13 Women in STEM Who Changed the World

 March 09, 2016

Who are the Women in STEM who changed the world through science, technology, engineering and mathematics? We asked this question of women at Ayogo, adding “who are the women in STEM you wish you knew?”

Here’s our list of 13 amazingly cool women in STEM who we wish we knew.

Katherine Johnson, NASA Space ScientistKatherine Johnson - Women in STEM

Born in 1918, Katherine Johnson, graduated from university at 18. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for a lifetime of work as a pioneering physicist, mathematician and space scientist. She and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did the calculations that guided NASA’s 1962 Friendship 7 Mission. A teacher and research mathematician, she co-authored over 25 scientific papers.  Can you imagine how rare this brainy young teen was, entering West Virginia State College in 1932? About as unique as an African American woman scientist at NASA in the 1950s. She was both—making her the rarest of the rare!

Shauna Gammon, Ayogo’s Lead Product Designer:

“I am so grateful that Katherine Johnson helped pave the way for women like me to pursue careers in mathematics and technology. Katherine’s accomplishments are astounding, as was her graceful self-assurance that she belonged wherever her abilities carried her.”

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace & MathematicianAugusta Ada King - Women in STEM

Ayogo UX Designer,Kelsey Hemphill did the beautiful portraits for this blog. She chose to honour Augusta Ada King, who is best known for writing the first computer algorithmduring hercollaboration with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine.

Kelsey on Countess King:

“Ada’s mother prioritized her mathematical education, hoping to steer Ada away from the ‘mad, bad and dangerous‘ poetic tendencies of her father, Lord Byron. It’s funny, but it also speaks to what ladies can do when they have the support and the resources!”

Radia Perlman, Internet PioneerRadia Perlman - Women in STEM

Radia Perlmandisapproves when people call her The Mother of the Internet. But as an early computer scientist and student of MIT in the 60’s she became an internet pioneer, developing the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), an innovation that made today’s Internet possible. She also invented TRILL to correct limitations of STP. A wildly creative thinker, Dr. Perlman even developed a child-friendly programming language used by children as young as 3. She authored a textbook on networking and network security, and holds more than 100 issued patents.

Mala Srivatsa, Ayogo’s Director of Client Services on Radia as her inspiration:

“Radia is a shining example of how hard work and determination can lead to technical breakthroughs and success in a fast-paced and changing industry. She’s pragmatic about gender in the workplace; her quote about “picking the wrong battles” in this article really resonated with me—so many women don’t necessarily want to raise a pink flag and wave it around, it’s more about the subtle imbalances and levelling of the playing field for equality across all diversity factors. And as a bonus story, one of my former colleagues sat next to her on a plane ride and they got to chat about her personal stories and first-hand experiences during those history-making years!”

Rebecca Cole, MDRebecca Cole - Women in STEM

Rebecca Cole graduated from medical school in 1867 and became a public health advocate, physician and hygiene reformer in the US. An evidence-based researcher, she took issue with the biased data used to conclude that a lack of hygiene was the cause of inner city families’ high death rate from consumption. Although few records remain, we know she opened the Women’s Directory Center with Charlotte Abbey, providing medical and legal services to destitute women, was appointed Superintendent of a Home and was the esteemed colleague of the first US-educated female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell.

Ayogo number cruncher, Kristel Co So shares her admiration of Dr. Cole:

“Dr. Cole finished medical school in 1867, the second black woman to do so. For 50 years, she worked hard as a doctor and public health educator while raising 5 kids. She called people on dangerous misinformation, using her own data to back her opinions up. This woman’s legacy is huge. Her peers said her cheerful optimism created an atmosphere of sunshine that made everyone happy. I wish I knew her.”

Joan Clarke, Code Breaker & Cryptanalyst

Joan Clarke was born in 1917 and gained a First in mathematics from Cambridge but was denied a Full Degree as Cambridge did not award them to women at the time. She was the only woman to work in the nerve centre of the quest to crack German Enigma ciphers. Because of the secrecy that still surrounds events atBletchley Park, the full extent of Clarke’s achievements and those of her colleagues Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Ruth Briggs, remains unknown.

Avi van Haren, Ayogo’s Director of Product Management, chose to celebrate Joan:

“Watching The Imitation Game, I was introduced to Joan, a brilliant woman who was part of saving so many lives and deserves her place in history.”

Susan Kare, IconographerSusan Kare - Women in STEM

We don’t often think about the people who make our screen experiences work so well. But there is one iconic (ahem) designer that Ayogo’s Maddy Bazett chose as an inspirational woman in technology.Susan Kare is a digital designer’s designer. If you have used the fonts Chicago, Geneva or Monaco, you have benefited from Kare’s excellent eye. Her most well known icons include the Macintosh trash can, the scissors, the pointing “paste” hand, and the formatting paintbrush. What a legacy.

“She is a pioneering and influential computer iconographer. Since 1983, Kare has designed thousands of icons for the world’s leading software companies. Utilizing a minimalist grid of pixels and constructed with mosaic-like precision, her icons communicate their function immediately and memorably, with wit and style,” wrote the Museum of Modern Art in New York.Mac Icons by Susan Kare

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, Inventor & Computer ScientistGrace Hopper - Women in STEM

An American computer scientist, and a Rear Admiral in the US Navy, Grace Hopper invented the first programming language to use english words. She is seen as a key inventor of the languageCOBOL (an acronym for COmmonBusiness-OrientedLanguage) a widely used programming language. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics and earned her master’s degree at Yale University in 1930. Even though she was only 105 pounds, well under the minimum weight for joining the navy, she got an exemption and enlisted in WWII. After the war, still working for the navy, her associates discovered a moth mucking up the Mark II Computer. It was removed and she coined the term “debugging”. She then joined the UNIVAC team where she pioneered using computers for more than arithmetic. By 1952 she had invented an operational compiler, the first she knew of.

