5 researchers reveal their unsung heroines of science for IWD 2019

4 Mar 2019

Image: © Christin Lola/Stock.adobe.com

Ahead of International Women’s Day, five researchers reveal who they think needs more recognition from the world at large.

After decades – if not centuries – of being overlooked, some of the world’s greatest ever scientists who happen to be women are finally becoming household names, such as Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton and Jocelyn Bell Burnell. There has also been the recognition of famous women as leading scientists, such as Hedy Lamarr, who went from being known as an actress to helping invent Wi-Fi as we know it today.

Of course, there are many more that continue to be left in the shadows of the famous men of history. With International Women’s Day right around the corner (8 March), we asked a number of leading scientists across the world who they see as their unsung hero of science, as part of our Science Uncovered series. As it turns out, quite a few of them are women you might not have heard of before.

So, here are just five that we’ve picked out as being worthy of celebrating now and in the years ahead.

Prof Mike Benton – University of Bristol

In her day, Mary Anning was unsung, and it took until the last 20 or 30 years for her story to be brought fully to the fore.

Her misfortune was probably to be both poor and female at a time when only independently wealthy persons could be scientists or writers. Famously, she found the first marine reptiles in the Jurassic rocks around Lyme Regis in Dorset, and she discussed and illustrated the specimens with professors and patrons who acquired the specimens for museums in London, Cambridge and Bristol.

Prof Mike Benton has worked at the University of Bristol since 1989. He has written extensively about dinosaurs and geological time, and has published more than 400 academic papers and 50 books.

Prof Séamus Davis – University College Cork

Vera Rubin, the first person to provide evidence for the existence of dark matter. She is unsung in that she did not receive the Nobel Prize, yet she did receive other prizes in recognition of her groundbreaking research.

Prof Séamus Davis is the head of a joint Irish-UK quantum research programme split between University College Cork and the University of Oxford.

Dr Ashley Shew – Virginia Tech

Alice Wong is not a scientist, but she’s an important figure in current disability activism and disability pride. Her work on the Disability Visibility Project with NPR’s StoryCorps has meant so much to my own understanding of disability and narrative.

Dr Ashley Shew is assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology and Society at Virginia Tech.

Dr Marion McAfee – IT Sligo/I-Form

Electronic engineer Máire McLoone [O’Neill] from Donegal is a real hero of mine. She is a professor of cybersecurity at Queen’s University Belfast, and at 32 she was the youngest ever professor at the university, and [in 2017 she became] the youngest person ever to have been made a fellow of the Royal Irish Academy.

She is also a mother to three young kids. It is not long ago that it would be unheard of for a young woman from rural Ireland to be an engineer, never mind one who is world renowned for contributions to something that is so fundamental to modern society. I think that is worth celebrating!

Dr Marion McAfee is a lecturer in mechatronic engineering at IT Sligo and a researcher at the Science Foundation Ireland advanced manufacturing research centre I-Form.

Erin McAweeney – Data and Society Research Institute

Rumman Chowdhury is the head of responsible AI for Accenture and has carved her space out between data science and ‘humanity.’ She tackles questions in the grey areas of algorithmic bias and isn’t afraid to advocate for human wellbeing over statistical model accuracy.

Erin McAweeney is a research analyst at the Data and Society Research Institute.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic