Asima Chatterjee (1917 – 2006)
Polly Arnold (1972 – Present)
Prof. Polly Arnold knew from a young age that she did not want to work at a desk job. During her undergraduate research project at the University of Oxford, she found the problem solving, skillfulness and creativity demands of synthetic chemistry to be thrilling. She decided to continue her studies as a graduate student at University of Oxford under the supervision of Prof. F. Geoff N. Cloke and later went on to do postdoctoral research as a Fulbright Scholar at MIT with Prof. Kit C. Cummins. Currently, Prof. Arnold is the Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh where her research focuses on putting the ‘f’ in chemistry by exploring the synthetic chemistry of f-block elements of the periodic table. For her research, she has won numerous prizes and awards, including the 2015 Seaborg Lectureship (University of California Berkeley, USA) and the 2012 Corday-Morgan Prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Prof. Arnold is extremely involved in the chemistry community by advocating for gender diversity in chemistry. She believes that there are four action points to close the gender disparity gap: (1) monitor numbers of women in STEM, (2) mentor women and make sure they are applying, (3) create a workplace that supports everyone and allows flexibility, and (4) reclaim the meaning of feminism. In 2012, she produced an impactful short film and accompanying book entitled “A Chemical Imbalance” which asks why Edinburgh has such a long history of successful female chemists, and why women are still under-represented in all science fields. This year, Prof. Arnold formed Sci Sisters, a new network designed to support women in STEM fields who find themselves isolated in senior positions. She was also appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her exceptional contributions to chemistry and to women in STEM.
Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King-Noel, née Byron, Countess of Lovelace) (1815 – 1852)
Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and writer born in London, England in 1815 to famed poet Lord Byron. Throughout her youth, Ada’s mother, Annabella, encouraged her mathematical abilities, and hired several scientists, such as Mary Somerville, to tutor her in science and math. As a teenager, Lovelace became acquainted with Charles Babbage, a prominent mathematician who invented the ‘Difference Engine’, a mechanical calculating machine designed to tabulate polynomial functions. Ada and Charles became close friends, and corresponded about mathematics for years. Ada became fascinated with Babbage’s plans to build a second machine, known as the ‘Analytical Engine’, a general-purpose computer, and was asked to translate an article on the subject for a journal. Ada’s enduring fame stems from a set of notes she appended to this translated article, which delved much deeper into the potential of this machine. She explained its ability to not only crunch numbers, but to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity. Ada anticipated the implications of modern computing long before they were realized, and for this, is often considered to be the first computer programmer.
Nicola Spaldin (née Hill) (1969 – Present)
Nicola Spaldin was born in Sunderland, England in 1969 and obtained her BA in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge in 1991, after which she obtained a PhD in Chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1996. From 1996 to 1997, she took part in a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University, studying ferrroelectrics. Afterward, she joined the Materials Department at University of California, Santa Barbara as Assistant, Associate, and then Full Professor. In 2010, she was offered a position as Materials Chair at ETH Zurich, where she currently teaches materials theory courses and conducts research on multiferroics, a field which she pioneered in 2000 when she published a seminal article on these rare, elusive materials. Multiferroic materials simultaneously possess ferromagnetism and ferroelectricity, and have the potential to revolutionize modern technology by combining data processing capabilities with memory storage. For her pioneering work in this emerging field, she has received the American Physical Society’s McGroddy Prize for Materials, the Körber European Science Prize and the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award, among other honors. She is also the author of a popular text book on Magnetic Materials. In her spare time, Prof. Spaldin plays clarinet for the Bronze Clarinet Trio in Zurich.
Julie Payette (1963 – Present)
Julie Payette is a former astronaut and engineer. She was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station, the country’s 2nd woman in space, and will be the 29th Governor General of Canada.
