The University Record, February 28, 1994

Women scientists are focus of Mullin-Welch Lecture

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

More than 300 scientists have won the Nobel Prize since 1901, but only nine of them—less than three percent—have been women.

Why so few? According to Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, given the relentless discrimination these women scientists faced, the question should be “Why so many?”

McGrayne, author of Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles and Momentous Discoveries, will discuss the careers of notable women scientists in the annual Mullin-Welch Lecture 3–5 p.m. Thursday (March 3) in the School of Dentistry’s Kellogg Auditorium. The free, public lecture is sponsored by the Center for the Education of Women and its Women in Science Program.

In her book, McGrayne examines the remarkable achievements of 14 women who either were awarded the Nobel Prize, or who played a crucial role in a Prize-winning project. Many did so in the face of disapproval, ridicule, and lack of support. Examples include:

  • Austrian physicist Lise Meitner, who “deciphered the experiment of the century and explained that the atomic nucleus can split. For the project she initiated, her male partner received the Nobel Prize.”

  • Rosalind Franklin, a pioneer in the study of DNA, whose experimental evidence was used by James Watson and Francis Crick without her permission. The two men received the Nobel Prize but never acknowledged her fundamental contribution to their work.

    McGrayne, a newspaper reporter in New Jersey, Michigan and Tennessee for 15 years, also is a writer and editor on physics for the Encyclopedia Brittanica.