Women vs STEM

By Tracy Man

(ACT, SAT, SSAT, and Math Tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (Photo Source)

In this modern age, there are several well-known figures in this field who have made vast contributions to STEM. For example, the late Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest minds known, and Elon Musk is currently one of the most renowned names within this field; their creations and dedication to STEM development, has sparked the interest of the younger generation and inspired them to follow in their footsteps. Other innovative discoveries such as the sequencing in genome of cancer patients, the advancement of HIV cure, and using stem cells to grow human organs has helped to save many lives and only shows how far science has come in the last few decades. However, all these discoveries would not be possible if not for the people who came before them, whose research and discoveries make up the foundation of our modern-day scientists. Looking through history there have been several important leading figures; names that many would automatically think of if we mentioned STEM, such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Archimedes. Furthermore, there are numerous mathematical theorems and concepts that were named after their founders: Pythagoras, Leonhard Euler, and René Descartes.

Despite these amazing discoveries and geniuses, there is a severe issue within this field that has yet to be solved. If we want STEM to further develop, we must first address this matter. a long time, this field has been heavily dominated by men. Though there has been an increase in interest in the last few decades, women are still extremely underrepresented in this field. When compared to their male counterparts, females are less likely to continue to pursue STEM in higher education or as a career.

Throughout my own education, from secondary school all the way to university, the Maths and Science teachers and lecturers I had encountered were all male. The mathematicians and scientists that we learnt about were also men. So why is this field so male focused? Is it because women are less able in this area? I do not think so. The main reason lies in the fact that there are not enough female role models. To date, how many women have been recognised for their achievements in Science and Mathematics? Very few, especially when compared to the number of male scientists and mathematicians, 20 female Nobel Laureates vs over 560 male Nobel Laureates. How are we supposed to inspire young girls into pursuing a career in STEM when they do not have an example to follow? The lack of gender equality in this field can be intimidating for females as they feel like there is a lack of guidance and support.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin (Photo Source)

As I said, there very little women representing us, not that women are not capable at Mathematics or Science. Since long ago, there have been some female mathematicians and scientists who made discoveries or developed ideas that inspired and became the basis for other mathematicians and scientists. Some earned recognition for their work for example, Ada Lovelace was a pioneer as she was the world’s first computer programmer. Marie Curie, a more widely renowned scientist, was the first woman to have received a Nobel Prize and the only female to have received two Nobel Prizes for her discoveries of the elements polonium and radium. Another lady who has been noted for her work is Virginia Apgar; she devised the Apgar Score, a scale used as an emergency response in childbirth. Her development has helped to save many new-borns; the number of deaths dropped from 1 in 30 in 1950s to 1 in 500 in modern day America. On the other hand, there are also women who did not receive the recognition that they deserved, such as Rosalind Franklin. Her work, capturing an X-ray image of DNA, helped Crick and Watson prove the belief that DNA was composed of two opposing coiled chains, which lead to these men receiving a Nobel Prize for the discovery. Even though Watson himself acknowledged that Franklin deserved the credit, her contribution was not recognised as she passed away before the findings were published. Though she was not acknowledged officially, within the science community, her contribution has been widely recognised by her peers.

In more recent years, there has been an increase in females working in STEM and receive credit for their works. Hedy Lamar’s “frequency-hopping’, originally developed so that torpedoes could travel through water undetected, is the principle behind Bluetooth, GPS and WI-FI. Stephanie Kwolek is another lady who has saved many lives through her discovery of Kevlar, a lightweight and strong material originally for the purpose of reinforcing car tyres, is now used in many protective gears, such as bulletproof vests and combat helmets. Another notable name is Marie Van Brittan Brown. She was a nurse in the 1960s and developed the world’s very first home security system which is still an inspiration for many inventors today. However, the scientist who most recently made a name for herself would be Katie Bouman. The 29-year-old wrote an algorithm and led the development of a computer which captured a picture of a black hole, a feat which many had thought to be impossible till now.

Learning from these examples, we should come to the realisation that there is a necessity for females to take a more important role if we wish to further develop STEM. Women are just as capable as men in Science and Mathematics. It is about time we freed society from the stereotype that Science is for boys and eradicate this gender imbalance.

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