A look back at the inspiring achievements by women scientists in 2014

We are all aware that women are underrepresented in many scientific fields, and that we see this division even more clearly at leadership positions and at the highest levels of science, where only 3% of women have won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physics or Chemistry (one of whom we honor in this article!). However, women are also making incredible strides in scientific fields and helping to further developments in many areas. Here are a few of the highlights from 2014 that we have picked out!

Maryam Mirzakhani becomes the first woman (and first Iranian!) to win the Fields Medal


The Fields Medal, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, was established in 1936. Yet, until this year, not one woman had received the honor of being awarded what is also known as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics”. Mirzakhani was presented with the Medal on August 13th, at the International Congress of Mathematicians, held in Seoul, South Korea.


Her work, as well as this international recognition, is an inspiration to aspiring mathematicians and we tip our hat to this brilliant and creative Stanford professor!


India succeeds in placing a satellite into orbit around Mars


On September 24, India succeeded in placing a satellite into orbit around Mars, for an astounding $74 million, compared to the U.S.’s $671 million Mars mission! The internet soon exploded with a touching photo of women employees of the Mars Orbit Mission celebrating the success and embracing in colorful saris. The photo serves as a reminder of the important role that women occupy in scientific missions, and it also serves to remind us that we still have a ways to go before we reach gender equality in all scientific fields (only one out of ten scientists on the Mars Mission is a woman).


May-Britt Moser wins Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine:


May-Britt Moser and her husband Edvard were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with John O’Keefe, for their “discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”. This Norwegian psychologist, neuroscientist and founding director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for the Biology of Memory joins a very short list of incredibly qualified and brilliant women who have won a Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physics, or Chemistry since 1901. In total, only 16 women have won this prestigious award over the past 113 years, out of 575 Nobel Prize winners. In other words, 2.78% of Nobel Laureates are women.


We are happy to see another strong woman added to this prestigious list, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that a female Physicist will join soon!


Rosetta Mission


On November 12th, the European Space Agency succeeded in landing a spacecraft known as Philae on a 2-and-a-half mile-wide comet moving through space at 84,000 mph, as part of the Rosetta Mission to understand comet mysteries. Previously, Rosetta had become the first aircraft to orbit a comet nucleus.


Claudia Alexander is one member of this passionate team, who has waited 15 years to see this mission succeed. In her scientific career, this 55 year-old NASA scientist reports that “there were times I was not taken seriously when I came in a room. I do remember one time I was mistaken for the secretary.”


First woman appointed as director general of CERN


Fabiola Gianotti has made a name for herself as one of the most distinguished scientists at CERN, largely accepted as the greatest particle physics research center in the world. From 2009 to 2013, she headed the Atlas mission, one of two main projects to detect the Higgs (a particle that gives mass to atoms, but had proved elusive to pinpoint). On November 4th, it was announced that she would be the next director general of CERN, taking over in 2016. What’s more, she is the first woman to occupy this position! This feat may be even more impressive, considering the fact that only 20% of the Atlas team she directed was female.


The Mars Rover “Curiosity” and the women behind it!


On June 24, the Mars Rover Curiosity celebrated one full Martian year exploring the Red Planet. According to Nasa’s website, “Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s habitability."


To celebrate its Martian anniversary, NASA hosted the “Women’s Curiosity Day”, to honor the contribution that women made to the mission, as well as feature strong role models for the next generation of scientists! Approximately 100 people (75 of whom were women) gathered to fill the Operation jobs for the Rover.


Want to meet some of the women working on these exciting jobs? Check them out here!


The Fight against Ebola


The Ebola virus has presented an extreme challenge to the global community. Thousands of doctors, nurses and researchers are fighting this epidemic tirelessly, to control the spread, and treat those infected. Pardis Sabeti is one such computational biologist, and medical and evolutionary geneticist, who is heading a team to analyze the virus’s genetics code, in order to create more effective drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for Ebola.


She has been personally touched by the virus, and we see her passion and motivation behind the work she is doing. Find out more here.

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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