Top 20+ Famous Female Scientists That You Should Know

Top 20+ Famous Female Scientists That You Should Know

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To celebrate scientists and scientific advancements, we have collected a list of the most famous female scientists that will inspire us for the greater good.

If you have a passion for knowledge,  these 21 famous female scientists will give you the inspiration you need to pursue a career in science.

We consulted the Nobel Prize winners’ list, watched videos, and compared the information we got to scientists that other top websites think are the most famous. Then we harmonized the information into this article.

These influential female scientists have made it possible for you to pave your own path in the world of science. Through their scientific discoveries, many of them have opened doors for future generations of women to follow. 

Here is another chance to discover some of history’s most brilliant and renowned female scientists!

Table of Contents

Famous Female Scientists

#21. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979): African-American Female who Discovered The Composition of The Stars

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin famous?

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a brilliant scientist who made huge contributions to the field of astronomy. She was born in Buckinghamshire, England but died in Massachusetts, USA.

She was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University’s Radcliffe College.

Her most famous accomplishment was discovering that stars were mostly composed of hydrogen and helium gas—a theory that was later confirmed with data from other scientists. She also worked on solving problems related to stellar evolution and stellar structure. Payne-Gaposchkin’s research also helped establish that temperature could aid in the classification of stars.

What is the best Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin quote?

“There is nothing personal in the thunderclap of understanding. The lightning that releases it comes outside oneself.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Brown University Department of Physics]

#20. Charlotte Angas Scott (1858-1931): The First British Woman To Graduate with a Doctorate in Mathematics

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Charlotte Angas Scott famous?

Charlotte Angas Scott was a British mathematician who graduated from Girton College at the University of Cambridge in 1880. 

In 1885, Scott became the first British woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics. She achieved this at the University of London. Since Cambridge University wasn’t awarding degrees to women by then, Scott received her degrees from the University of London.

Scott is best known for her work on the development of US mathematics. She also promoted mathematical education for women.

What is the best Charlotte Angas Scott quote?

“A friendship of peoples is the outcome of personal relations. A life’s work such as that of professor Charlotte Angas Scott is worth more to the world than many anxious efforts of diplomatists.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia.com]

#19. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848): The First Woman To Discover a Comet

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Caroline Herschel famous?

Caroline Herschel was a British-German astronomer who is famous for discovering the periodic comet and several others. 

Her discovery of a comet made her the first woman to achieve this feat. She is best known for discovering several comets (including one she discovered while working with her brother) and many nebulae.

She received the Gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828 for her work in astronomy.

What is the best Caroline Herschel quote?

“As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Gresham College]

#18. Rachel Carson (1907-1964): Saved lives by alerting people to the dangers of pesticides 

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Rachel Carson famous?

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and the author of Silent Spring, one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Carson was born in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She attended Chatham University (then Pennsylvania College for Women).

Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, was released in 1941. Carson later published The Sea Around Us in 1951. It became a bestseller and won the National Book Award for nonfiction. This book was followed by The Edge of the Sea (1955).

In 1962 she published Silent Spring, which discussed the impact pesticides had on birds, fish, and other wildlife. This book caused an uproar among chemical companies because it questioned whether spraying pesticides on crops was safe for people or not. 

The book led President John F. Kennedy to name an independent commission investigating pesticide use in agriculture. This commission eventually recommended that all agricultural use of DDT be banned because it had been found to cause cancer in humans who were exposed to it through food or water supplies.

What is the best Rachel Carson quote?

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Pittsburgh Magazine]

#17. Wally Funk (1939-present): The Youngest Army Flight Instructor and 1st Female astronaut in USA 

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Wally Funk famous?

Mary Wallace Funk, a commercial astronaut, is a pioneer of the skies and an aviator.  She was born in New Mexico and holds the record for the oldest woman to go to space.

After graduation, Funk became the youngest woman person to be a flight instructor in the US military. But that wasn’t enough: Mary Wallace wanted more than just a fight instructor position. She became the first female to be a flight inspector in 1971.

Wallace Funk also took part in the Mercury 13 program, where she received the third-highest score.

What is the best Wally Funk quote?

 “I’ve been in the Concorde, I’ve seen the curvature of the Earth, the beginning of the darkness. I want more-I want to go up there.”

[Sources: CBS News, Space.com]

#16. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917): The First Female Medical Doctor in Britain

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Elizabeth Garrett Anderson famous?

