The scientists breaking STEM stereotypes

To celebrate International Women’s Month, the Science section has decided to shout about some of the lesser-known women in the field who are smashing it out of the park, despite fighting against systematic hurdles.

Hadiyah-Nicole Green

Hadiyah-Nicole Green came from a background of non-scientists to develop a new method of cancer treatment with no side effects. Green’s research was inspired by her late aunt and uncle who raised Green and her siblings. Following diagnosis of reproductive cancer, Green’s aunt turned down cancer treatment due to fear of the side effects it could cause. Shortly after her aunt’s death in 2005, Green’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and suffered at the hands of chemotherapy side effects.

Green’s pioneering treatment involves injection of gold nanoparticles into tumour cells which, when targeted with a laser, heat up and destroy the tumour cells. This localised treatment has no impact on surrounding cells and therefore does not trigger side effects.

Green was the first in her family to attend college, and her research has enabled her to become one of few African-American women with a PhD in Physics.

Dr. Hadiyah Green Wants to Use Lasers to Kill Cancer Cells
Hadiyah-Nicole Green. Image: NBC News.
Jesse Shanahan

Activist and astrophysicist, Jesse Shanahan, has been making waves in the disabled scientific community after launching #DisabledandSTEM to provide a base for disabled scientists to support one another. Shanahan also became part of the 500 Women Scientists leadership team in 2018, which strives to “make science open, inclusive, and accessible by fighting racism, patriarchy, and oppressive societal norms”.

Shanahan has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which causes joints and skin to become overly flexible, which means the skin can break easily. Despite this, Shanahan’s career is flourishing and she is now a lead data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton; her other research focuses on galaxies and supermassive black holes.

Her dog is even named Hubble! 

Profile photo of Jesse (Hrebinka) Shanahan
Jesse Shanahan. Image: Wikipedia.
Faridah Bedwei

Smashing the stereotypes of software engineers, Nigerian-born Faridah Bedwei, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at one year old, is the co-founder and chief technology officer of financial-technology company Logiciel. 

Alongside her impressive CV of science-tech achievements, Bedwei has used her creative skill and digital connections to create inspirational fictional characters, for example Karmzah, a Black superhero with cerebral palsy. The idea flourished after Bedwei realised there were no fictional protagonists like her, stating in an interview for World Cerebral Palsy Day, “there are millions of little girls and boys who deserve to read a comic or watch an animation and see someone they can relate to”. 

Faridah Bedwei. Image: TechHer.
Gladys West

Gladys West is an African-American mathematician from Virginia in the United States, whose mathematical models of the Earth helped to develop the GPS (Global Positioning System). Similar to Hadiyah-Nicole Green, West came from a background of non-scientists but left the family tradition of sharecropping in pursuit of a college education. 

West pushed through the minority boundaries of being an African-American woman in science to graduate from Virginia State College (now University) with a Master’s degree in Mathematics. Throughout her career, West consistently worked overtime on complex algorithms to produce a model of the Earth’s shape that accounted for distorting forces (such as gravitational and tidal forces). 

In 2018, West was named as one of the BBC’s 100 Women: a series which spotlights the work of women in the 21st century. 

Gladys West - Wikipedia
Gladys West. Image: Wikipedia.

By Morwenna Davies

Featured image via The Scientist Magazine.