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Three Women Scientists Who Changed the World

In the history of science, women throughout the world have made cool scientific discoveries that have changed our world. Here are three women scientists who changed the world.

The world as we know it has been shaped by science: Copernicus thought that the Sun was the center of the universe rather than the Earth. Darwin redefined our understanding of evolution by arguing that we have a common ancestor. Einstein developed the theory of relativity, which completely changed the world of physics.

Thanks to thousands of years of observation and experimentation led by the most brilliant minds in history, scientists have built the world on the foundation of these discoveries. Among these brilliant minds are countless women—like Wang Zhenyi, Marie Curie, and Janaki Ammal—who have used their knowledge and talents to rewrite the world.

Wang Zhenyi and the Lunar Eclipse

In eighteenth-century China, people feared lunar eclipses because they thought that an eclipse was an act of the gods. As the moon disappeared in the sky, the people believed that a great beast was swallowing it, so they would hold rituals and make loud noises to scare the fabled beasts away.

However, Wang Zhenyi wasn’t afraid; she loved to watch the sky. As she observed the moon disappearing into the shadow of the earth, she believed that there was a scientific explanation.

Using her knowledge of astronomical research, which she learned in spite of the feudal customs of the time that hindered women’s rights, Zhenyi conducted her own experiment by stringing up a round table, a crystal lamp, and a mirror to act as the earth, the sun, and the moon respectively. She then moved the three objects according to astronomical principles and made the scientific truth known in “The Explanation of a Lunar Eclipse.”

However, Wang Zhenyi’s discoveries didn’t end at the moon. Zhenyi wrote several other articles dealing with astronomy and mathematics, and she worked to make that knowledge accessible to all of society. Wang Zhenyi was one of three women scientists who changed the world!

Marie Curie, Radium, and the X-ray

As a young scientist in Poland and France, Marie Curie was amazed by the discovery of X-rays and uranium rays and wanted to delve deeper into radiation.

In early 1898, Curie observed that pitchblende and chalcolite, two uranium minerals, were dramatically more radioactive than uranium itself. Believing that the minerals had to contain a substance that was more radioactive than uranium, she worked to uncover what made the minerals so different. Later that year, Curie discovered two new elements, polonium and radium, hidden inside the pitchblende.

In 1902, Curie discovered that radium destroyed diseased, tumor-forming cells faster than healthy cells. This has led to the way we currently treat cancer: radiation. Curie was also able to invent mobile radiography units to help injured soldiers take X-rays during World War I, making healthcare quicker and more effective.

Because of how significant her innovations were, Marie Curie was the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes, and in 2009, she was voted the most inspirational woman in science.

Read Marie Curie’s biography from nobelprize.org.

Janaki Ammal and Sweet Sugarcane

Did you know that sugarcane, a sweet plant used to make sugar around the world, isn’t always sweet?

In the 1920s, this was becoming a problem for India. With land and weather conditions that grew not-so-sweet sugarcane, India had to import the plant from other countries. Searching for ways to grow sweet sugarcane, the Sugarcane Breeding Institute sought out incredible scientists.

Janaki Ammal soon joined the institute as a botanist with an expertise in cytogenetics, the study of cell biology and genetics. She cross-bred sugarcane with other plants native to India and studied which hybrid plants were sweeter. In the end, Ammal was able to develop a sweet sugarcane crop better suited to India’s environment.

Throughout her career, Janaki Ammal created numerous other hybrids, worked to preserve India’s plant life, and wrote the Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants, which recorded the chromosome numbers of thousands of plants and became a key text for botanists.

Learn more about “The Pioneering Female Botanist Who Sweetened a Nation and Saved a Valley” from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Scientists Are Still Writing History

When it comes to observing the world and making improvements, the work is never finished. Countless women today are still contributing to the world of science through discoveries large and small. By learning more about their contributions and shedding light on these brilliant women, we can support all the scientists on their own journeys to discovery.

Encourage your kids to learn more about these three women and other women scientists with Heidi Poleman’s inspirational board book “Women in Science Who Changed the World.”

To learn about other incredible women in history, check out our article “Five Inspiring Women You (And Your Children) Should Know.”

For tips on studying women’s history, read our article “6 Tips for Sharing Women’s History with Kids All Year.”

More Books Celebrating and Supporting Women

Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.