Women & Girls in Science

A reflection on the International Day of Women & Girls in Science by Regina Kwarteng, Doctoral Researcher in Medical Laboratory Sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The IDWGS is celebrated annually on 11 February.

When I think of women in science, I look back at the 5th Solvay conference in 1927, on electrons and protons. The scientific community at that time were grappling with the new quantum theory which notably gave us the wave-particle duality of light, the uncertainty principle and redefined energy as existing in discrete amounts known as quanta.

Quantum theory represented a paradigm shift from the classical Newtonian worldview to a convoluted one. The quantum laws were radical, revolutionary and quite bizarre. Albert Einstein desperately wanted to find a way to complete quantum mechanics so it made sense.

He famously said in a debate with Neils Bohr, a pioneer of quantum theory, “God does not play dice”, to which Bohr brilliantly quipped “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

The Solvay conference also produced what is arguably the most intelligent picture ever taken. In that picture is Marie Curie, the only female, seated at the front, between Max Planck, the originator of quantum theory and Hendrik Lorentz.

Solvay Conference 1927. Image Attribution: Benjamin Couprie [Public domain]. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Marie Curie is the only female to win the Nobel Prize in two different fields, Chemistry and Physics. I think a lot about what it meant to be the only woman in the gathering of the greatest minds of the 19th century.

I love and admire Marie Curie so much for her dedication, perseverance and for living a life which inspires young girls to boldly go and venture into science.

When I think of women in science, I remember the brilliant but short-lived life of Rosalind Franklin, DNA’s unsung hero. As a child, Ms Franklin was extremely intelligent and wanted to be a scientist.

Her father, however, tried to dissuade her interest, knowing very well it was difficult for women to have a career in science at that time. Ms Franklin’s research on X-ray crystallography provided crucial and fundamental evidence to the discovery of the DNA double helix.

Her famous photograph capturing X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA was used by Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins to solve the puzzle of the DNA double helix structure, earning them the Nobel prize several years after Franklin’s demise.

Rosalind Franklin did not get her due and missed out on the Nobel prize but her legacy has outlived her.

Her life continues to inspire the generation of women to relentlessly chase their dreams.

When I think of modern-day women in science, I am in awe of and hugely inspired by the life and works of  Jennifer Doudna. At a young age of 12, Jennifer discovered her love for science.

Unlike Franklin’s, Jennifer’s father actively encouraged her interests and gave her a copy of the book “The double helix”, written by James Watson (Nobel Laureate).

This ignited her to pursue a career in science (Biochemistry) and many wonderful years later she has gifted the scientific community with CRISPR-Cas9 invention, which continues to shape and has revolutionized research in genome-editing.

There is a lot to celebrate and be thankful for on this international day of women in science. Today we celebrate all women in science, from the women of NASA down to the young girls actively pursuing science in high schools.

The sisterhood of lab coat wearers, as I call it. I am thankful for the men and women in my life who have been supportive of my decision to pursue a career in science. I am also grateful that unlike the era of Curie and Franklin, I am not alone in this chosen profession.

Among my small circle of friends are ambitious women of science, whose lives are equally inspiring and worth celebrating. So cheers to you, Abigail Amoah-Duodo, a cancer immunologist and account manager at Roche.

She formerly served as a research and marketing officer at the Sweden Ghana Medical Centre. Abigail has a master’s degree in Cancer Immunology from the University of Nottingham, UK, a diploma in marketing from the London Centre of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry (First Class Honours).

I also celebrate you, Suad Rashid, my brilliant friend. Suad is a PhD scholar of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta, Canada. She graduated summa cum laude in Biochemistry from KNUST and has won numerous awards for her research and sheer brilliance.

My friends Shastika and Tatenda continue to inspire me with their tenacity and dedication to the field. Shas has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Biomedical Science and is on course to get a medical degree as well.

Tatenda holds a master’s degree in Biomedical Science and is pursuing a second master’s degree as a physician assistant. You all are my heroes and I celebrate all your accomplishments on this great day.

Happy International Day of Women & Girls in Science!

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