Voices of the Women in Science - A list of books on women scientists
Progress is possible only when everyone capable of contributing is given an equal chance irrespective of gender, community and nationality. While there is a long way to go before this gap is fulfilled, it should be noted that we as a community have made considerable strides in meeting this agenda. Even at the dawn of independence, the majority of women were not even given a chance to study but now, in 70 years, we can happily say that women are not only earning degrees and doctorates but actively leading the world on major scientific, technological and industrial fronts!
The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in India, as is in every other country, have an unequal gender work environment. In this regard, the United Nations General Assembly has declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to inspire and engage women and girls in STEM, with the hope that more girls take up science and research as a career.
While the number of women in science and technology is less, their contributions are not! In order to celebrate their contributions, we at CosmicVarta have collated a list of books that commemorate the immense contribution that women across the world have made to science with an intention to inspire and arouse a scientific temper in the reader. These books show us how these trailblazers, pioneers and path-breakers’ lives were and what inspired them to become scientists! This list is definitely not exhaustive and we hope that many more books will be written on the contemporary women scientists as well the future stars. Here is the list of books we have compiled:
1. Those Magnificent Women and their Flying Machines: ISRO’S Mission to Mars
Minnie Vaid, Speaking Tiger Books LLP, 2019
The sky is definitely not the limit for Indian women scientists. India became the first Asian country to reach Mars, in 2013, that too in its first attempt. This mission, among others, was led by a group of brilliant and dedicated women scientists of ISRO. This book narrates how these magnificent women overcame gender-barriers and succeeded to achieve the impossible!
2. Kalpana Chawla: A Life
Anil Padmanabhan, Penguin, 2003
Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian origin to become an astronaut. Undeniably, she is an inspiration to millions of Indians, and not just women. Most school currilulum also have a chapter dedicated to this hero! While Kalpana Chawla died when returning from her second space flight on-board the space shuttle 'Columbia' in 2003, she is immortalized in this book.
3. Sunita Williams: A Star in Space
Aravinda Anatharaman, Puffin, 2014
In simple words, the author brings to life the astronauts's amazing journey to reach the stars. Sunita Williams had to settle for second choices in her life multiple times, but by giving her best in everything, she became a swimmer turned pilot turned Astronaut!
4. Lilavati’s Daughters: The Women Scientists of India
Ramaswamy and Rohini Godbole, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2008
This book is a collection of 100 biographical essays of Indian woman scientists working in a variety of fields such as astrophysics, botany, bio-organic chemistry, genetics These stories explain beautifully what being a woman scientist in India encompasses. It is a must read for every science enthusiast and college student.
5. The girl’s guide to a life in science
Rohini Godbole, Ram Ramaswamy, Mandakini Dubey, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2014
Twenty five celebrated Indian women scientists, from the field of Physics to Zoology, give an overview of how they chose science as a career. The book deals with several questions of how, when, where and why that you might need to guide you for a life with science.
6. Scientifically Yours: Selected Indian Women Scientists
Gouhar Raza, Vigyan Prasar, 2016
This book consistes of interviews with some of the pioneering Indian women scientists and their rise to success in their repsective fields which is predominatly male-dominated. It showcases how these women used the obstacles they faced as a step to climb ahead instead of letting it be a wall obstructing them.
7. A Jewel Unearthed: Bibha Chowdhuri: The Story of an Indian Woman Scientist
Singh, Rajinder; Roy, Suprakash C Shaker, Verlag GmbH, Germany, 2018
This is a biography on the life and research of the Indian woman physicist, Bibha Chowdhuri. Born a hundred years ago, she displayed enormous courage and determination to choose a carrer in physics and work in the field of cosmic rays. Stories such as these show us how hard women struggled to make sure that opportunities are not lost to future generations of women and along the way become torch-bearers to break gender-barriers.
8. 31 Fantastic Adventures in Science: Women Scientists in India
Aashima Freidog and Nandita Jayaraj, Puffin, 2019
Thanks to the giantesses who came before us, there are hundreds of women standing on their shoulders today, working in the Indian academia. This book explores the life of thirty-one women scientists who work on diverse subjects, from environmental biotechnology to particle physics, palaeobiology to astrophysics. Through their innovative research, they help unravel the mysteries of the universe, find methods to live sustainably, cure life-threatening diseases and study animals and plants that are long gone.
9. Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist
George D Morgan, Prometheus Books, 2013
Mary Sherman's life was a complete mystery, thanks to the classified work she was involved in for most of her life. But when her son discovered that America was able to launch rockets mainly because if her contributions, he uncovered her life's story and presented it for the world to know in this biography. What he reveals is as fascinating as it is mysterious.
10. Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer
Robert Burleigh, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2013
Henrietta Leavitt measured star positions and sizes from photographs taken by the telescope at the Harvard College Observatory. Henrietta observed that certain stars had a fixed pattern to their changes which later made it possible for astronomers to measure distances, leading to our present understanding of the vast size of the universe. Henrietta's story makes a great inspirational read for young researchers!
11. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Dava Sobel, Viking, 2016
This is an extraordinary tale of a group of women who worked together and helped produce much of the data on which our understanding of the universe progressed during the 19th and 20th centuries. They carefully analyzed around half a million glass photographic plates which contained images of the universe taken from the Harvard telescopes. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight.
12. Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Nathalia Holt, Back Bay Books, 2017
'Rise of the Rocket Girls' is a story of women 'human computers', who displayed their mathemetical prowess to calculate the velocities and trajectories of rockets as well as to deisgn the actual rockets and satellites that allowed for the exploration of the solar system!
13. Margaret and the moon: how Margaret Hamilton saved the first lunar landing
Dean Robbins, Knopf Books for Young Readers (Children’s book), 2017
While the image of man landing on moon is an immortalized part of pop culture, another image has gained its prominent place: a woman smiling beside a stack of paper her height. Meet Margaret Hamilton, the woman who write the codes by hand to make the moon landing possible in this biography.
14. What stars are made of: The life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
Donovan Moore, Harvard University Press, 2020
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was an innovator who theorized with greatest of accuracies about the substance of stars. This book narrates the immense struggles Cecilia had to go through while doing what she loved, science. The read is a story of devotion and tenacity that speaks powerfully to our own time.
15. Dorothy Hodgkin: a life
Georgina Ferry, Granta Books, 1999
A biography of Britain's only female Nobel Prize-winning scientist, a crystallographer who was also an active peace campaigner and mover through the highest levels of the British establishment.
16. Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries
Sharon Mcgrayne, Henry (Joseph) Press, 2001
The Nobel Prize awardee list shows an astonishing disparity in the representation of women scientists. This book narrates the lives and achievements of 15 women scientists who have won a Nobel Prize or part of a Nobel Prize- winning project. Even in the midst of relenless discrimination, their love for science pushed them for science.
17. The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World
Shelley Emling, St. Martin’s Press, 2009
The book narrates the unsung story of Mary Anning, a twelve year who discovered the first dinosaur skeleton--of an ichthyosaur--while fossil hunting on the cliffs of Lyme Regis, England. The inspiration behind popular tongue-twister "She Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore", she attracted the attention of fossil collectors and the scientific world alike. Her peculiar finds helped lay the groundwork for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, laid out in his On the Origin of Species. Darwin based Mary's fossilized creatures as irrefutable evidence that life in the past was nothing like life in the present.
18. The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science
Julie Des Jardins, The Feminist Press, 2010
The book explains why sciences are predominantly considered a male-centric job with a historic context. The book compares the lives of women scientists with their male contemporaries to demonstrate how the gendered culture of science molds the methods, structure, and experience of the work.
19. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World
Rachel Swaby, Broadway Books, 2015
Emmy Noether (her mathematical theorem stands as a backbone of modern physics), Maria Gaetana Agnesi (the first woman to be appointed as a university mathematics professor), Sally Ride (first American woman in space), Yvonne Brill (worked on the chemical propulsions which enabled man to travel to the moon), Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (co-winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), Inge Lehmann (discovered that the earth has an inner core). These are just few of the 'Headstrong' women who have been instrumental in major breakthroughs from the 17th to 19th centuries. This book contains stories of 52 women who were the best in their fields, while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.
20. Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor
Robert Burleigh, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (Children’s book), 2016
This illustrated biography narrates the story of Marie Tharp, a pioneering woman scientist and the first person to ever successfully map the ocean floor. Taught to think big by her father who was a cartographer, Marie wanted to map the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite failures and challenges where Marie would be turned away from a ship as having a woman on board was “bad luck”, Marie was determined to succeed. By mapping the ocean floor, Marie helped us better understand the planet we call home.
21. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
Rachel Ignotofsky, Ten Speed Press, 2016
With beautiful, colourful illustrations, this book takes us on 50 inspiring journeys, each with one women scientist who left no stones unturned in their persuit of truth through science. They defied the society for their ambitions and become inspirations to millions!
22. Radioactive!: How Irène curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the world
Winifred Conkling, Algonquin Books, 2018
The book presents the story of two women, Irène Curie and Lise Meitner, who did ground breaking in a male-dominated field of science. Curie was denied admission to the French Academy of sciences due to her gender, even though she had been awarded with the Nobel Prize. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee.
23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot, Picador, 2019
This book narrates the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked as an enslaved farm help.However, her cells has become one of the most important tool in medicine: the first “immortal” human cells to be grown in culture. Her vital for developing the polio vaccine, uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses among others.
24. Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories
Kate Pankhurst, Bloomsbury Children’s Books (Children’s book), 2021
This book is a celebration of the women who made some of the world's most important scientific breakthroughs. Featuring Mae Jemison, Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, Janaki Ammal, Caroline Herschel, Katia Krafft, Tu Youyou and Rosalind Franklin, the book throws light on the lives of these incredible female scientists whose hard work, persistence and grit has changed our understanding of science, and of course broken down the typical gender roles attributed to women.
Being a platform for promoting astronomy research among the public, we hope that these books guide you on your path towards a meaningful life with science. Do let us know which books you will be reading or if we have missed any of your favorite women scientist’s book in the comments below.
- Bengaluru: The Astronomy City
- A list of scholarships for women in Science
- Measuring the age of the Universe: An overview