How Women Scientists Inspired ACS Editors to Pursue Chemistry Careers

How Women Scientists Inspired ACS Editors

In honor of National Women’s History Month, several editors at ACS journals shared stories about the women scientists who inspired them and shaped their careers. Who’s your favorite female scientist? Share your story in the comments below.

Marcy Towns, Associate Editor, Journal of Chemical Education

Dr. Geri Richmond from the University of Oregon, because she is the first woman faculty member who made me believe it would be possible to have a fulfilling career in chemistry and have a family. When I was in graduate school at Purdue University in the early 90s, Geri came to give a seminar sponsored by Iota Sigma Pi. I took her to breakfast and had a wide-ranging conversation with her about career trajectories and professional/personal balance. On the walk back to campus I remember she pulled out a Lego toy from her coat pocket, chuckled, and went on to tell me that her son had made it. At that moment I thought to myself, “well if a woman of her caliber can make it all fit together, then I can too.” Giving me an example of a top-notch chemist with a family was a formative and memorable inspiration!



Ben Davis, Senior Editor, ACS Central Science

Dorothy Crowfoot-Hodgkin – an obvious answer but nonetheless an utter inspiration – she did what she did in a not wholly supportive atmosphere at Oxford but just cracked on. Using what she called ‘scattered rooms in the University Museum’ she did the key work in x-ray crystallography. Jack Dunitz tells a wonderful story of turning up for the first day of his postdoc with her and finding her stood in the museum amongst the general public trying to find a diffraction mark using a photographic plate held in the air. Her group found the beta-lactam structure of penicillin of course. But she did this even with old equipment and it is a further mark of her courage that this was a structure that Robinson, the then Waynflete Professor, felt could not be correct. Cornforth (‘Kappa’), I have been told, was apparently so unconvinced, at the time, that he said that he would give up Chemistry and ‘grow mushrooms’ if that was true. A blue plaque that celebrates her sits on the wall outside the building near to my office on the ground floor of the ICL at Oxford – every day I am inspired by looking at it and remembering her maverick sense of knowing how to do good science no matter what.


Yan Li, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

Marie Sklodowska Curie; In China, she is a role model for many female students and researchers. Inspired by her story, many girls decided to be and eventually become scientists when they grow up. Additionally, Dr. Qiaozhi Lin or Kha-Ti Lim (林巧稚 in Chinese). She delivered more than 50,000 babies and saved the lives of many Chinese women.


Shelley Minteer, Associate Editor, Journal of the American Chemical Society

Maud Menten, for her contributions to enzyme kinetics (the Michaelis-Menten equation is named after her) and her contributions to electrophoretic separation of proteins.


Cathy Abbott, Associate Editor, ACS Chemical Neuroscience

My favorite woman in science history is the English geneticist Mary Lyon, who discovered X chromosome inactivation and laid the foundations for modern mouse genetics. Mary overcame significant hurdles as a woman — she was awarded multiple prizes as a student at Cambridge but was not able to graduate fully, as women were only awarded “titular” degrees. She was given to lengthy pauses in conversation, displayed a fierce intellect, and was massively supportive of young scientists.


Paula Hammond, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

Katherine Johnson, because she used her math skills to support our space mission without any glory or praise! Also Millie Dresselhaus — who pioneered in nanotechnology from graphene to buckyballs and pushed the frontiers of science with brilliance, dedication, enthusiasm, and her straight-forward attitude, while inspiring other women in science and engineering for more than half a century. Another that should be mentioned is Shirley Ann Jackson, a nuclear physicist who has excelled in every phase of her career and won the National Medal of Science not too long ago. Finally, a very interesting woman of color who did not get much recognition, and was a chemist: Alice Ball used her passion for chemistry to develop an injection Leprosy Treatment that stayed in use for 20 years.



Helmuth Moehwald, Associate Editor ACS Nano

To me Lise Meitner is most impressive. Typical for a woman of that time she was considered the co-worker of Otto Hahn and so did not get the Nobel award together with him.


Cristina Nevado, Senior Editor, ACS Central Science

Dorothy Hodgkin determined the structure of molecules such as pepsin, penicillin, insulin, cholesterol and vitamin B12 receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964. She was the third woman ever to win the prize in chemistry (after Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie).

Beyond her outstanding contributions to science, Dorothy also became a relevant figure in the community, being one of the founders of the International Union of Crystallography, Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in 1956, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Boston) in 1958. Not only was she an outstanding scientist, but also a dedicated mentor with over 100 students graduating in her labs. She was also a woman of her time, involving herself in a wide range of peace and humanitarian causes and playing an important role in the Pugwash movement. Her passion for science, her commitment to breaking boundaries and for tackling unmet challenges makes her a truly inspiring role model.

Sharon Glotzer, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

Rosalind Franklin, of course, who worked with Watson and Crick and is widely acknowledged as having been overlooked in her contributions to the discovery of the double helix when the Nobel Prize was awarded.

Christopher J. Chang, Senior Editor, ACS Central Science

Jennifer Doudna, as it has been amazing to witness scientific history being made in real time with advances in our fundamental understanding and application of the chemistry of gene editing.


Mark Hersam, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

Millie Dresselhaus is my favorite woman in science history. In addition to being a brilliant and versatile scientist, she was perpetually altruistic in her many roles including leader, mentor, educator, and TV star.


Jill Millstone, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

There are many great women in science, past and present, who I think are inspirational and have made critical contributions to our modern world. One person I admire is Jill Tarter, who co-founded and led the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) for many years. She is inspiring because she dared to dream big and not only ask, but worked to answer potentially unanswerable questions.


Yury Gogotsi, Associate Editor, ACS Nano

In my opinion, this was certainly Marie Curie. Her attitude to work and love to science overcame all odds. The discovery of the radium was critical to the development of radiology and other fields. Her pioneering work earned her the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 (the first woman to ever do so) and again in 1911 (Chemistry), making her the first woman and the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes.


Michelle Coote, Associate Editor, Journal of the American Chemical Society

My vote would be Elizabeth Blackburn, Australia’s only female Nobel laureate, and a truly inspirational scientist.


Paul Mulvaney,  Associate Editor, ACS Nano

Marie Curie, only person to win Nobel in chemistry and physics as I recall, and Rosalind Franklin who should have got the Nobel for DNA.


ACS Editors Share Advice for Women Scientists Beginning Their Careers


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