Eight Motivating Tales of Women in STEM


Progress is honoring the achievements of trailblazers who made remarkable contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and who inspired future generations of women during Women’s History Month.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover made a safe landing on Mars’ surface on February 18. The announcement “Touchdown successful!” from a member of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory informed the world that the touchdown was successful.

Dr. Swati Mohan, an Indian American engineer serving as the Mars 2020 mission’s guidance, navigation, and controls (GN&C) operations head, was the one who broke the wonderful news. Mohan describes the GN&C subsystem as the “eyes and ears” of the spaceship.

NASA astrophysicist Karan Jani tweeted shortly after the landing, saying, “Dr. Swati Mohan (@DrSwatiMohan) has inspired a new generation of scientists today.”

Mohan is among the growing number of women who are succeeding in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Inspired by one of our co-founders, Mary Székely, Progress is passionate about advocating for more women in STEM fields.

For more than thirty years, Mary served as a mentor to several male and female developers and engineers, helping to pioneer Progress technology. The Progress Software Mary Székely Scholarship for Women in STEM was established in Mary’s memory after her passing in 2019 with the goal of encouraging the next generation of female computer professionals.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we have compiled a list of significant women in STEM history, and we are now searching for the next scholarship recipient to join the esteemed ranks of Kaya Dorogi of Columbia University.

STEM History’s “Great Eight”

Ada LovelaceInitially recognized as the daughter of renowned poet Lord Byron, she established her own reputation as the pioneer of scientific computing and the first person to program a computer. Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine was supposed to employ Lovelace’s algorithm, which is known in history as the first algorithm ever created for a computer to execute. However, Lovelace went tragically before the machine was finished. Lovelace passed away in 1852, but since then, her little-known work and “poetical” approach to science have gained recognition and inspired modern-day young women who are interested in computer programming. This article describes Ada Lovelace Day.

Elizabeth Blackwell—Blackwell made history as the first woman to get a medical degree in the United States and the first woman listed on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council. Her actions were motivated by the narrative of her friend who was terminally sick and wanted a female doctor to care for her. Although Blackwell was born in England and reared in America, she pioneered the promotion of women’s education in medicine and fought for social awareness and moral changes in both nations. She started her own medical practice after graduating from medical school and shortly after that a women’s and children’s infirmary. In order to promote hygienic conditions and health during times of war, she later founded the U.S. Sanitary Commission of 1861 under President Lincoln. In the late 1860s, she also opened a medical school specifically for women. Her age of death was 89 in 1910.

Not only was Marie Curie the first female Nobel laureate in physics in 1903, but she also made history as the first individual, male or female, to earn two Nobel Prizes when she was granted her second in chemistry in 1911. She remains the only individual to win two Nobel Prizes in two distinct scientific fields. Before her untimely death in 1906, she collaborated with her future husband Pierre on investigations that resulted in the discovery of polonium and radium. Later, she advocated for the advancement of X-ray technology and created the “Little Curies,” which were handheld X-ray devices used in field hospitals during World War I. Her life story has been brought back into the public eye with the release of the feature film “Radioactive” by Amazon Studios.

Elizebeth Friedman—A name that has gained national recognition as a result of PBS’s American Masters program “The Codebreaker,” Friedman was a trailblazing cryptanalyst whose laborious efforts to decipher thousands of communications for the American government resulted in the imprisonment of notorious criminals in the 1930s and the dismantling of a vast, almost undetectable Nazi espionage network during World War II. Her husband, the renowned cryptologist William Friedman, received much of the credit for her work, but her contributions were only recently revealed via the release of previously sealed government documents. Her contributions set the groundwork for today’s sophisticated codebreaking.

Grace HopperKnown as the “Queen of Code,” Rear Admiral Hopper was the longest serving officer in the Navy when she retired in 1986, having pioneered the development of computers and programming languages from her beginnings in the 1930s. She worked on the construction of “Mark I,” one of the first computers ever created, during World War II. She oversaw the creation of English-written computer languages after the war, as opposed to mathematical notation. COBOL, the widely used corporate computer language that is still in use today, is her most well-known accomplishment.

Katherine JohnsonJohnson has taken her deserved position as a prominent figure in African American history and American space exploration thanks to the well-received film “Hidden Figures.” She played a significant role in calculating key trajectories in NASA’s largest space flights, from America’s first launch into space with Alan Shepard to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic first landing on the moon in 1969. Her computing tools were integrated after she joined an all-male flight research team. Johnson, a trailblazing physicist, mathematician, and space scientist who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, passed away last year at the age of 101.

Barbara McClintock: For her discovery of mobile genetic elements in 1983, she was the only woman to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine on her own. That was just the pinnacle of a genetics career that produced many ground-breaking findings, such as the occurrence of chromosomal crossover, which boosts genetic diversity across species, and transposition, or the movement of genes inside chromosomes. Her research was so far ahead of its time that other scientists either disregarded it or thought it was too extreme for years. Her early discoveries were eventually confirmed by the scientific world only after the discovery of DNA in the late 1960s.

The renowned English anthropologist and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall is regarded as the world’s greatest authority on chimpanzees. Since her first visit to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park in 1960, she has spent more than 60 years researching the social and familial dynamics among wild chimpanzees. She established the worldwide youth program Roots & Shoots of the Jane Goodall Institute, a global community conservation organization. She continues to tour the globe around 300 days a year, at the age of 86, in order to promote sustainability and peace.

Distinguished Remarks

Of course, there are a ton of other names that belong on this list. Rosalind Franklin, a chemist, shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins for their work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that led to the discovery of the DNA double helix (she died in 1958, and the Nobel Foundation generally does not make posthumous nominations). At the age of 23, Alice Ball created a revolutionary leprosy therapy and became the first African American woman to earn a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. What about Sally Ride, the 32-year-old youngest American to exit the atmosphere and the country’s first female astronaut? She started Sally Ride Science, an organization that encourages young people to pursue STEM professions, and was the only person to serve on both committees that looked into the Challenger and Columbia tragedies.

Hedy Lamarr, the renowned Hollywood bombshell of the 1930s and 1940s, is a terrific choice for trivia enthusiasts. She contributed to the development of a frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system that was used to thwart torpedo guidance during World War II. These days, Bluetooth and cell phone technologies rely heavily on that technology. Furthermore, Radia Perlman, an early computer scientist who became an internet pioneer in the 1960s by creating the algorithm for the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), an invention that made the modern internet possible, is undoubtedly beneficial to a tech business like Progress.

There are many more fantastic articles online that feature a ton more; check out these two excellent links and this one for an example of what some modern women are doing.

The people at Progress are aware that women have made a significant contribution to the organization that we are today, as we celebrate their contributions throughout Women’s History Month and draw inspiration from their experiences on a daily basis. From the first global innovators to Mary Székely, a co-founder of Progress, and the Perseverance Rover on Mars, we have always looked to our stars, both celestial and terrestrial.

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