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was an English physician and social reformer. She was the first female doctor of medicine to be admitted to practice in Britain.

Garrett struggled in her pursuit of knowledge since medical schools such as Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh refused to admit her. She managed to get her certification from the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries by utilizing a loophole.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is famous for establishing London’s New Hospital for Women and Children. She is also known for advocating for women’s rights, particularly regarding education and work opportunities. 

When she attended medical school, women were not allowed to attend under their own names or study alongside men. Instead, they had to take classes secretly in private homes or at night schools that were often taught by male doctors.

Among her numerous firsts, she served as England’s first woman mayor.

What is the best Elizabeth Garrett Anderson quote?

“When I felt rather overcome with my father’s opposition, I said as firmly as I could, that I must have this or something else, that I could not live without some real work.”

[Sources: BBC]

#15. Grace Hopper (1906-1992): Developed One of The First Programming Languages

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Grace Hopper famous?

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was a renowned American computer scientist who served as a US Navy Rear Admiral.

Hers is a prominent name in the world of computing. She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She was also instrumental in developing one of the first programming languages, COBOL.

Grace Murray Hopper received several military and non-military awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

What is the best Grace Hopper quote?

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.”

[Sources: Yale News, Encyclopedia Britannica]

#14. Valentina Tereshkova (1937-present): The First Female To Travel To Space

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: TASS
Credits: TASS

What makes Valentina Tereshkova famous?

Valentina Tereshkova, the Russian cosmonaut, is a member of the lower house of the Russian federal assembly.

The former cosmonaut was the first woman to travel into space, where she spent about three days orbiting the Earth in Vostok 6. Her flight made her famous worldwide as she remains the only female to go to space by flying a solo mission.

Today, Tereshkova is still a prominent figure in Russia. She has served as a member of parliament since 2008. Recently in 2020, she suggested lifting the presidential term limits for Vladimir Putin.

Her achievement inspires other aspiring women scientists to take up careers in science and exploration.

What is the best Valentina Tereshkova quote?

“It doesn’t matter what country or what political system you are from. Space brings you together.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, History]

#13. Jane Goodall (1934-present): Anthropologist Who Researched Chimpanzees in East Africa

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Jane Goodall famous?

Jane Morris Goodall is an English anthropologist and dermatologist who has dedicated her life to studying chimpanzees. She is best known for her work in Tanzania, where she studied chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park from 1960 to 1962. 

Goodall’s research has led her to make several groundbreaking discoveries about chimpanzee behavior, including how they use tools and socialize. She also discovered that chimpanzees could be taught sign language, which had never been done before with other primates.

She is also the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), which works to protect wild animal habitats and promote sustainability worldwide.

In 1991, Goodall founded Roots & Shoots International, an environmental youth program encouraging young people to take action on issues like conservation, human rights, and animal welfare. 

She’s won countless awards for her work, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal (in life sciences).

What is the best Jane Goodall quote?

“Here we are, the most clever species ever to have lived. So how is it we can destroy the only planet we have?”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Guardian]

#12. Janet Taylor (1804-1870): Pioneer of Sea Navigation

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: Public Domain
Credits: Public Domain

What makes Janet Taylor famous?

Janet Taylor was an English-born meteorologist, mathematician, astronomer, and navigation expert. She was one of the first women to participate in making scientific instruments.

Taylor developed a mariner’s compass and sextant that received global recognition. The admiralty dismissed her calculator (mariner’s) though it was patented in 1834.

The Kings of the Netherlands and Prussia presented her with medals to recognize her tremendous work in navigation.

[Sources: Encyclopedia.com, Prabook]

#11. Beatrice Shilling (1909-1990): A Motorcycle Racer Who Developed The R.A.E Restrictor During World War II For The Allies

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Beatrice Shilling famous?

Beatrice Shilling was a British aeronautical engineer and a motorcycle racer. She is best known for her work on the iconic World War II fighter Merlin engine-powered planes. 

During the war, Shilling made a major discovery that changed the course of aviation history. She found a solution to the fighter plane’s engine stalling problem. 

Her invention, the R.A.E restrictor, enabled the British fighter planes to fly without the fear of the Carburettor flooding. This orifice remained famous until the invention of a pressure carburetor to act as a stop-gap.

Beatrice Shilling received several trophies and badges for her motor racing sport and honors for her aeronautics work.

[Sources: BBC News, Kenley Revival]

Top 10 Female Scientists

#10. Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (1840-1912): A Physician Who Championed For Women’s Rights in Britain

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Sophia Louisa Jex-Blade famous?

Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake was an English teacher, physician, and feminist who is most famous for her fight for women’s rights in education.

When she applied to Harvard University’s Medical School in 1867, her application was rejected because she was female. But that didn’t stop her. As part of the Edinburgh seven, Jex-Blake secured admission into the University of Edinburgh to pursue medicine.

She wasn’t just motivated by wanting to be a doctor. She wanted to do it while fighting against gender discrimination. And so, when she got into the school, she immediately began establishing herself as one of the women activists.

Jex-Blade took part in establishing medical colleges for women at a time when women weren’t allowed into medical schools.

What is the best Sophia Jex-Blade quote?

“It is a grand thing to enter the very first British University ever opened to women, isn’t it?”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia.com]

#9. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): NASA Hidden Figure whose legacy broke down the social barriers

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: epws.org
Credits: epws.org

What makes Katherine Johnson famous?

Katherine Johnson’s story is one of the most inspiring in American history. She was an African-American mathematician who worked alongside NASA astronauts and helped them get to space.

The mathematician is best known for her contributions to NASA’s space program—particularly her work on the spaceflights of John Glenn and Alan Shepard. But she also helped create the algorithms that were used to calculate orbital trajectories for all of the early American crewed spaceflights.

In fact, Johnson’s work was so influential that it earned her a presidential award—when President Barack Obama presented her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

What is the best Katherine Johnson quote?

“I like to learn. That’s an art and a science.”

[Sources: NASA, Encyclopedia Britannica]

#8. Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967): A Botanist Who Was Among The First Women To Serve in World War I

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Helen Gwynne-Vaughan famous?

Helen Gwynne-Vaughan was an English mycologist and botanist born in London.

 Her life was a series of accomplishments that would make any young woman today feel like a slacker.

She became one of the first women to serve in World War I as part of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

After the war ended, she returned to research and teaching at Birkbeck College. She continued to break ground with her work on fungal diseases and taxonomy. Gwynne-Vaughan was named professor of botany at Birkbeck college in 1921.

Gwynne-Vaughan was known for her wit as well as her work ethic. She is one of the people who laid the foundations for women’s air services.

What is the best Helen Gwynne-Vaughan quote?

[Sources: King’s College London, English Heritage]

#7. Inge Lehmann (1888-1993): The Person Who Discovered The Earth’s Inner Core

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Inge Lehmann famous?

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Inge Lehmann rose to become a prominent geophysicist and seismologist.

Her most notable accomplishment was her discovery of the Earth’s inner core. She was the first person to realize that earthquakes are not just surface disturbances but the result of deep-down shifts in the planet’s crust and mantle—and that volcanoes do not necessarily cause these shifts. She discovered that the Earth’s inner core is solid.

Lehmann was also one of the first female geologists to have her ideas taken seriously and published in professional journals.

Inge Lehman received several awards for her achievements in the field of science. She was the recipient of the Gordon Wood Award, among other honors.

What is the best Inge Lehmann quote?

“You should know how many incompetent men I had to compete with-in vain.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Vox ]

#6. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994): A Nobel Prize-Winning Chemist

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Dorothy Hodgkin famous?

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin was an Egyptian-born British chemist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964 for her research on the structures of important biochemical substances.

Hodgkin’s research focused on determining the structures of complex molecules by analyzing how they diffract X-rays. She solved several important problems related to protein structure, including that of penicillin and vitamin B12. 

In addition to winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry, Hodgkin was named a fellow of the Royal Society and awarded many honorary degrees from universities around the world.

What is the best Dorothy Hodgkin quote?

“I was captured for life by chemistry and by crystals.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Nobel Prize ]

#5. Barbara McClintock (1902-1992): The Person Who Discovered Transposition of Genetic Markers

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Barbara McClintock famous?

Barbara McClintock was an American-born scientist who studied the genetics of corn plants and was the first to map their chromosomes. 

McClintock is well-known for her discovery of the transposition of genetic markers, which she identified after noticing that genes in maize could be moved around on chromosomes. This discovery was revolutionary at the time because it helped the scientific community understand how cells functioned and made them realize that genes could move around during development. 

