February 11th marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a significant observance designated by the United Nations to honour the invaluable contributions of women in the field of science. In this article, we embark on a special exploration dedicated to the remarkable women who have made indelible marks in the world of particle physics. This global initiative seeks to acknowledge and celebrate the profound impact of women in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The selection of February 11th as the commemorative day holds particular significance as it coincides with the birthday of Marie Curie, a pioneering physicist and chemist who stands as a timeless symbol of excellence in the sciences. Let's explore the stories of some of the most influential women physicists in the world who have marked the history of particle physics:
1. Maria Goeppert-Mayer: Nobel Laureate in Nuclear Configurations
Maria Goeppert-Mayer's groundbreaking work in nuclear physics earned her the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, making her the second woman ever to receive this prestigious honour in physics. Her research focused on the structure of atomic nuclei, particularly the shell model of the nucleus. This model, which she developed alongside Hans Jensen, provided crucial insights into the organisation of protons and neutrons within the nucleus. Goeppert-Mayer's contributions laid the foundation for our modern understanding of nuclear physics and paved the way for further discoveries in the field.
2. Lise Meitner: The Mother of Nuclear Fission
Lise Meitner played a pivotal role in the discovery of nuclear fission, one of the most significant breakthroughs in 20th-century physics. Despite facing discrimination as a woman and being excluded from the Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery, Meitner's contributions were instrumental. Alongside Otto Hahn, she provided the theoretical explanation for the phenomenon of nuclear fission, demonstrating the release of immense energy when heavy atomic nuclei split into smaller fragments. Meitner's insights laid the groundwork for the development of nuclear reactors and atomic bombs, shaping the course of history.
3. Fabiola Gianotti: Leading CERN
Fabiola Gianotti made history as the first woman to serve as the Director-General of CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory. In this role, she oversaw groundbreaking experiments conducted at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), including the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. Her achievements serve as an inspiration to aspiring scientists, particularly women, encouraging them to pursue careers in particle physics and STEM fields.
4. Chien-Shiung Wu: The Queen of Experiments
Chien-Shiung Wu was a pioneering experimental physicist whose groundbreaking experiments revolutionised our understanding of fundamental particles and interactions. One of her most notable contributions was the experimental confirmation of the theory of parity violation in weak interactions. Through meticulous experimental design and execution, Wu demonstrated that the weak force violates the principle of parity conservation, a discovery that earned her widespread recognition in the scientific community. Despite facing gender discrimination and challenges throughout her career, Wu's dedication to scientific inquiry and pursuit of excellence left an enduring legacy in the field of particle physics.
These extraordinary women faced unique challenges in their careers. The underrepresentation of women in particle physics and gender biases were, and sometimes still are, significant hurdles. However, the determination, passion, and innate abilities of these women surpassed such obstacles, paving the way for future generations.
The stories of these women not only illuminate the past but also inspire young minds aspiring to pursue careers in science. By commemorating this day, the global community aims to inspire and empower more women and girls to explore STEM disciplines, fostering inclusivity and diversity in the scientific landscape.
At IPPOG, we are committed to promoting gender balance in science. In line with this commitment, on February 9th, coinciding with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we organise special masterclasses tailored specifically to girls passionate about science. These masterclasses offer a unique opportunity for young women to engage with particle physics concepts in a supportive and empowering environment, led by female scientists who serve as role models and mentors. By participating in these masterclasses, girls not only gain valuable knowledge and skills but also develop confidence in their abilities and envision themselves as future leaders in STEM fields.
Through these initiatives, we strive to break down barriers and inspire the next generation of female scientists to pursue their passions and make their mark in the world of particle physics. For more information, please visit: ippog.org/international-masterclasses/imc-women-science-day