Ayogo software developer Stacey Vachon found a few famous quotes by Admiral Hopper:

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”

“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.”

Florence Nightingale, Social Reformer & StatisticianFlorence Nightingale - Women in STEM

Florence Nightingale gained fame as “the Lady with the Lamp” for her heroic nursing in the Crimean War. There, she was credited for reducing the death rate from 42% to 2%. She was a visionary designer of hospital systems and pioneered the improvement of sanitation in working-class homes. She is known as the inventor of modern nursing. Her students and trainees became matrons at many hospitals and opened nursing schools of their own. She had a genius for presenting statistical data in graphic form. She developed a proportional pie chart still used today – see the Diagram of the Causes of Mortality. She used these skills to champion better health care at home and abroad.

Ellena Lawrence, Ayogo’s Interaction Designer, shares some additional thoughts on Nightingale:
“What inspires me, is the lesser known work she did as a statistician and information designer. She understood that to get people to accept change, you have to make information accessible and understandable. She created new ways to visualize the magnitude of preventable deaths during the Crimean War so that members of parliament and civil servants could easily understand the problem and act.”Nightingale Polar Area Diagram

Adriana Ocampo, Planetary GeologistAdriana Ocampo - Women in STEM

Adriana Ocampo is a planetary geologist and the Science Program Manager at NASA Headquarters.

Dr. Ocampo, a Columbian-born scientist, has worked on a number of NASA planetary science projects, including the Juno mission to Jupiter and the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Born in 1955, Dr. Ocampo was named one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science.

NASA Released this image of Pluto after the New Horizon Mission to Pluto.

NASA Released this image of Pluto after the New Horizon Mission to Pluto.

Ayogo’s UI Intern Camila Serrano tells why she chose Adriana Ocampo:

“I remember the day that the beautiful picture of Pluto was shown to the world not only because the image was stunning, but also because the Horizons Mission was lead by a latin woman.”

Irene Au, Human Computer Interaction DesignerIrene Au - Women in STEM

Irene Au created her own program of study in human-computer interaction. She built exceptional design teams for Google and Yahoo before joining Khosla Ventures as an Operating Partner.

Stacey Hagel, an artist and UX designer explains why Irene Au is an influence on her work:

“Irene’s passion was to build technology inspired by people’s needs directed at solving real problems. She went on to be among the first designers with such a background in the consumer Internet space and began her career as an interaction designer. AND she teaches yoga!!!”

Roberta Bondar, Astronaut NeurologistRoberta Bondar - Women in STEM

Canada’s first female astronaut and the world’s first astronaut-neurologist. Roberta Bondar has received many honours including the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the NASA Space Medal, over 22 honorary degrees, and induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. After her astronaut career she spent the next decade leading an international research team at NASA studying the effects on astronauts of spaceflight and re-adaptation back to Earth’s gravity

Nicole Moisey, Ayogo’s Employee Experience Manager admires Dr. Bondar:

“Growing up, Dr. Bondar was my hero and inspired me to go after my dreams. If she could reach her dreams then so could I!”

Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM

Ginni Rometty CEO IBM. An early compsci graduate in the 70’s, Rometty joined IBM as a systems engineer. When she became SVP Marketing & Strategy in 2009, she led IBM into cloud computing, analytics, and the commercialisation of IBM Watson. She has been IBM’s CEO since 2012.

Janice Fairley who handles Ayogo’s business development on Ginni:

“Rometty has incredible marketing savvy. She put IBM Watson on Jeopardy! She gets the big calls right. Her next call: Cognitive technology as a business model.”

Barbara McClintock, Geneticist

Barbara McClintock is the only woman to have received, by herself, a Nobel Prize for Medicine. She won the Nobel in 1983 for work that began with her discovery 40 years earlier, that genetic material is not fixed but instead is fluid. James Watson credited her genetic insights as part of his discovery of DNA. In her biography, A Feeling for the Organism, she connected new scientific and feminist perspectives. Her students adopted her mindset that science is open ended and unresolved. Dr. McClintock felt it was important to put in the caveat “this is what we know” in scientific assertions, implicitly reminding us that so much is not yet known.

Mavis Dixon, Ayogo’s Manager Projects and Engagement on why she thought of Dr. McClintock:

“She comes to mind when I read the latest research on inspiration and creativity. She was cool because she kept distractions out of her life. She mused on things she knew deeply and made unusual connections. In her case, between physics and biology. I read her biography a while ago and it stayed with me.”

Women in STEM at Ayogo

Ayogo strives for gender parity and a culture of mutual inspiration and inclusion. We are mathematicians, product designers, coders, and inventors, designers, accountants and engagement specialists—and women.

This blog celebrating historic Women in STEM was written with a nod to International Women’s DayWomen in History Month, and #STEMinism are all inspiration for this post.


IWD Event Packs pre orders
IWD Toolkit
IWD Light Up
Where Women Work

Join the global IWD Community