Uncredited Genius: stolen success in STEM

You are currently viewing Uncredited Genius: stolen success in STEM

Words:Tess Hardy (she/her)

The prosperity, innovation, and advancements in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, or STEM, is recognised by annual award ceremonies most notably the Nobel Prize. There have been 346 Nobel Prizes awarded in the Science Categories: Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine or Physiology.

26 to Women. 320 to Men. 

The world of “STEM” has an infamous reputation coded in sexism and misogyny, the discoveries of women have been the backbone of scientific development. The prize winners (a common motif within the prominent figures of life) are most often old, cis, white men. The voices of generations of women are callously silenced and their successes snubbed. Their intellectual property and groundbreaking discoveries that have changed the course of history have been stolen entirely. Examples of  outright theft: discoveries plucked from the hands of our legendary ladies and credit passed on to the white man in his white coat.

What do these all have in common?   

  • The structure of DNA
  • Nuclear Fission 
  • The Cure for Leprosy
  • The development of electronic frequencies.

No, it’s not that they are some of the most groundbreaking scientific discoveries that have been made.

They were all discoveries made by women, and stolen from them. 

Rosalind Franklin is the uncredited discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA. Franklin was fierce and, according to her fellow (male) scientists, ‘short tempered and stubborn’. So much so that they claimed to find working with her to be a ‘challenge’. 

Oh Franklin, you would have loved DIVA by Beyoncé. 

She worked alongside Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick. Franklin had immediate beef with Wilkins; their conflicts leading them to work in relative isolation. Unknown to Franklin, Watson and Crick were right nosey nannies and read some of her unpublished data, including the beautiful “Photograph 51“.  Photograph 51 is treated as the philosopher’s stone of molecular biology, the key to the “secret of life”. Using Franklin’s photograph, Watson and Crick created their famous DNA model. Franklin’s contribution was not acknowledged, and in 1962 Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize for Physiology. Franklin had died from ovarian cancer 4 years prior to this. She wasn’t mentioned once, leaving her as the wronged heroine of DNA. 

Dr Lisa Meitner was the Queen of Physics. She was one of the first women to earn a doctorate from the University of Vienna but fled after Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938. She moved to Sweden and began researching with her partner Otto Hahn (WARNING: MASSIVE ARSEHOLE). Meitner discovered nuclear fission, one of the most groundbreaking scientific discoveries made in history thus far. When publishing their research, Hahn conveniently left off mention of Meitner’s name. In 1944 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Meitner wasn’t mentioned once. In 1992, element 109 was named Meitnerium (Mt) in her honour. Many consider Lise Meitner the ‘most significant woman scientist of the 20th Century’.

Dr Alice Ball was the first woman and black American to get a PhD from the University of Hawai’i. She was also the first black chemistry professor. Big slay. She found the cure for leprosy, ‘The Ball Method’. Ball chemically modified Chaulmoogra oil to become water soluble to be absorbed by the body. Unfortunately, Ball died at only 24 years old. But her story doesn’t end there. Her advisor Arthur Dean (I think you know where this is going) continued the trials of her treatment. Dean published a method of extracting the active ingredient in chaulmoogra oil without acknowledging the research by Ball. It was known as the ‘Dean Method’. 

Hedy Lamarr was an actress turned inventor. She was a sexy scientist spy. Girlboss. She created a secret radio system that could frequency hop during WW2. She presented this invention to the Navy, but after claiming they didn’t want Lamarr’s technology they stole it for themselves. Lamarr’s work is with us everyday, she birthed Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. She is Mother. 

So, women have always been in STEM, and always will be. Even if forgotten, unacknowledged, robbed, or  ridiculed – women in STEM prosper whether we see them or not. Misogyny is grounded deep within the foundations of every aspect of modern society, with intellectual property ownership in STEM being no different. I want to highlight this theft of success; do we not owe that to these women? To amplify the voices of those affected by cruelty of men in hope of fostering a more equitable and inclusive community within science and engineering. I believe that is the true meaning of strength, to fly in the face of ignorance and continue on for the betterment of humanity. 

So, this is my love letter to all women who have been or are in STEM.

We see you and appreciate you.


5 1 vote
Article Rating

Leave a Reply

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments