It’s probably a given that most of us could name five famous women in entertainment off the top of our heads. And yet, while the U.S. is desperately trying to encourage more girls to embrace the STEM fields, how many of us could name five female scientists, doctors, technologists, or mathematicians that are at the top of their game? Having experienced first-hand how COVID-19 has completely uprooted our lives, maybe we all should have a greater appreciation for women working tirelessly to solve some of the world’s other most significant challenges like climate change, disease prevention, and how to use technology for good. In our blog this week, FirstLantic is pleased to spotlight five amazing women changing the world.
Jennifer Doudna earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pomona College and her Ph.D. in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology in 1989 from Harvard Medical School. She is recognized as one of the most outstanding living scientists. Her ground-breaking invention of technology for editing genomes allows scientists to make ultra-precise edits to DNA in cells. This has the potential to cure both genetic deformities, as well as diseases like cancer and HIV. Ms. Doudna is the recipient of numerous accolades and awards, including being elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003, the National Academy of Medicine in 2010, and the National Academy of Inventors in 2014. She was also elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2016. In 2017, Ms. Doudna was awarded the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement, and in 2020, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Desiree Narango grew up in Baltimore, where she learned to love nature as a child while exploring urban parks. Ms. Narango went on to become a wildlife ecologist earning a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. One of the biggest challenges that conservationists face is how to enable man and nature to coexist while minimizing the environment’s impact. Many scientists are working on ways that industry can mitigate that impact. However, Ms. Narango is bringing the fight closer to home by educating homeowners, cities, and farms on being more nature-friendly. For example, her research demonstrated that when native plants are used in garden landscaping, yards can support birds’ sustainable populations (featured in NPR, Popular Science). She engages the public through blogging, workshops, social media, and community science participation. She is currently a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow at the Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Miranda Wang wants to free the world from plastic pollution. As we know, plastic is wreaking havoc with our oceans and other waterways and the wildlife that live there. Who can forget images of a bird’s beak wrapped in plastic or a turtle struggling to free itself from plastic netting? After receiving her bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Wang became the CEO and co-founder of BioCellection. This company transforms the most commonly used and unrecyclable plastics into new materials. Using pioneering chemical technology, her company can make new products from plastic garbage that are biodegradable. She has already been receiving awards from the United Nations Environmental Program. She has begun partnerships with cities like San Francisco, GreenWaste Recovery, and Recology to scale up her operation 200x to demonstrate her technology’s effectiveness and practicality. Miranda’s work has been featured on CNN and in the New York Times. And did we forget to mention that she is only 26?
Mary-Claire King received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Carleton College and her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California–Berkeley. King joined the University of California–Berkeley faculty as a professor of genetics and epidemiology. While still at Berkeley, she discovered that a single gene on chromosome seventeen (later called BRCA-1) plays a vital role in many breast cancer types. Her discovery has enabled women with a family history of breast cancer to obtain complete information about their prospects for coming down with the disease. The breakthrough also became extremely useful to countless other researchers working on a host of other genetic illnesses. In the intervening years, King has worked on the genetics of other conditions, such as deafness, but also on projects such as using genetics to help identify the remains of those killed in civil conflicts in Argentina, El Salvador, and elsewhere, as well as to reconstruct prehistoric human migration patterns. She has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2005 and was a recipient of the Gruber Foundation Genetics Prize (2004), the Lasker Award (2014), and honorary doctorates, too numerous to mention. King is currently the American Cancer Society Research Professor at the University of Washington.
Nina Tandon is a biomedical engineer. She received her Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Cooper Union, her M.S. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and an MBA at Columbia University. As the founder and CEO of EpiBone, she has pioneered a skeletal reconstruction method that allows practitioners to repair bone defects in patients by using their stem cells to grow new and healthy bones. The bone can also grow, which means that children with bone defects can have their bodies develop normally and not worry about rejection from their immune system. Named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company, she is also a TED Senior Fellow, a recipient of Marie Claire‘s Women on Top Awards, a Wired innovation fellow, and a 2015 Global Thinker by Foreign Policy. L’Oréal Paris named her as one of its Women of Worth in the science and innovation category, and Crain’s New York named her as part of its 40 Under 40 Class of 2015. She also holds three patents.
In summary, while all of the women that we profiled are exceptional, they only represent a minuscule percentage of extraordinary women in the world. However, it’s still a fact that women are underrepresented in the STEM fields. While over 50% of all college graduates are female, only 21% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering were attained by women, and only 20% in computer science. And although there are many reasons for this gender gap, it’s vital to our country’s economic well-being that we all work to change this statistic.
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