the inspiring scientists who have helped to pave the career of our Learning and Engagement and Dream Space teams at W5 and W5 LIFE.
The scientist that I am most inspired by is Ada Lovelace. Born in 1815, Lovelace was an English mathematician and is often regarded as the world's first computer programmer.
In 1833, Lovelace’s mentor, Mary Sommerville, introduced her to Charles Babbage, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Lovelace was deeply intrigued by Baggage's plans for a complicated device he called the 'Analytical Engine.' Lovelace translated an article, describing the Analytical Engine by italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, for publication in England. Babbage asked her to expand the article due to her deep understanding. The final article concluded at over three times the length of the original and contained several early 'computer programs.'
I believe Lovelace is a testament to the fact that women can excel in any field, even those typically dominated by men.
A scientist that I am most inspired by is Jane Goodall.
Jane is a leading primatologist and anthropologist. After 60 years studying the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees, Goodall is considered the world's foremost expert on this animal. The scientist credits her mother for inspiring her to pursue a career in primatology which, in the 1960's, was a field dominated by males.
In 1977, Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) which is a wildlife and environmental conservation organisation. The institute's mission is to improve the treatment and understanding of primates through public education and legal representation, to protect their habitats in partnership with local communities, and to recruit and train young people for these missions.
My inspiration to pursue a career in science is Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars, a discovery that earned the Nobel Prize in Physics. However, Jocelyn Bell Burnell was not one of the prize recipients. In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and used the prize money to establish a fund to help females and minority students become research physicists.
At the NI Science Festival 2023, I had the opportunity to attend a thought-provoking astronomy and poetry session with Jocelyn Bell Burnell at W5. After the session, I was able to chat with the leading astrophysicist and it was a moment that I won't forget.
Maria Montessori has inspired me throughout my career.
Born in 1870, Montessori was an Italian physician and educator best known for her philosophy of education. From an early age, Montessori was defying gender norms of the time, enrolling in classes at an all-boys technical school, with hopes of becoming an engineer - something that was unheard of during this time. By the time she graduated in 1890, with a certificate in physics–mathematics, Montessori had decided to study medicine, a more unlikely pursuit given cultural norms at the time. She was the first women to study medicine at an Italian university.
Montessori wanted children to be life-long learners, to meet their full potential and to learn through play, which is exactly what we do here at W5.
The scientist who has inspired me in my career is Rita Levi-Montalcini. Levi-Montalcini was an Italian neurobiologist and was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with her colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF.)
Levi-Montalcini attend the University of Turin, even after her father tried to discourage her as it was not the norm of the time. During World War II, Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibres which laid the groundwork for much of her later research.
I find Levi-Montalcini's story very inspiring because of her determination to keep following her research when things were difficult. She also inspired me to study neuroscience at university and learn more about her work.