Little Known Scientific Discoveries by Women


Women in science have always been pushed aside and not given the credit they deserved for their discoveries. They are extremely underrepresented, with their male colleagues taking the credit for their hypotheses and discoveries, all because women have not been taken seriously. However, there are so many incredible discoveries that we may not have today if it weren’t for women – here are just a few.

Vera Rubin, when telling her high school physics teacher about her acceptance into Vassar, was told that was great as long as she stayed away from science. After being turned down from an astronomy course at Princeton because women weren’t allowed to do it, she got her PhD at Georgetown and ended up making an observation about the orbiting speed of stars at the edge of galaxies matching the orbiting speed of stars in a galaxy’s centre. This opposed the belief held at the time that the strongest gravitational force would be where the highest levels of mass were, which was in the centre, so orbits would be slower the further out they were. Her observations garnered no support due to male colleagues discrediting her, saying it was impossible due to Newton’s Laws and, even though she had the evidence, both of her doctoral and master’s theses were ignored. In later years, her work has been recognised, but only due to it being accepted by male colleagues eventually.

Cecilia Payne studied at Cambridge in 1919, having earned a scholarship for botany, physics, and chemistry – even though Cambridge didn’t give degrees to women. She became the first woman to get a PhD in astronomy at Radcliffe, and after getting her doctorate at 25, discovered which elements make up stars. Her male colleagues (specifically Henry Norris Russell) who reviewed her work told her not to publish it because it contradicted existing thoughts and would not be accepted. Four years later, he published papers on what makes up the sun, with the same conclusions as Payne, and was given full credit for the discovery. She was later given the Henry Norris Russell Prize for her work in astronomy, just to make things worse.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell got her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Glasgow, and her PhD from Cambridge. While studying quasars and working with radio telescopes, she saw signals being given off by something unknown in space, which turned out to be pulsars, given by neutron stars. This was the first time they had been noticed, and the observations were accepted, but published with a colleague, Antony Hewish’s name first, even though she made the discovery herself. Hewish later won the 1974 Nobel Prize for discovering pulsars – but now, it is accepted that she made the observation before anyone else.

Women in STEM subjects are so important, but it’s no wonder more women don’t want to study them when there are so many accounts of our discoveries not being given due credit. We need to make science more accessible for all women, and not allow our findings to go to men any longer.


Third year PAIR student and head of events. Also The Edge's live editor and 2016-17 opinion editor. Fan of cats, gigs and a tea lover - find me rambling about politics and cats @_Carly_May on Twitter.

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