Barbara McClintock was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1983) and several other awards.

 What is the best Barbara McClintock quote?

“I never thought of stopping, and I just hated sleeping. I can’t imagine having a better life.”

[Sources: The Nobel Prize, Barbara McClintock]

#4. Lise Meitner (1878-1968): A Pioneer in Nuclear Physics 

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Lise Meitner famous?

Lise Meitner, the German Marie Curie, was an Austrian-born Swedish physicist who studied radioactivity and nuclear fission. 

She attended the University of Vienna, where she studied physics and mathematics. Meitner was among the first to earn a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna.

Meitner is most famous for her work with Otto Hahn on nuclear physics. She discovered Protactinium-231 and was the first to recognize that Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman had discovered nuclear fission instead of just transuranic elements. She also made contributions to understanding the process of nuclear fission in uranium.

Meitner was nominated 48 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry between 1924 and 1965. But she didn’t win any due to political obtuseness, disciplinary bias, haste, and ignorance.

What is the best Lise Meitner quote?

“I will have nothing to do with a bomb!”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Life of Meitner]

#3. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012): The Person Who Discovered The Nerve Growth Factor

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Rita Levi-Montalcini famous?

Rita Levi-Montalcini was a Nobel prize-winning Italian neuroscientist. She was born in Turin, Italy, to a Jewish family. 

Although she received her medical degree from the University of Turin, Benito Mussolini’s Manifesto of Race cut short her academic career.

During World War II, Levi-Montalcini studied nerve cells in a private lab in her bedroom. Her most famous research came about when she discovered nerve growth factor (NGF) in chicken embryos.

For her achievements, Rita Levi-Montalcini became a Senator for Life in 2001 when Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the then president of Italy, appointed her to the senate.

In 1986 she won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Stanley Cohen for their contributions to the discovery of NGF ( nerve growth factor).

What is the best Rita Levi-Montalcini quote?

“If I die tomorrow or in a year, it is the same —it is the message you leave behind you that counts.”

[Sources: The Nobel Prize, Annual Reviews with Rita Levi-Montalcini]

#2. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958): Discovered The Double Helical DNA Structure

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Rosalind Franklin famous?

Rosalind Franklin was an English X-ray crystallographer and chemist who is best known for her work with the structure of DNA and viruses. 

Franklin’s major contribution to science came when she used X-rays to create a three-dimensional image of DNA. Using this technique, she discovered that DNA has a helical structure. This breakthrough led directly to James Watson and Francis Crick’s model of DNA.

Franklin died prematurely at age 37 due to ovarian cancer, which was likely caused by her exposure to radiation during her research.

Although Rosalind Franklin did not receive a Nobel Prize nomination, her work helped James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins bag the award.

What is the best Rosalind Franklin quote?

“Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Kings Medicine]

#1. Marie S. Curie (1867-1934): A Pioneer in Radioactivity 

Famous Female Scientists : Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org
Credits: CommonsWikipedia.org

What makes Marie Curie famous?

Marie Curie was a Polish-born scientist who studied the phenomenon of radioactivity. She was the first female scientist to receive a Nobel Prize, which she won in 1903 and again in 1911. 

Curie is best known for her research on radiation and radioactivity, which won her two Nobel Prizes: one for chemistry and one for physics. She contributed to the race for cancer treatment. Marie Curie is also famous for discovering radium and polonium.

Pierre and Marie Curie are the first married couple to win a Nobel Prize.

She holds many firsts, including:

  • the only woman in the Brussels’ Solvay Conference.
  • the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
  • the first person to win two Nobel Prizes.
  • the first person to win the prize in two distinct fields.

She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia, which was likely caused by exposure to radiation during her career. 

Marie S. Curie was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, among other awards.

What is the best Marie Curie quote?

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

[Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, News Think]

Final Thoughts

As you can see, all of the scientists have one thing in common. They not only achieved something incredible but also started their work with a desire to better their world.

Picking out 21 scientists from among the many incredible female scientists in the world was not easy. Although we feel female scientists like Sarah Stevenson, the first female member of the AMA (American Medical Association), did not make our list, they equally earned their respect in the field of science.

Which scientists do you feel we should have included in the list?


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Joannah W.
Joannah has been a science publisher with close to 20 years of experience. She wants to help students and researchers stay ahead of the trends and developments in the science community by making science more accessible to everyone.

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