Famous Women Chemical Engineers

Marie Curie

One morning this week, I heard an interesting but disheartening story on the BBC Radio. The story was called "Famous female scientists are unknown to UK public.

A survey, organised by the Royal Society, revealed that 90% of 18-24 year-olds could not name a female scientific figure--either current or historical.

That would mean that they could not name Marie Curie, or Florence Nightingale, Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin, or Jane Goodall. Half the respondents could name a famous male scientist (Albert Einstein topped the list).

Then, I was thinking of how many female chemical engineers have achieved high visibility and recognition. There are a few, and luckily the field is growing. First there are some who are National Academy of Engineering members, such as Kristi Anseth, Frances Arnold, Elisabeth Drake, Elizabeth Dussan, Alice Gast, Carol Hall, Ann Lee, and Miranda Yap.

Then there is Lisa Jackson, current head of the EPA, Dianne Dorland, the first woman president of AIChE (in 2003), and Maria Burka, AIChE's current president elect. There are probably many more as well.

Next year is the International Year of Chemistry. AIChE will be celebrating it as the de facto year of chemical engineering.

One of the focal points will be on women and minorities in the field. I hope that we all determine how we can increase the number of famous female chemical engineers.

What famous female chemical engineers do you know?

Marie Curie image via wikimedia commons


Keith's picture

Sorry to burst your bubble, but most Chem E's do not enter the field for fame. And if they did, I would question their motivation for choosing the field in the first place. Right after I would question their sanity for seeking "fame" in the engineering arena. No doubt the women you mention have notable achievements and have an impressive collection of research accomplishments. But worthy of fame? Be real, the giants upon whose shoulders we all stand had the benefit of being the first ones to really put the science into engineering. People like Reynolds, Nusselt, Gibbs, Langmuir, etc. may have become famous in the field of engineering, but they are hardly known outside of our closed little clique.

Nice topic. I think 'List of chemical engineers' from Wikipedia, is a good starting point... although I've only counted 3 women on the list.

ehorahan's picture

I think that it is important to point out that women were not allowed to even vote in the United States until August 26, 1920 whereas Marie Curie had already discovered Polonium and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics by the end of 1903 (She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911). Florence Nightingale passed in 1910 and Rosalind Franklin was just one month old when the 19th Amendment was certified.

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