We are celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting three remarkable ebooks about female scientists and their extraordinary work in physics.

Women and Physics

Laura McCullough
April 2016

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This book begins with an examination of the numbers of women in physics in English-speaking countries, moving on to examine factors that affect girls and their decision to continue in science, right through to education and on into the problems that women in physics careers face. Looking at all of these topics with one eye on the progress that the field has made in the past few years, and another on those things that we have yet to address, the book surveys the most current research as it tries to identify strategies and topics that have significant impact on issues that women have in the field.

Women and Physics author Laura McCullough Laura McCullough

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is a day for celebration and education. Women in science have made huge gains in the last few decades, yet we still have a long way to go. International Women’s Day gives us a perfect moment to stop and reflect on the women who inspire, who love, and who lead.

What motivated you to write your book?

I wrote Women and Physics because I want to make sure that every person has the chance to explore and experience physics regardless of gender. Every person who falls in love with physics deserves to have a safe and open environment in which to follow that passion. We still have much to change to make that a reality, and change starts from understanding. This is a book designed to help us understand where we are so that we can build the future we want to see.

Which woman in science are you most inspired by?

Picking just one inspiring female scientist is all but impossible. My choice changes every month as my research leads me to learn about more women in science and their achievements. Right now, I am fascinated with Mary Somerville. Every new female scientist I learn about inspires me to keep working for equal access and equitable treatment for everyone in science.

Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries, 1903 to 1963

Scott Calvin
July 2017

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In the 116 year history of the Nobel Prize in Physics, only two women have won the award; Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Mayer (1963). During the 60 years between those awards, several women did work of similar calibre. This book focuses on those women, providing biographies for each that discuss both how they made their discoveries and the gender-specific reception of those discoveries. It also discusses the Nobel process and how society and the scientific community's treatment of them were influenced by their gender.

Beyond Curie author Scott Calvin Scott Calvin

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, International Women’s Day is not just a day to honor remarkable women, past and present. It’s also a day for assessing where we stand in the struggle for women’s empowerment, what has gone right and wrong, and what we can do to make things better.

What motivated you to write your book?

As a physicist, I first grew to admire the women that I wrote about as physicists with remarkable careers, not as “woman scientists.” But since I did my graduate work at Hunter College, which had its origins as a women’s college, I was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, also originally a women’s college. I am now on staff at Lehman College, which was originally an offshoot of Hunter. I am used to thinking about the challenges and triumphs of women in science. My wife, herself a historian, knowing that many of the physicists I’ve most admired were women, suggested I bring them together in this book.

Which woman in science are you most inspired by?

Lise Meitner was a remarkable scientist who happened to be a woman, and Maria Mayer was a remarkable woman who happened to be a scientist.

After the War: Women in physics in the United States

Ruth H Howes
Caroline L Herzenberg
April 2016

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This book examines the lives and contributions of American women physicists who were active in the years following World War II, during the middle decades of the 20th century. It covers the strategies they used to survive and thrive in a time where their gender was against them. The percentage of woman taking PhDs in physics has risen from 6% in 1983 to 20% in 2012 (an all-time high for women). By understanding the history of women in physics, these gains can continue.

It discusses two major classes of women physicists; those who worked on military projects, and those who worked in industrial laboratories and at universities largely in the late 1940s and 1950s. While it includes minimal discussion of physics and physicists in the 1960s and later, this book focuses on the challenges and successes of women physicists in the years immediately following World War II and before the eras of affirmative actions and the use of the personal computer.

After the War: Women in Physics in the United States author Ruth h Howes Ruth H Howes After the War: Women in Physics in the United States author Caroline L Herzenberg Caroline L Herzenberg

The following questions were answered by author Ruth H Howes.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day had gotten a bit lost in this country behind the March for Science and the Women’s March. Many schools, colleges, and universities attempt to have women speakers in honor of women’s month. I do own a green pussy hat which my niece made for me and which I wore in Paris last summer getting high-fives and raised fists from women all over the city.

What motivated you to write your book?

The women who continued on in physics after World War II were a great set of human beings, and we wanted to commemorate their contributions to the discipline. We limited our subjects to US women because 1) information about them was readably findable and consequently we knew more about them than their European counterparts. (Someone should probably look into this one.); 2) and there were enough women in the states to make a short book. Including Europeans would have put us over our 150 page limit. I regret that we couldn’t cover Marie and Irene Curie.

Which woman in science are you most inspired by?

Easily my strongest female influence was my dissertation advisor, the Chinese physicist, C.S. Wu who detected parity violation and served as President of the American Physical Society during my graduate work. The Columbia Physics Department could condemn me for laziness, carelessness or stupidity, but never because I was a women. With Wu’s encouragement, I attended the APS first session on Women in Physics where I still remember Dr. Wu blazing out the question, “Is it permitted to rebuttal the speaker?” when a male panelist remarked that “if I had been married to Pierre Curie, I would have been Marie Curie.” She indeed rebutted the question.

I also attended Mt. Holyoke College and heard Esther Conwell and Betsy Anker-Johnson give colloquia about their work. The faculty there talked me into undergraduate research and strongly encouraged graduate school (even though the Princeton University Catalogue said the “Women are not welcome in the Graduate School at Princeton University!” Mildred Allen was often in the physics department with emerita status.

