Some of the greatest scientists of all time were females who have made important discoveries in a variety of fields in science. Several of their contributions throughout history have even surpassed those of their male counterparts. Our list of the most famous female scientists below are organized in order of popularity so you can read about the advancements that they made. 


Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Famous For: Work on radioactivity
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win this award in two categories: Physics and Chemistry. She discovered polonium and radium and her work helped with the creation of X-rays.
Jane Goodall (1934)
Famous For: Primate studies
Jane Goodall is known world-wide for her groundbreaking studies on primates. She is considered the top expert on chimpanzeees in the world and is perhaps best known for her 45 year study on the social lives of these animals in Tanzania.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012)
Famous For: Nerve growth studies
Rita Levi-Montalcini was a neurologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986 for her findings in nerve growth factor (NGF). She was the first Nobel laureate to live past her 100th birthday.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Famous For: Research on RNA, DNA, graphite, coal and viruses
Rosalind Franklin was a X-ray crystallographer and biophysicist whose work greatly contributed to the comprehension of molecular structures. Her most notable work revolved around X-ray diffraction images of DNA. Her work in this resulted in the finding of the DNA double helix.
Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
Famous For: Work on radioactivity and nuclear physics
Lise Meitner was a key member of a group that discovered nuclear fission. One of her colleagues, Otto Hahn, was given the Noble Prize for this work and Meitner’s exclusion from the award is considered to be a huge error by the Nobel committee.
Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)
Famous For: Work in nuclear physics
Shirley Ann Jackson was the first African American woman to attain a doctorate degree at MIT in nuclear physics. She has received many awards for her research and work as well as several honorary doctorate degrees.
Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)
Famous For: Findings in astronomy
Maria Mitchell was the very first American female to become a professional astronomer. She discovered a comet in 1847 that was aptly named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”
Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956)
Famous For: Study of radiation
Daughter of famed Marie Curie, Irene Joliot Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for the finding of artificial radioactivity. She, along with her husband Frederic, also turned boron into radioactive nitrogen as well as aluminim into phosphorus and magnesium into silicon.
Elizabeth Blackburn (1948)
Famous For: Work with telomere
Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her discovery of telomerase which is the enzyme which replenishes telomere. Telomere is part of the end of a chromosome which protects them.
Melissa Franklin (1957)
Famous For: Particle physics studies
Melissa Franklin currently holds a position as an experimental particle physicists at Harvard University where she is Department Chair. She headed a team at the Fermi National Acceleration Lab in Chicago where they found the first signs that top quarks exist. Franklin was also the first woman to get tenure at the Harvard Physics department.
Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)
Famous For: Discovering comets
Caroline Herschel worked closely together with her brother Sir William Herschel throughout their careers as astronomers. Caroline discovered several comets, one of which, the 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, is named after her. She was the first woman scientist to be recognized by the United Kingdom.
Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)
Famous For: Protein crystallography
Dorothy Hodgkin is known for her advancement of X-ray crystallography techniques which are now implemented to figure out the three dimensional structures of biomolecules. She was given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her findings on the makeup of vitamin B12.
Gertrude B. Elion (1918-1999)
Famous For: Development of new drugs
Gertrude B. Elion was a joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 “for discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.” One of her most notable creations was the development of the AIDS drug AZT.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
Famous For: Work with experimental physics and radioactivity
Chien-Shiung Wu is known for her work on the Manhattan Project and her help with finding the process for separating uranium into U-238 and U-235. She has several nicknames including the “Chinese Marie Curie” and the “First Lady of Physics.”

Adapted from ‘Famous Female Scientists’


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