ITG’s Favourite Female Scientists

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Universities, schools and workforces alike are trying to bridge the gender gap in science fields as today, just 35% of students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study are women.

“Girls are often made to believe they are not smart enough for STEM, or that boys and men have a natural affinity for the field.

Despite these setbacks, women and girls continue to lead innovation and ground-breaking research. They have created life-saving medicine and broken the sound barrier, explored the universe and laid the foundation to understand the structure of DNA. They are inspiring role models for our future generations.”

At ITG, we endeavour to instil our female students with the confidence and self-belief that they need to excel in whatever academic discipline/s they want to pursue.

Here is a list of female scientists who inspire us today…

Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872): Astronomer

Somerville was named the 19th Century’s “queen of science” after her death.

Her popular books linked up and explained different areas of scientific study, and her detailed work on the solar system was influential in the discovery of Neptune.

She made history in 1835 when she jointly became the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

Somerville has been on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £10 notes since 2017.


Mary Anning (1799 – 1847): Paleontologist 

A self-taught pioneer, Anning discovered Jurassic remains in her hometown of Lyme Regis.

She came across her first find – an ancient reptile later named an Ichthyosaurus – at the age of 12.

The Natural History Museum calls her the “unsung hero of fossil discovery”, as the scientific community was reluctant to recognise her contributions to science during her lifetime.

She was not allowed to be part of the Geological Society of London, for example. In fact, it did not admit women until more than half a century after her death.


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836 – 1917): Doctor

Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify in the UK as a doctor – but it wasn’t easy to get there.

In her mid-20s, she enrolled as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital in London.

She attended lectures and observed the male medical students, but no university would let her take the exams to become a doctor.

However, after finding that the Society of Apothecaries couldn’t legally refuse her, she qualified in 1865.

She subsequently opened the St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children in London and co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women.

She was the sister of Suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and campaigned for women’s right to vote.


Elsie Widdowson (1906 – 2000): Dietician 

Widdowson devoted her life to improving people’s diets in Britain and overseas.

In 1940, when food was being rationed during World War Two, she published a book called The Chemical Composition of Foods that contained details of the nutritional values of many foods.

She was one of the dieticians who oversaw the addition of vitamins to food during wartime rationing.


Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994): Chemist

She used X-ray technology to discover the structures of penicillin, insulin, and vitamin B12.

In 1964 she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – and is still the only British woman to have done so.

She also lectured former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who studied chemistry at Somerville College in Oxford in the 1940s.

From 1976 to 1988, Hodgkin was president of the Pugwash Conference, an international organisation set up in the 1950s to assess the dangers of nuclear weapons.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943 – ): Astrophysicist 

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is credited with one of the most important discoveries of the last century: the discovery of radio pulsars.

Pulsars are the by-products of supernova explosions that make all life possible.

Prof Bell Burnell was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974, even though the award went to two male academics who worked alongside her.