- June 15, 2020
Women and science
Theworld has undergone a tremendous transformation over the last coupleof centuries. Throughout this period, humanity has made discoveriesthat earlier societies could not even have imagined. However, throughthis journey, women have been on the receiving end as communitiescontinuously segregated them to the traditional role of nurturing andlooking after their home. However, this did not deter them in theireffort to make valuable contributions to the changing world. Justlike they had proven unstoppable during the Renaissance andhumanistic movements, the scientific revolution in the 17thand 18thcenturies presented a new opportunity for women to make significantstrides in this new wave of possibilities (Watts, 2013). This wasnot received well by their male counterpart who used the newknowledge to further push the notion that women were inferior to men.However, their resilience paid off as women have become leaders indifferent fields of science in the world today. The paper provided ananalysis of the role of women in the scientific revolution in the18thcentury. It also evaluates their role in science in today’ssociety.
Womenin the scientific revolution
Thescientific revolution refers to the early period of modern times whensociety made great progress in the fields of astronomy, physics,mathematics, chemistry and biology. The new knowledge that emergedduring this period completely transformed the society’s view onnature. Though women had begun to emerge from the corner that societyhad contained them to for centuries, their desires to make a valuablecontribution were repressed by men who thought science was not aplace for women (Baker, 2016). However, there are those thatpersevered through the persecution and backlash from family andrelatives just to get an opportunity to leave a mark in the world.The section below evaluates the contribution of these women and thesymbolic significance of their contribution to the scientificenvironment that their counterparts enjoy in today’s world.
MariaSibylla Merian is the first woman who made a sizable contribution tothe scientific revolution. Born in 1647, she was widely rememberedmore as an artist than a woman of science. However, her childhoodlove for collecting specimens in the field provided her with aplatform where she could make valuable contributions in the field ofbotany. By the time of her death in 1717, she had published a totalof six collections of engravings that had in-depth research of flowerand insect species found in Europe (Kuhn, 2010). Maria’s passionsaw her travel to South America in a bid to expand her knowledge. Inother words, the world had already met an established naturalist twocenturies before Charles Darwin came along.
Anotherperson who had a major contribution was Emilie Du Chatelet. ThisFrench woman made major strides as a scientist, and her contributionsopened doors for many women. Her adamant need for knowledge saw herget accepted into the scientific and mathematical circle of Paris.She soon earned a reputation as a physics after she successfullyinterpreted and translated scientific theories proposed by famousscholar Isaac Newton (Watts, 2013). Her determination saw herreplicate some of his famous experiments. Once forbidden to enter afamous joint for major scholars from different fields, she decided todress up as a man just to gain entry. Though her feminism was put inquestion at every juncture, her resilience allowed her to clear theway for aspiring scientists of her era.
Ifthere is a scientist who endured more challenges than Maria SibyllaMerian, it would be Margaret Cavendish. This British aristocratfought many battles just to get a chance to contribute to thescientific revolution, after successfully teaching herself astronomyand mathematics, Margaret produced a total of sixteen books thatranged from atomic physics to natural history among many others(Kuhn, 2010). Her contributions notwithstanding, she was neverinducted into the Royal Society even though she was one allowed toattend a meeting. She was also a great critique of microscopes as shebelieved they were imperfect. However, her greatest achievement washeightened female interest in scientific fields which provide anavenue for them to make contributions in different areas.
Thoughmost of the early female scientists were home schooled orself-taught, universities were a great avenue where students would beimpacted with knowledge and use it to make vital contributions. Inthis respect, Laura Bassi made history by becoming the first femalefaculty in Europe’s oldest higher learning institution theUniversity of Bologna (Watts, 2013). Though there were other womenwho had taught in midwifery schools, she was the first woman to teachat a university. While in the institution, she published severalscientific papers in mathematics, hydric and physics. The positionnot only allowed her to impact knowledge on future scientists, but italso enabled her to develop scientific concepts that were latercapitalized to enable man to make major strides.
Anotherwoman who made a significant impact in the field of science duringthe revolution was Maria Agnes, an Italian-born girl who could read,write and speak in seven languages by the time she was nine. By age20, she was already teaching her brothers and had also startedworking on a calculus textbook. By the time of its completion in1748, the book was termed as the most comprehensive calculus kit withsome of her formulas remaining viable to date (Kuhn, 2010). Known asthe second woman to earn a Ph. D, she became the head of thephilosophy and mathematic departments at the University of Bologna.One of her surviving algebraic solution that is still in use today isthe Witch of Agnesi.
