top of page

5 women who've made big waves in STEM

Amongst many others, these five women have made / are continuing to make huge waves in STEM. May we continue to be inspired by them!

Grace Hopper

New York City, USA


Studied: Computer Science, Mathematics

"A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things."

Photo credit:

Grace received a master's degree and a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University, and was a mathematics professor at Vassar College. She joined the Navy Reserves in 1943. Grace was one of the first three modern 'programmers' and is well known for her contributions to the development of computer languages. She is also recognized as the person most responsible for the success of COBOL, the first standardized general business computer language.

Hopper was originally rejected from the Navy because of her age (34) and size. Instead, she joined the U.S. Naval Reserve where she worked on the Mark I, one of the earliest computers. At her retirement, Hopper was the oldest (79) serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.

She was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition for her great contributions to computer science.

Fun fact - Hopper was the first to refer to a computer problem as a "bug" when she found a large moth in a Mark II computer.

Find out more - Book: Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Beyer, Improbable Warriors: Mathematicians Grace Hopper and Mina Rees in World War II by Kathleen Williams.

Katherine Johnson

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, USA


Studied: Mathematics, Science, Physics

"Like what you do, and then you will do your best."

Photo credit:

Katherine graduated with a bachelor's degrees in mathematics and french. She was the first African-American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University. She pursued a career as a research mathematician, and worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and NASA.

Katherine calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She verified NASA's computer calculations for John Glenn's orbit around Earth. She also helped calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Johnson spent her later years encouraging students to enter STEM fields.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her work as a pioneering physicist, mathematician, and space scientist.

Fun fact - Katherine graduated from high school at the age of 14 and finished college at 18.

Find out more - Book: Reaching for the Moon by Johnson; Movie: Hidden Figures.

Radia Perlman

Portsmouth, Virginia, USA


Studied: Computer Science, Mathematics

"But the world would be a better place if more engineers, like me, hated technology. The stuff I design, if I'm successful, nobody will ever notice. Things will just work, and be self-managing."

Photo credit:

Radia enjoyed math and science from a young age and took her first programming class in high school. She attended MIT where she received bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics. She received her PhD in computer science from MIT in 1988.

Radia is often referred to as the "Mother of the Internet." She invented the spanning tree protocol (STP), which is fundamental to the operation of network bridges. She later improved STP by designing TRILL (TRansparent Interconnection of Lots of Links), which allows Ethernet to make optimal use of bandwidth. Today, the majority of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use this routing protocol, which has been standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). She was also one of the major designers behind DECnet.

Radia currently holds over 100 patents, and she was named 2004 Inventor of the Year by the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association.

Fun fact - Radia attended MIT at a time where the number of women in her class was limited by the number that could fit into a single female dorm. She was one of 50 women in her class of 1000 students.

Find out more - Book: Interconnections: Bridges and Routers by Perlman, Network Security by Perlman

Rosalind Franklin

Notting Hill, London, England, UK


Studied: Chemistry

"Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated."

Photo credit:

Rosalind studied physics and chemistry at Newnham College in Cambridge and earned a PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University. She worked for the British Coal Utilisation Research Association and the King's College London biophysics unit. Rosalind's work was critical to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. She used X-ray diffraction and crystallography to photograph elements, and her photographs provided key insights into the structure of DNA.

Franklin and her student Raymond Gosling discovered that there were two forms of DNA: a dry "A" form and a wet "B" form. A picture they took of the "B" form of DNA became famous (known as Photograph 51) as it was used by Watson and Crick as the basis for their famous model of DNA. Watson and Crick received a Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1962 but did not credit Franklin for her role in the discovery.

After she left King's College, Franklin published 17 papers on viruses in five years. Her research laid the foundation for structural virology.

Fun fact - Rosalind was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956. She published seven scientific papers that year, and published six more in 1957, all while she was undergoing chemotherapy.

Find out more - Book: Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Maddox