An Ode to Great Double X-Chromosomed Scientists

Although women have been researching and inventing for as long as men have been grunting and hunting, recognition for their accomplishments has been sparse. We think we owe them a few retroactive shout-outs.

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Flammulina Velutipes

Beatrix Potter may be known mainly as the mother of adorable anthropomorphized animals, but the British author and illustrator also used her skills for some decidedly less cuddly work. Around the turn of the 19th century, scientists had no way of photographing images under a microscope, so Potter found herself churning out watercolor paintings of fungi in labs. Pretty soon, she'd become a well-respected mycologist and was one of the first scientists to study lichens. At the time, women were barred from attending scientific meetings, so Potter's uncle had to present her papers for her. Eventually, she had to settle for a more "appropriate" profession, and thus Peter Rabbit was born.

"No Nobel" Burnell

As a graduate student in Cambridge in the late 1960s, Jocelyn Bell Burnell builtr a radio telescope with her thesis advisor, Antony Hewish. While taking readings, she noticed a regularly repeating radio signal from a segment of space. Confused, she and Hewish labeled the phenomenon "LGM" for "little green men". Later, the scientific community renamed them "pulsars," for "one of the biggest astronomy discoveries in modern history". In 1974, Hewish received the Nobel Prize. The ever-observant Burnell, however, wasn't even mentioned during his acceptance speech.

Computational Error

Even though men used to have a hard time sharing their labs with ladies, they seemed more than happy to let women crunch the numbers. In 1946, after John Mauchly and Presper Eckert finished building the world's first electronic digital computer, known as the ENIAC, they solicited the aid of six women to program and run the thing. Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman subsequently became the world's first computer programmers. Sadly, their work was considered "clerical", and their station "sub-professional". In 1997, however, those words were amended, and all six women were inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.


The article above, written by Hank Green, appeared in the Scatterbrained section of the September - October 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

Don't forget to feed your brain by subscribing to the magazine and visiting mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog today for more!

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Quite an impressive list. But do you know what male scientists have discovered and/or developed? EVERYTHING ELSE.

heh heh... sorry, couldn't resist.
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Also, technically, some men can have two X chromosomes (in addition to the Y). On the other hand, some men can have two Ys and 1 X.

I wonder if we've had any great male scientists with 'double xs'? :P
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The ENIAC was NOT....repeat...was NOT the first electronic digital computer. The first was the Atanasoff Berry computer (ABC) created at Iowa State University 1937-1942 (see:
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