3 Unsung Women Who Changed Science Forever

05/05/2015 08:50 am ET | Updated May 05, 2015


Some of history's unsung innovators get their due in the new book Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science -- and the World by Rachel Swaby. A sample of the distinguished discoverers....

By Zoe Donaldson

  • Marie Tharp (1920-2006)
    The Granger Collection
    Field: Oceanographic cartography

    Big Deal: A keen mapmaker, Tharp worked to plot the ocean floor, still uncharted territory in the first half of the 20th century. By the late 1950s, her relief maps revealed a massive rift in the mid-Atlantic ridge—a wave-making discovery that helped finally give credence to the theory of continental drift.
  • Nettie Stevens (1861-1912)
    Science Photo Library
    Field: Genetics

    Big Deal: In 1905, Stevens published a radical paper arguing that an animal's sex was determined by chromosomal combinations rather than environmental factors, as some believed. How'd she figure it out? By scrutinizing chromosomes extracted from mealworms, termites and other insects.
  • Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
    Field: Computer science

    Big Deal: Decades before Silicon Valley, Hopper, a math professor, created the first computer program to automatically translate typed instructions into machine-readable code. And the computer term bug? Hopper and her team at Harvard popularized it after finding an actual moth in an early prototype.

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