Payette was born in Montreal, QC, and later went abroad to complete an IB diploma at Atlantic College in Wales, UK, on one of six scholarships awarded to Canadians. Payette wanted to be astronaut from a young age, and was even challenged during her scholarship interview about her goal to be an astronaut – a goal considered incredibly ambitious for any Canadian at the time, let alone a female Canadian. Payette persevered, and went on to graduate with a BEng in Electrical Engineering from McGill, then a MASc in Computer Engineering from University of Toronto. She then worked as an engineer, researching computer systems, language processing, and speech recognition with IBM and BNR/Nortel. In 1992, she was selected by the Canadian Space Agency to become one of four astronauts. She completed two spaceflights, where she was Mission Specialist and operated the Canadarm during the Discovery mission that delivered 4 tons of supplies to the International Space Station. In her second spaceflight, Payette was the Flight Engineer and operated three different robotic arms on the Endeavour mission that completed the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module. She became Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, and has also served with NASA as Capsule Communicator at the Mission Control Center in Houston.
Payette has received a vast number of awards and honours, including 17 honorary degrees, two NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Engineers Canada Gold Medal, appointments of Knight of l’Ordre National du Québec and Officer of the Order of Canada, and induction into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame. She is also a serious athlete and is actively involved in sports, having carried the Olympic flag in the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and serving on boards for Canada’s Own the Podium Olympic program and the International Olympic Committee Women in Sports Commission. In addition, Payette is a talented pianist and vocalist, and has performed with various orchestras.
Flossie Wong-Staal (1947 – Present)
Flossie Wong-Staal was born in Guangzhou, China, and emigrated to Hong Kong in the late 1940s following the Communist revolution. She excelled in science from a young age and was encouraged by her teachers to pursue studies in the United States. Her father named her “Flossie” after a powerful storm that traveled through their region.
Wong-Staal attended UCLA where she pursued a BS in bacteriology, after which she completed her PhD in molecular biology. She did postdoctoral research at UCSD, after which she worked at the National Cancer Institute with Robert Gallo, pursuing research on retroviruses.
In 1983, Wong-Staal, Gallo, and her team of NCI scientists identified HIV as the cause of AIDS (simultaneously with Luc Montagnier). Two years later, she was the first person to clone HIV and complete the genetic mapping of the virus – making it possible to develop HIV tests! Wong-Staal and her team are also responsible for developing new treatments for HIV/AIDS patients suffering from dangerous Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions by studying the effects of the tat protein (found within the viral strain HIV-1) on the growth of cells found within these KS lesions.
In 1990, Wong-Staal moved from NCI to UCSD where she continued her research into HIV/AIDS. She was named chairman of UCSD’s Center for AIDS Research in 1994, and was also elected into the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academies that same year. She developed a protocol during this time that centred around using a ribozyme “molecular knife” to repress HIV in stem cells, which was the second to be funded by the United States government.
Flossie Wong-Staal retired from UCSD in 2002 and now holds the title of Professor Emerita. She has since co-founded iTherX (first called Immusol), a biopharmaceutical company, and acts as Chief Scientific Officer. In 2002, Discover named her as one of the fifty most extraordinary female scientists, and in 2007 the Daily Telegraph heralded her as #32 of the “Top 100 Living Geniuses”.
Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994)
Dorothy Hodgkin was a British chemist and is regarded as a pioneer scientist in the field of X-ray crystallography for the study of biological molecules. Specifically, she is known for her elucidation of the protein structure of insulin, vitamin B12 and penicillin, for which she became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Dorothy Hodgkin first developed her interest in chemistry and crystals near the age of 10, and she became one of two girls who were allowed to study chemistry with the boys. At the age of 18, Dorothy attended Oxford’s women’s colleges to further her study in chemistry, where she became the third woman to achieve a first class honors degree before moving to Cambridge to study X-ray crystallography. She later returned to Oxford in 1934 where she spent her career teaching chemistry and advancing X-ray crystallography techniques.
Among her many achievements, she was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in 1956 and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958. Additionally, she was awarded the Lomonsov Medal of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet government.
Ursula Franklin (19521 – 2016)
Professor Ursula Franklin was a Canadian-German physicist and metallurgist at the University of Toronto. She was a pioneer in the field of archaeometry, where she applied the concepts and techniques of modern materials science to date copper, bronze, and ceramic artifacts. In one of her most impactful studies, she investigated the levels of strontium-90 in baby teeth to evaluate the effects of nuclear weapons testing on public health. The results of this study contributed to the cessation of above ground nuclear weapons testing.
