Nobel Chemistry Prize Won By Two Women

Are the sciences becoming an equal playing field?

Historically, the sciences have been a man’s world. Even as women entered the workforce, climbed the ranks and thrived in many fields of academia, STEM has always failed to attract an equal number of men and women.

It is worth noting that this disparity varies across the different sciences- with the life sciences being far more equal than physics or engineering. However, even within fields with even numbers at undergraduate level the higher levels of academia and research are to this day still more or less entirely male dominated.

When one looks at the Nobel Laureates of physics, chemistry and medicine or physiology one sees a very long list of men. This year, for the first time, a two woman team were awarded a Nobel Chemistry Prize, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were the sixth and seventh women to achieve the accolade (of 184 total laureates). It was awarded for their work on CRISPR-cas9, a gene editing technique allowing scientists to edit DNA.

It is widely regarded as one of the major scientific breakthroughs of the century thus far and the effects of this technology will undoubtedly advance the medical sciences greatly. Charpentier said she hopes this will show young girls the effect they can have in the sciences; a sentiment echoed by Andrea Ghez, one of this years Nobel Physics prize laureates. She is one of only four women to be awarded this (the first of whom was Marie Curie in 1903).

This reverses a concerning precedent established in the early 20th century when many women were passed over and denied recognition. From Lise Meitners’ discovery of nuclear fission, to Rosalind Franklins’ DNA X-ray crystallography, women in STEM’s work was often stolen or ignored. On top of these academic snubs, it was harder for them to establish careers, secure funding and publish work. These early pioneers paved the way for a slow but steady diversification- which is still very much underway. In the past decade the number of women graduating with STEM degrees has increased by 50,000 in America.

Accounting for 24% of total STEM graduates. This change is yet to be reflected in board rooms and the higher levels of academia, but there have been leaps and bounds in the right direction. There is a long way to go for equal representation, and women of colour are particularly marginalised, but landmark victories like these new Nobel Laureates show that for intelligent, driven female innovators- anything is possible.