The Nobel Prize is a prestigious award that has only been awarded to just 46 women, in comparison to 814 men. Of these 46 women only 16 were awarded a Nobel Prize for science, the rest having been awarded the prize for peace, literature or for economic sciences. This clearly shows throughout history, a lack of recognition of the achievements of women in science.
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize was the outstanding Marie Curie. This came in 1903 for Physics “in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena”. She was almost denied the award as the committee originally only intended to honour her male colleagues yet to this day she remains the only person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes in two different fields: Physics and chemistry. This is a brilliant achievement considering the obstacles she faced due to her gender.
Marie Curie was a pioneering scientist in who conducted research on radioactivity alongside her husband, Pierre Curie, and Antoine Becquerel. Her research into radioactivity was pivotal in the development of X-ray machines. However, Marie Curie faced real opposition from male scientists and many were insistent that it was her husband that did the real work and they belittled her achievements.
There has been a long history of women who were not recognised for their work but unlike Marie Curie, a lot of their contributions have been overlooked. They have been written out of textbooks and credit has been given to their male colleagues instead, this is known as the Maltilda effect.
Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) who discovered that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes was a victim of this Matilda effect. Thomas Morgan Hunt was given credit for this discovery after he wrote to Stevens asking for details of her experiments, but her name did not make it into his textbook about genetics.
Another victim of institutional sexism was Jocelyn Bell Burnell who discovered pulsars, rapidly rotating neutron stars, in 1967. This earned a Nobel Prize, but not for Bell Burnell, instead it went to her male supervisor, Anthony Hewish. Many of the positions offered to her focused on administrative or teaching rather than research, which clearly demonstrates the sexism she was subjected to.
Lise Meitner was another scientist who was denied recognition for her work. Her work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission. She collaborated with Otto Hahn who performed the experiments while she was in charge of the theory. Hahn published their findings without including Meitner as a co-author. She was also left off the 1944 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their discovery of nuclear fission. This has led to Meitner not being widely mentioned alongside this discovery.
These are just a few cases of women being denied the recognition they deserve in scientific fields. Although progress is being made, women still face huge challenges in receiving the same recognition as men for their scientific work.
Image: The Guardian