As the world marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February 2024, it is a moment to honour the trailblazers who have paved the way for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

This day serves as a powerful reminder of the essential role that gender equality plays in achieving scientific and technological advances. Despite the challenges, women across the globe continue to break barriers, inspire future generations, and contribute significantly to the STEM fields. In this article, we celebrate the achievements of a few inspirational women whose work and dedication have made a lasting impact on the world of science.

This years theme

The theme for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2024 is “Women & Girls in Science Leadership: A New Era for Sustainability.” This theme emphasises the crucial role of female leadership in science for advancing sustainability goals globally.

We celebrate the achievements of a few inspirational women whose work and dedication have made a lasting impact on the world of science.

Marie Curie: A Pioneer of Radioactivity

Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win a Nobel in two different sciences (Physics and Chemistry), remains an enduring icon of scientific excellence. Her pioneering research on radioactivity laid the groundwork for significant advances in medicine and physics, demonstrating the profound impact that women can have in STEM.

Katherine Johnson: The Mathematician Who Reached for the Stars

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first U.S. crewed spaceflights, embodies the spirit of perseverance and brilliance. Her story, highlighted in the book and film “Hidden Figures,” showcases the vital contributions of women to space exploration and science.

Tu Youyou: A Lifesaver through Traditional Medicine

Tu Youyou, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015, discovered artemisinin, which has saved millions of lives from malaria. Her work, inspired by ancient Chinese herbal texts, underscores the importance of diverse approaches and knowledge in advancing medical science.

Gitanjali Rao: A Teen Innovator for Social Change

Gitanjali Rao, a young scientist and inventor named TIME’s first-ever “Kid of the Year” in 2020, symbolises the new generation of women in STEM. With inventions addressing issues from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying, Rao exemplifies how young women are leading the way in using science for social good.

Jane Goodall: A Voice for the Voiceless

Jane Goodall, a primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist, transformed our understanding of chimpanzees and their social and family interactions. Her groundbreaking studies in Gombe, Tanzania, advocate for environmental conservation and animal welfare, highlighting the critical role of empathy and observation in scientific discovery.

These women, among countless others, illustrate the breadth and depth of contributions that women have made to science and technology. However, the journey towards gender equality in STEM is far from over. Women still face significant barriers to full participation and leadership in science. As we celebrate their achievements, let us also commit to fostering an environment that supports and encourages the participation of women and girls in science. By promoting gender equality in STEM, we can unlock a future of unlimited potential, where scientific and technological innovations benefit from the full range of human diversity.

In the UK, institutions and organisations are actively celebrating and promoting the participation of women and girls in science, emphasising their achievements and contributions to the STEM fields. For instance, Loughborough University is marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2024 with a special event featuring a panel discussion and photo exhibition, showcasing the academic journeys of female academics from the School of Science. This event aims to engage and inspire by discussing the significant contributions and participation of women in science​.

King’s College London is also taking significant steps to support women in STEM through initiatives like the Women in Science Season, a month-long celebration between the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women’s Day. The event includes inspirational talks and panel discussions aiming to address inequality in STEM through an intersectional lens. Additionally, King’s College London offers Women in STEM Scholarships to support outstanding female candidates during their undergraduate study, particularly encouraging applications from Black and Mixed Black Heritage home students​.

Highlighting inspirational UK women in science, Rosalind Franklin’s work on X-ray diffraction was crucial in discovering the DNA double helix, while Ada Lovelace is celebrated as the world’s first computer programmer for her work on the Analytical Engine. These women, among others and above, have made ground-breaking contributions to their fields, overcoming barriers and paving the way for future generations of female scientists​.

These initiatives and stories of inspirational women in science from the UK are part of a broader effort to promote gender equality in STEM fields, ensuring that women’s contributions are recognized and celebrated, and encouraging more young women and girls to pursue careers in science.

Recommended books

For those looking to explore and be inspired by the stories of women in science, a variety of books cater to all ages, showcasing the achievements and challenges of women who have made significant contributions to STEM fields.

Here are some highly recommended reads:

For younger audiences, books like “Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and Ada Twist, Scientist by the same author are great for kindergarteners to third graders, featuring stories of perseverance in engineering and curious scientific exploration. Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang is another fantastic choice that delves into the life of a pioneering marine biologist.

Children readers would enjoy “The Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer L. Holm, which introduces science through a story of family and discovery and Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science” by Jeannine Atkins, a novel in verse about three real-life scientists.

For older kids and teens, “Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World” by Winifred Conkling, offers a glimpse into the lives of two female physicists, and “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, an autobiographical account of a lifelong passion for science.

Additionally, “Fantastically Great Women Scientists and their Stories” by Kate Pankhurst, “Marie Curie and Her Daughters” by Shelley Emling, and “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” by Rachel Ignotofsky are beautifully illustrated books that share the stories of inspirational female scientists in an accessible manner for children. The “Little People, Big Dreams” series also features scientists like Mary Anning and Jane Goodall, providing engaging mini-biographies for curious young minds.

These books not only celebrate the work and dedication of women in science but also serve to inspire the next generation of girls to pursue their interests in STEM fields.

Join us at WeAreTechWomen to celebrate all Women and Girls in Science. Let us renew our commitment to breaking down the barriers that hold women back in STEM fields. Let’s inspire the next generation of women to dream big, reach for the stars and achieve their full potential in science and beyond. The stories of these inspirational women serve as a beacon of hope and a call to action: to empower, include and celebrate women’s contributions to science today, for a brighter and more equitable tomorrow.