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Hidden Science Superstars: Finalists


Mary Anning (1799-1847): English fossil collector and paleontologist who made a number of significant finds, including some of the earliest ichthyosaur and plesiosaur specimens.  Though she was a recognized authority in geological circles, Anning's gender and class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of 19th century Britain.

Martha Chase (1927-2003): American geneticist and College of Wooster graduate known for the Hershey-Chase experiment, or the "blender experiment," which helped to confirm that DNA, not protein, carries genetic information.  Her co-investigator, Alfred Hershey, shared the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but Chase was not recognized.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958): English physical chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was crucial in discovering the structure of DNA.  Franklin's data informed the double helix model of DNA proposed by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953.  She died in 1958, just 4 years before Watson and Crick shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Grace Hopper (1906-1992): Pioneering computer scientist and US Navy officer.  Hopper wrote the first compiler for translating symbolic instructions into machine language, and her conviction that computers could be programmed in English was a driving force behind the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language that is still in use today.

Ibn Sina (980-1037): Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā, also known by the Latinized name "Avicenna," was a philosopher and polymath of the Islamic Golden Age who made contributions to physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.  His encyclopedic works, The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine were used by scholars for centuries.

Mae Jemison (1965- ): American engineer, physician, and NASA astronaut.  After the completion of her medical degree, Jemison was selected for the astronaut program and became the first African American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992.  Following her departure from NASA, she went on to a distinguished career in science advocacy.

Percy Julian (1899-1975): American chemist and pioneer in the mass synthesis of medicinal compounds from plant sources. Succeeding despite prejudice and discrimination, Julian was one of the first African Americans to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry and the second African American from any field inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921): American astronomer known for her study of Cepheid variable stars. Working as a "computer" in the Harvard College Observatory, she made the critical discovery of the relationship between period and luminosity in the Cepheids of the Magellanic Clouds that served as an important early cornerstone for cosmic distance measurement.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852): Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician who is commonly considered the first computer programmer.  Lovelace was a close colleague of Charles Babbage and wrote extensively on his proposed invention, the Analytical Engine, including a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers which is considered the first computer program. 

Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017): Iranian theoretical mathematician. For her work in hyperbolic geometry and related fields, Mirzakhani won a Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in Mathematics, in 2014, becoming both the first woman and the first Iranian to do so. Her promising career was cut short in 2017 with her death from metastatic breast cancer.

Sophie Wilson (1957- ): British computer scientist and software engineer.  As part of a long and illustrious career in hardware and software design, Wilson developed the architecture of the ARM microprocessor, which underlies more than 95% of smartphones and a significant proportion of all consumer electronic devices worldwide. 

 Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997): Chinese American physicist best known for the "Wu experiment," which disproved the conservation of parity, previously thought to be a law of nature. Wu did not share the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, the theoreticians whose work she experimentally confirmed.


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Note: we've done our best to faithfully summarize the finalists' key accomplishments in about 50 words each.  If you notice something in need of correction, contact Zach Sharrow.