Happy Women in Science Day!
Even those of you who aren’t obsessed with science may know pioneers such as Marie Curie. Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes – only three others have done that since her. She won the prize for physics in 1903 and then chemistry in 1911 – both for her work on radiation. While Marie Curie may dominate the conversation about women in science, there have been many other brilliant women in the field over the years.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a crystallographer whose work helped to elucidate the fine structure of coal, graphite, DNA, and viruses. Her work on DNA was what gave James Watson and Francis Crick a basis for their research. Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize yet never gave Franklin credit for her contributions. Although her work on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were recognized only after she died. Her team, however, continued her research, winning a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1982.
As a clinician who has worked with pioneers in neuroscience and fascial research, I can tell you that for every female scientist whose work has been recognized, there are thousands who have accidentally (or purposefully) been forgotten or unrecognized.
One pioneer and Nobel Prize winner in neuroscience was Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012), who discovered the nerve growth factor, which guides the development of the nervous system. As a neurologist, she discovered the critical chemical tools the body uses to direct cell growth and build nerve networks. This has opened the door to more research on how those processes go wrong and how disorders like dementia and cancer originate. Before Levi-Montalcini, scientists didn’t know how the cells of an embryo build a latticework of intricate connections to other cells. She found a protein released by cells that attracts nerve growth. Her contribution altered the study of cell growth and development and has been a continuing fascination to me for decades.
Another of my favorite female neuroscientists and pharmacologists is Candace Pert (1946-2013). Pert discovered the opiate receptor, the cellular binding site for endorphins in the brain. She’s known as a mind-body medicine pioneer and a major proponent of alternative medicine.
Pert is the author of Molecules of Emotion (1997). Emotions, she explains, are not simply chemicals in the brain. They are electrochemical signals that affect the chemistry and electricity of every cell in the body. The body’s electrical state is modulated by emotions, changing the world inside – and outside – the body. Her research led her to an understanding of the way emotions function as a regulatory system in the body. After that discovery, she focused on developing an AIDS treatment.
As a female entrepreneur and lifelong seeker of longevity solutions, I’m fascinated by the women who have helped shape our understanding of the world. And more and more women are now making their mark in an industry that needs more women.
When I was 10, I had the shock of seeing my great-grandmother shift from being a coherent, intuitive, loving lady to a women who didn’t remember who I was. I went home asking my mom, how do we stop aging? Her reply, of course, was “you can’t” – but this sparked my desire to learn about health, wellness, and longevity. The Internet wasn’t a thing yet, so I turned to the library with my appetite to learn and understand.
So to celebrate Women in Science Day, I urge all parents of young girls to encourage them to read about whatever fascinates them! Get your kids to learn about and challenge their understanding of the world around them – this is the foundation of human science and research. Who knows? Someone who’s just a young girl now may be the next up-and-coming pioneer to win a Nobel Prize.