Spot on Science: Fearless Female Scientists

Margaret introduces us to female scientists who pushed past prejudices to make amazing discoveries - Marie Curie, Marie Tharp and Jane Goodall.

Class Discussion Questions: 

1) Create a set of biographical autobiographical biographical biographical baseball cards for Marie Curie, Marie Tharp, and Jane Goodall.

2) Which fearless female scientist's work is most interesting to you? Explain why.

Read the Script: 

Think of the most famous scientist you've learned about. Is it Isaac Newton, or how about Albert Einstein? Well, I'm here to tell you, don't forget about the fearless females who have made amazing scientific discoveries, too. 

Take Marie Curie, for example. Curie is famous for her research of X-rays and radioactivity. That's when rare elements give off energetic particles. Curie was born in Poland in 1867 when girls there were not allowed to attend college. But Curie was determined to go anyways, so she spent years working as a governess, and eventually saved up money to move to France and attend university. At the Sorbonne, she met her husband, Pierre. Together, the two discovered two new radioactive elements, radium and polonium. 

In 1903, Curie and her husband won the Nobel Prize for Physics, and then again in 1911, Curie won the prize for Chemistry. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two. Curie's work went beyond the lab, though. She used her knowledge of radiation and X-rays to help injured soldiers during World War I. Curie invented an ambulance that could transport X-ray machines to the front lines. These helped doctors look at broken bones and figure out where soldiers had been shot. Curie even drove the vehicles, nicknamed Little Curies, into battle herself. 

From Marie Curie, how about another Marie, Marie Tharp. Tharp is best known for her work mapping out the ocean floor, a pretty big task. Before her time, people used to think that the ocean floor was flat and featureless. Her maps proved them wrong. During World War II, Tharp earned a master's degree in Geology. Usually women weren't allowed in the program, but because so many men were serving in the war, she snagged a spot. Tharp partnered with Bruce Heezen to map out the ocean floor. Once again, as a woman, she wasn't allowed to participate in ways that men could. She was not allowed on the research boats that went out to measure how deep the ocean was. Tharp was left on dry land to turn the measurements into a map. She later wrote about it, 

"I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together: mapping the world's vast hidden seafloor. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, a once-in-the-history-of-the-world, opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s." 

In 1977, she and Heezen released their map of the entire ocean floor, called the World Ocean Floor Panorama. The map revealed that the ocean floor is full of features: canyons, mountains, and very important ridges. Tharp noticed one ridge in particular, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, went all the way around the earth. Here the earth's plates spread apart, causing continental drift. But it wasn't until much later that others accepted what Tharp found to be true. 

Now here's one more female scientist for you who wasn't monkeying around. Have you heard of Jane Goodall? She spent nearly 60 years studying chimpanzees. In 1960, when she was just 26 years old, Goodall went to Western Tanzania to study primates. Despite having no formal training, by living near the chimpanzees and watching them closely, she was able to make several big discoveries. First off, she learned that chimpanzees eat meat. Before, people thought they were vegetarians. Then she discovered that they made and used tools. Specifically, she saw chimpanzees using tools to fish for termites in holes. 

For almost two years, Goodall was accepted by a group of chimpanzees into their troop. She was able to observe their personalities and behaviors as if she was part of the group. After many years of research, Goodall switched courses. Now she promotes awareness about habitat loss and animal rights. Her Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research and Conservation is known around the world today for the work they do in these areas. 

So, as you can see, from the ocean floor to the treetops, female scientists have been pushing past people saying no to make big discoveries with lasting impacts.

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