Thecontribution of women in the scientific revolution was not onlyconstricted in Europe as American women also made a mark on thisrevolution. Though educated in England, Eliza Lucas Pinckney was awoman who possessed a great interest in the field of botany. Afterlosing her husband, she dedicated herself to caring for her childrenin South Carolina. It was during this endeavour that she developedthe improved strain of the indigo plant which was the source of theblue dye. This biological milestone was vital as the plant became thelargest export from the state.
Therewere other women who played significant roles during the scientificrevolution. Caroline Herschel was a German woman who re-establishedwomen role in astronomy by becoming a major partner in research foradvances in the field. In addition to becoming a major researcher,she was the first woman to discover a comet and her efforts wererecognized by King George III who gave her royal spends. ElenaPiscopia was the first lady to earn a Ph.D. though she never went onto teach, her achievement showed people that it was possible forwomen to achieve the highest level of academic excellence.
Itis impossible for one to fully exhaust the women who played a roleduring the scientific revolution. The women listed above are examplesof some of the contributions made during this era by female scholarswho made a decision to defy all odds. Though conventional wisdom haspointed out that the period did very little to change the perceptionsociety held about women, one cannot underscore the fact that thesewomen laid the groundwork upon which great scientific minds who areof the female gender have use to rise to their current status.However, the achievements came at a substantial cost as is evident insome of the cases. The section below evaluates the benefits of thatsacrifice by analysing the role women play in the field of sciencetoday.
Womenrole in science in the 21stcentury
Sincethe turn of the century, a lot has changed in regards to women rolein scientific ventures. The move has been necessitated by the changein society about the female gender. From the 20thcenturies, people around the world have been pushing for equalopportunities for both men and women. This campaign seems to havepaid off as the role of women in fields of science has significantlychanged and now they are leaders in almost all field. There is somestatistical evidence which points to the achievement made by womenover the last couple of years.
Anevaluation of medical and doctorate degrees in fields like biomedicalscience shows that 50% of the recipient are women. Additionally,undergraduate degrees in the fields of physical science andmathematics show the same statistics (Baker, 2016). The only fieldswhere women are stull underrepresented are in engineering andcomputing. The generational shift from the trends observed in thesection above can be credited to the increased number of women whoare enrolling in higher education programs. The Recent push bydifferent stakeholders to have gender equality in these fields hasalso played a role in boosting the number of women leaders in thesescientific fields. The growth noted, recognition of women leaders isstill a challenge, but this is an issue that affects not only thefield of science but also other areas like politics and business.
Perhapsthe best measure of the achievements made by women in recent time canbe evaluated through the Nobel peace prize. These are awards thatwere invented at the beginning of the 20thcentury with the aim of awarding the best performers in therespective fields. Since its inception, only ten women had receivedthe prestigious price by the turn of the century. However, the tideseems to be changing in favour of women. This is because from2001-2010, an additional six ladies who are leaders in differentscientific fields have received the prize and this shows how farwomen have come to be able to compete equally with men in thedifferent fields (Baker, 2016). There are some major inventions thathave been produced by women in recent years.
In1995, a German scientist, Christiane Nüsslein made a discovery thathelped in the identification of genes which control the body’searly development. In 2004, Linda B. Buck discovered smell receptorsand the way the olfactory system is organized. Lastly, in 2009, CarolW. Greider and Elizabeth H. Blackburn jointly discovered howchromosomes in the human body re protected by telomeres and thetelomerase enzyme (Baker, 2016). These are just but examples of thecontributions that today`s women are bringing to the table. Thesecontributions are vital as they have continued to advance scientificknowledge that continues to save millions of lives every passing day.
Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that women have been a vitalcomponent in enabling the society to achieve the scientificmilestones that have been attained in recent times. The progress madecould not have been attained had the society continued to uphold anoutdated culture that segregated women to house roles and placed heras an inferior being in comparison to her male counterpart. The paperhas shown how the little contribution by the ladies who were engagedin scientific fields during the revolution played a vital part ofsetting a platform which has been used by later generations to makeunimaginable discoveries. Thus, it is important for the globalsociety to continue pushing for equality as this will offer morewomen opportunities to break from the cocoon that have been placed onthem by people who are unprogressively and attain their fullpotentials. Additionally, there is a need to demand greater measureand political consequences for communities that continue to denywomen equal opportunities. These efforts will go far in ensuring thatwomen globally have a chance to give their contribution to thebetterment of the world.
Baker,D. R. (2016). Equity issues in science education. In UnderstandingGirls (pp. 127-160). SensePublishers.
Kuhn,T. (2010). The Scientific Revolution. Philosophy of Science forNursing Practice: Concepts and Application, 87.
Watts,R. (2013). Women in science: a social and cultural history.Routledge.