Professor Franklin was born in Munich on September 16, 1921. She studied chemistry and physics at Berlin University until the onset of the Second World War. During the war, she was expelled from the university by the Nazis and interned in a forced labour camp. After the war, she continued her education and received her Ph.D. in experimental physics from Berlin Technical University in 1948. She came to the University of Toronto in 1949 as a post-doctoral fellow and eventually became a professor in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science in 1967. In 1984, she became the first woman at the University of Toronto to be designated a University Professor, which is the university’s highest honour.
Outside of her scientific work, Professor Franklin is also well known for her activism. She has written extensively on feminism, social justice, pacifism, education, and the effects of technology on society. She was actively involved in Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, which is a leading anti-war organization founded in the 1960s. Professor Franklin passed away on September 16, 2016, at the age of 94. Ursula Franklin Academy, a high school in Toronto’s west end, was named in her honour.
Carol Robinson (1956 – Present)
Carol V. Robinson, DBE, FRS, FMedSci is widely renowned for pioneering the application of mass spectrometry to elucidate 3D structures of proteins. After completing her PhD at Churchill College in two years, she took an eight-year break to raise three children before returning to research at the University of Oxford as a post-doctoral fellow. In addition to becoming the first female Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford (1999), she was also the first female Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge (2001). In 2009, she was elected Doctor Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, where her research group continues to investigate gas phase structures of biological molecules.
Throughout her career, Professor Robinson has been awarded the Biemann Medal by the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (2003), Fellow of the Royal Society (2004) and the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award (2015) among numerous other medals, awards, prizes and honorary titles. In 2013, she was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to science.
Professor Robinson mentors younger women through the tenure process, and is an advocate for encouraging women to stay in science. Out of over 35 PhD graduates and 45 post-doctoral fellows that have been supervised by her, more than half were women.
Veena Rawat (? – Present)
Veena Rawat immigrated to Canada from India in 1968 and she has been earning awards and setting records ever since. In 1973 she became the first woman to earn a PhD in electrical engineering from Queen’s University. Upon graduation she began working as an engineer for the Communications Ministry of the Canadian Federal Government. At her ministry position she quickly moved up the ranks to executive level positions. In 2003, she was the first woman chair for the World Radiocommunication (WRC) Conference of the United Nations. In 2004 she became the first woman president of the Communications Research Centre (CRC), a branch of Industry Canada, where she was responsible for over 400 employees. She remained in that position until 2011 when she adopted the role of Vice President and Ambassador for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) affiliated with Research in Motion’s Advanced Technology Division.
Rawat has received numerous awards of recognition throughout her career including: Canada’s Leading Woman High Tech Entrepreneur, Canada’s Most Powerful Woman, Top 100 (2005), Canadian Woman of the Year in Communications (2004), Radio Advisory Board of Canada Award of Excellence (2004), International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Gold Medal (2003), and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2003).
More recently, Rawat was given the Public Service Award of Excellence (2011), and appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (2014) for her years of contributions to the telecommunications sector, and to women in leadership causes. She is also fluent in English, French, Hindi, and Spanish. To this day she remains an internationally recognized expert in wireless communication.
Linda Hsieh-Wilson (? – Present)
Linda Hsieh-Wilson is currently a Professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Yale University and obtained her PhD at University of California, Berkeley studying antibody-based catalysis with Prof. Peter G. Schultz in 1996. She continued her academic career with Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard at the Rockefeller University until 2000.
Hsieh-Wilson’s research bridges organic chemistry and neurobiology. She has made great strides in understanding important neuronal processes using chemical tools. More specifically, she has used a chemoenzymatic approach to label proteins to elucidate the effects of glycans on the structure and function of proteins. This innovative strategy allows us to probe and manipulate complex signalling pathways that control neuronal communication, learning, and memory. Her work has been awarded with a number of honors and distinctions including Beckman Young Investigators Award, Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, and Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award.