There's no shortage of strong female role models in the world to look up to, but Rachel Ignotofsky, the author and illustrator of Women in Science (Ten Speed Press), has made the search a lot easier. "There are so many female scientists who have changed our world with their discoveries, but many have landed in obscurity," says Ignotofsky. "My hope is to help make these women household names, inspiring a whole generation of girls."
"These women often had to deal with sexism or racism or classism, but every single one of them had the same response: to keep working for the sheer love of discovery."– Rachel Ignotofsky
Writing and illustrating Women in Science was purely a passion project for Ignotofsky—and it wasn't an effortless undertaking, either. She pored over scholarly texts, got well-acquainted with the long list of Nobel Prize winners, and even dug through NASA's "Oral History Project" in order to compile her list of inspiring female leaders.
"These women often had to deal with sexism or racism or classism, but every single one of them had the same response: to keep working for the sheer love of discovery," explains Ignotofsky. And, really, that's reason enough to make these fearless luminaries household names.
To help you find your next role model, Ignotofsky shares six women profiled in her new book, which is out tomorrow.
Areas of Expertise: Astronomy, math, and poetry
Greatest Accomplishment: Accurately recording equinoxes and eclipses
Why She's Awesome: "During a time when eclipses were seen as an unsolvable mystery, Wang Zhenyi figured them out through observation and a bit of creativity. She recorded how the sun, moon, and earth are positioned during an eclipse by experimenting with a tied-up mirror and lamp in her yard. Along with her astronomy work, Zhenyi created one of the first texts that explained arithmetic theories to beginners. She was born into a family of scholars, but in feudal China, not everyone was so lucky; Zhenyi would also publish poetry to bring awareness to the harsh poverty and the extreme taxation on the poorer classes."
Area of Expertise: Physics
Greatest Accomplishment: Discovering nuclear fission
Why She's Awesome: "Lise Meitner was Jewish in Germany during the Nazi party's rise to power. Despite having to flee, she didn't want to leave her work behind. Meitner was trying to discover a new element with her lab partner, Otto Hahn, by smashing neutrons against uranium. As a refugee in Sweden, Meitner continued her work by writing secret letters to Hahn. While Hahn didn't understand the results of their experiment, Meitner realized they weren't creating a new element like they intended. Instead, they were stretching the nucleus apart and creating nuclear energy. (She described it like stretching pizza dough!) Her discovery changed physics, energy, and history forever, but she couldn't return to Germany, and was not included in the Nobel Prize."
Area of Expertise: Computer science
Greatest Accomplishment: Inventing the first complex computer language, COBOL.
Why She's Awesome: "Grace Hopper quit her job and enlisted in the Navy as soon as she heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed. She helped lead the team that programmed one of the first computers, the Mark I. After that, she decided she wanted to change the way we code computers. She thought it would be easier if we could just talk to the machine instead of using binary. No one thought it could be done, but she proved them wrong by inventing the first compiler, which led to creating the first computing language, COBOL. Now everyone can learn to code! Hopper retired from the Navy as the oldest person on active duty, just a little shy of 80."
Area of Expertise: Math
Greatest Accomplishment: Calculating the flight path for the Apollo Mission.
Why She's Awesome: "Katherine Johnson worked as what was known as a 'computer' for NASA, but she wanted to learn more about what she was working on. When Johnson was told that women weren't allowed in any of the meetings, she asked if it was against the law for a woman to be in one—and that's how she got into her first meeting, which led to more opportunity. Johnson went on to calculate the launch window for the Mercury Mission as a lead in trajectory. She also worked on the Apollo Mission, the Space Shuttle program, and the mission to Mars. At the age of 97, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She went from not even being allowed at meetings to being awarded the highest civilian honor in America."
Area of Expertise: Marine biology
Greatest Accomplishment: Breaking the record for deepest untethered dive.
Why She's Awesome: "Sylvia Earle's nicknames include 'Her Deepness' and 'the Sturgeon General,' for good reason. She's spent her life exploring the ocean and fighting to preserve it. Earle broke the depth record when she wore a person-sized submarine called the JIM suit to explore the ocean's floor. She went on to lead a sustainable seas program, helping develop new submarine technology. Earle was the chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but left so she could speak her mind freely about problems with overfishing and the need for conservation. She now fights to protect the ocean with her program, Mission Blue."
Areas of Expertise: Space travel, education, and medicine
Greatest Accomplishment: Being the first black woman in space.Why She's Awesome: "Mae Jemison got the call that she would be an astronaut in between giving medical examinations! For her trip to space, Jemison took with her an Alpha Kappa Alpha flag, a West African bundu statue, and a poster of dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison. She wanted African and African-American culture to no longer be left out of representation in space. Jemison went on to start her own technology consulting firm, Jemison Group Inc., and became principal of the 100 Year Starship Project, which works towards traveling to the next solar system within 100 years."
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press) is out July 26, $17, barnesandnoble.com.
Reprinted with permission from Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.