I guess my best two stories from grad school are the time when all physics grad students were given blood tests to check for over-exposure to radiation. I was having my period and was called in to see the doctor because my hemoglobin was low. He took one surprised look at me and gasped, “but you’re a girl!” I also had a baby in grad school. Fortunately Dr. Wu spotted it before anybody else, and merely asked if I was wearing a special dress. I lied that no I was not and later went to her office and pleaded to be allowed to keep working. She let me work actively until I went into labor. Of course, I was called into the office of the lab’s health physicist who noted I was pregnant and asked me to be careful of radiation since there were no rules. The Chinese postdoc with whom I worked most closely would call me whenever I drew a midnight shift on the accelerator and make a feeble excuse, such as “It’s my sister’s birthday” before asking me to take his evening shift so he could do the midnight one. I am still flattered that he lied to me because he knew I wouldn’t trade just because I was pregnant. Dr. Wu kept the atmosphere such that I could diaper the baby on the Van der Graff console. The only advice she gave me was to find an older woman to provide child care, and one of my fellow grad students (Chinese-male) helped me find one.

Later I was the only woman faculty member in the Physical Sciences at Ball State University and had the chance to help lots of undergraduate women science students with their problems caused by gender discrimination. I also worked with or knew a number of distinguished women physicists including Millie Dresselhaus and Judy Franz, and very recently was charmed by the British Astronomer, Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, whom I’m sure you know.

Explore the full IOP ebooks collection

Who has inspired you?

We would like to hear about your most inspiring female scientist. E-mail, tweet or message us on Facebook using the hashtag #IWD2018 and we will feature you on this page. Please use the buttons below to e-mail us, or to navigate to IOP Publishing's social media pages.

"One of my favourites is Ruth Bancewicz, a talented geneticist, working on the positive interaction between science and faith, based at The Faraday Institute at Cambridge, and especially in her work preparing inspiring resources for schools."
Mike Hill, Email

"I choose Lise Meitner as an example of an exceptional woman that did exceptional things in exceptional times. Lise Meitner completed her studies in a time when women were not allowed into higher education. In spite of that she completed her education, got a doctorate and managed to forge collaborations with the most brilliant minds of her time. She showed very early her talent in physics, and nonetheless she had to fight to gain a paid research position because she was not doing a woman’s job. I admire her perseverance, resilience and hard work. Finally, I selected her because she was NOT awarded the Nobel prize with O Hahn. While the experimental work of O Hahn was of course crucial, she was the one that understood and explained fission, but this was not enough. I am sure that being a woman mattered for this decision. Nonetheless, Lise Meitner should be remembered for her many brilliant and original contributions to fundamental physics, and as pioneer for women in science "
Saibene Gabriella, Email

"My favourite female physicist is Laura Bassi. She was probably the first woman to hold down a professional career in the world of science and to teach at The University of Bologna. She used her position to contribute to the scientific community of Europe."
Dr Nicoleta Gaciu, Email

"Vera Rubin. Many years ago I was in the stacks of a university library looking for papers on dark matter, obviously her papers were cited but as V Rubin. So to see it was a woman leading the field was inspiring and incredibly pleasing. Especially as physics is still so male dominated."
Jane Goth, Twitter

"Don’t miss your free ebooks from @IOPPublishing today on women in physics. And I’d like to nominate Delia Derbyshire as my new personal hero for blending science technology and music in probably THE most famous piece of electronic music ever. #IWD2018"
Wendy Sadler MBE, Twitter

"The female physicist who has inspired me the most is my friend Ailsa Sparkes, who passed away at the beginning of 2016. Ailsa achieved an incredible amount at the cutting edge of modern physics in her too-short career, working on the LHCb experiment at CERN before trading particle physics for fusion research and moving to JET at CCFE. She was truly an inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to knew her, bringing her uniquely upbeat outlook (and weapons-grade laugh) to everything she did, no matter how challenging. Ailsa was also deeply passionate about outreach, active in supporting women and girls in physics. She is sorely missed, but I know that she will continue to inspire future generations of young physicists even though she is sadly no longer with us."
Iain Trotter , Email

"Marie Curie – extremely hectic life yet managed on top of it all to become a pioneer in the field and hugely important in helping with the fight against cancer!"
Daniel Heatley, Email

"My teaching colleagues. Most of whom are smarter than me and stay off Twitter ;) "
Alom Shaha, Twitter

"My vote goes to Lise Meitner, who should have won a Nobel prize for physics for her work on nuclear fission. Working with Hahn and Strassmann, it was Meitner who realised what was happening in their experiments with uranium. Together with her nephew, Otto Frisch, they explained the results as due to fission of the uranium nucleus, with Meitner being one of the first to invoke Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 to convert mass to energy. Meitner and Frisch had this insight during a famous walk in the snow around Christmas 1938 - a wonderful story! If I had a second vote, it would be for Henrietta Leavitt who in 1912 discovered the period-luminosity relationship of cepheid variable stars, and so made it possible for Hubble to prove that the Andromeda nebula was outside our own galaxy. From that moment, humanity became aware of just how vast our universe is - a truly humbling realisation. "
Nigel Butler, Email

"My favourite female physicists, I have two: Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who continued doggedly with her work and should have shared credit in the Nobel Prize and Millie Dresselhaus, for the volume and clarity of her work and help it has given me in my own studies"
Dr. Stella Elliott, Email

"Rosalind Franklin for her contribution to our understanding of the molecular structure of DNA & RNA"
Linda H2 NeutriKnoW, Twitter

"Vera Rubin and her contribution to galaxy rotation curves, leading to the first real experimental evidence for dark matter"
Freya Blekman, Twitter

"Chien-Shiung Wu and her contribution to the first observation of Charge+Parity conservation, one of the more counterintuitive parts of electroweak Standard Model physics"
Freya Blekman, Twitter

"The Scientist women that inspire me is Joy Adamson. She was a noted conservationist and author who lived in Kenya in the 1950s. After her husband, a game warden, shot and killed a lion, Adamson rescued one of the orphaned cubs. She later wrote "Born Free" about raising the cub, named Elsa, and releasing her back to the wild. The book was an international best-seller and earned Adamson acclaim for her conservation efforts. "
Philomena Mwirigi, Email