Celebrating Women in STEM
Women have always contributed to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but their names are often left out of history books. Likewise, girls and women are faced with social and cultural barriers that can prevent them from studying STEM subjects in school or thriving in the workplace.
Pacific Science Center believes that science needs women. Celebrate the accomplishments of women in STEM and Women’s History Month with PacSci.
Learn about women blazing new trails in STEM.
Women in STEM
PacSci celebrates women in STEM fields throughout our exhibit floors during the month of March. We worked with teens in our Discovery Corps to identify women whose work is making a lasting impact. This list of honorees is meant to spark conversation and also highlight the many accomplishments of women in STEM.
Sylvia Acevedo credits Girl Scouts with giving her the skills and confidence to succeed. One of Stanford University’s first Master’s-level Hispanic graduates in engineering, she has worked as an engineer, rocket scientist, and executive at NASA, Apple, Autodesk, Dell, and IBM. Now the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, Acevedo is expanding the organization’s STEM footprint. Under her leadership, Girl Scouts earn badges in subjects such as robotics, eco-awareness, coding, cybersecurity, and space science.
As a black woman studying computer science and electrical engineering, Kimberly Bryant felt a sense of community was missing. When her own daughter grew interested in computer science, Bryant wanted better for her. Using experience gained through multiple leadership positions at major corporations, she founded Black Girls Code, a computer science and technology training course for girls from underrepresented communities that has grown into a global program.
Jessica Esquivel is an Afrolatinx particle physicist and one of the founders of #BlackinPhysics week. She works at Fermilab on experiments about the muon, a sub-atomic particle. These experiments use 50-foot-long superconducting magnet to test the Standard Model of particle physics. As well as her work studying the muon and neutrino, Esquivel is a champion for racial equity in her field. She helped to found #BlackinPhysics week, an annual event that began in 2020 that has a mission of community building and engagement for the Black physicist community.
Rosalind Franklin’s work in X-ray crystallography was instrumental in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Her contributions to this discovery were only recognized posthumously. During her life, she was primarily recognized for her research into the air holes in coal and the structure of viruses, but her work on the structure of DNA likely had the largest impact on the world, and is what most people know her for today.
Protecting vulnerable populations is central to Eva Galperin’s work as director of security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Galperin writes privacy and security training materials, works to eliminate malware and spyware, and advocates for privacy and security for marginalized groups ranging from abuse survivors to citizens in authoritarian regimes. Galperin’s work convinced a major cybersecurity firm to alert users when their devices contain programs that enable stalking.
Kristina Halona often traces the start of her STEM journey to the storytelling of her Navajo childhood. She was especially moved by the story of how Changing Woman created the earth and sky. This story and the high-tech aircraft that regularly flew over her home created diverse views of the sky, sparking Halona’s interest in aerospace engineering. Today, Halona is the engineering team program manager for the Antares rocket, which takes cargo to the astronauts living on the ISS.
Grace Hopper was a computer scientist and Navy Rear Admiral who developed a computer coding language called FLOW-MATIC and managed the development of one of the first COBOL compilers. She is thought to be the person who first used the word “bug” to describe a computer problem, after finding that some of her computer troubles were being caused by a moth stuck inside the computer. Hopper tried to enlist in the Navy during World War II, but was initially turned down because they said she was too old to join at 34. She eventually received a waiver to join the U.S. Naval Reserve. and would serve from 1943 until 1986. She is a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As well as her Naval service, Hopper was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist and advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge systems in science. She is an Indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad. Ibrahim grew up seeing the impacts of climate change directly affect her people. To help address the challenges this places on her community, she worked with UNESCO and the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee on a process called 3D participatory mapping. Together they created a map of Chad’s Sahel desert region documenting the scientific knowledge of local Indigenous communities.
Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman and first Iranian to win the Fields Medal (2014), the highest honor in mathematics. Mirzakhani solved complex, cross-disciplinary problems that had long puzzled mathematicians in fields such as dynamics, topology, and hyperbolic geometry. She created essential tools that mathematicians say will continue to shape the field for years to come.
Karlie Noon is an astronomer who is using her work to highlight the deep knowledge base of traditional astronomy practiced by Aboriginal communities, including her own Gamilaraay people. Some of her research has involved Indigenous knowledge surrounding using moon haloes for meteorological prediction. These rings of light surround the moon when there are ice crystals in the sky. She is an advocate for marginalized communities in STEM fields, and was named the first astronomy ambassador at the Sydney Observatory in 2020.
Mary Golda Ross
Mary Golda Ross was a Cherokee mathematician and aerospace engineer who worked at the Lockheed Corporation in the mid-20th century. As a child, she went to live with her grandparents to attend school in the Cherokee nation capital of Tahlequah. After spending several years as a teacher during the Great Depression, she went to work for Lockheed as a mathematician during World War II. In 1952, she became one of the founding members of the then-secret Advanced Development program at Lockheed. As well as several projects that are still classified, Ross worked on designs for satellites to orbit the earth, crewed space flight, and interplanetary space travel.
Inspired to pursue medicine after surviving tuberculosis as a teenager, Tu Youyou studied both modern and traditional practices, turning to ancient Chinese texts to find a cure for malaria. After learning that sweet wormwood was a traditional treatment for a common malaria symptom, Tu discovered a way to extract its active compound, artemisinin, saving millions of lives. In 2015, Tu became the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Hear from Leaders
An Interview with Diana Birkett Rakow
Read an interview with Diana Birkett Rakow as she discusses her thoughts about the importance of science, education, community, and inclusion in the workplace and learning environments. Read more
Additional Resources, Events, and Organizations
- Association for Women in Science: Seattle Chapter
- Black Girls Code
- Girls Who Code
- National Organization for Women: Seattle Chapter
- National Women’s History Museum
- Seattle Public Library Interview with Dixy Lee Ray
- Seattle Public Library Interview with Jeanette Williams
- Seattle Public Library Women’s History Month reading list
- Women’s History Month
Support Girls Only STEM Programs
Many girls lose interest in math and science, and it’s not because they don’t enjoy or have the ability to excel in the subject. For instance, only 32% of undergrad STEM degrees were awarded to women in Washington. Social and cultural barriers often keep girls from entering STEM subjects and careers. Pacific Science Center is working to address and break down these barriers. An encouraging and inclusive community will amplify voices so more dreams can unfold.
With your support, PacSci is expanding access initiatives to address and break down these barriers.
Girls and Women in STEM is generously supported by: Educational Legacy Fund, First Tech Federal Credit Union, Warren and Sally Jewell, Tamaira Ross and Steve Montgomery, and Pamela Merriman and Sonja Ross. Additional support comes from more than 2,500 individuals, companies, and foundations that donate to the Science Center each year.