All posts by Eileen Nalley

Awesome women in science!!!

It seemed to me that we could all use a bit of an uplifting read right now, so what better topic could there be to talk about on the Donahue Lab blog than awesome female scientists?!

Despite there being so many women to choose from throughout herstory, I decided to look into a few movers and shakers that were contemporary to remind everyone that there is indeed much hope for the future. So, without further ado, please enjoy learning about these amazing, talented women and the incredible work that they’re doing.


SARA SEAGER, PhD – Astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT & 2013 MacArthur Fellow (


According to her website, Dr. Seager was drawn to the sky from an early age after a particularly inspiring glimpse of the moon through a telescope. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Math and Physics from the University of Toronto, she eventually ended up getting a PhD in Astronomy at Harvard, where she studied the atmospheres of exoplanets, which are basically just planets in another solar system. Though her dissertation research was considered revolutionary and impossible to prove at the time, exoplanets are now widely accepted, and Dr. Seager has been able to spend her career studying them! She currently is a Professor at MIT and teaches classes with intriguing titles like “Atmospheric Radiation”! When she isn’t busy discovering new planets or talking with Ira Flatow on Science Friday Dr. Seager works with NASA to develop space instrumentation. She was also one of the Co-Investigators for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will be launched next year.


JENNIFER DOUDNA, PhD – Biochemist & Molecular Biologist at UC Berkeley (


While you may not be familiar with Dr. Doudna’s name, you are almost certainly familiar with her work, which includes developing CRISPR technology (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). This broadly refers to a system whereby bacteria and archaea are able to recognize and copy portions of DNA from invaders, such as phages, and insert that into their own DNA. This sequence then gets transcribed into RNAs, which carry the code of the invader’s DNA. Proteins can then use the code on these RNAs to recognize the invader’s DNA if it appears again. Upon detection, the bacteria’s CRISPR associated proteins will cut through the foreign DNA!!! This acts as an immune response for the bacteria or archaea and is referred to as adaptive immunity. Importantly, Dr. Doudna has been able to use the same CRISPR mechanism to target very specific regions of DNA and modify genes, which has enormous implications for the biomedical field.


MAE JEMISON, M.D. – Doctor, Astronaut (


Dr. Jemison started her career as a medical doctor but ended up fulfilling a lifelong dream of being the first female African-American astronaut in 1992. Shortly after graduating from Stanford and then Cornell University, Dr. Jemison became the Medical Officer for the Peace Corps West Africa program. It sounds like she did just about everything you can imagine in this position ranging from teaching to developing public health guidelines to overseeing the pharmacy and labs. After returning to the U.S., Dr. Jemison worked as a physician while also taking engineering classes. It was at this point that she applied to and was accepted for the NASA astronaut program. She went into space on the Endeavor, and in an interview she says that the first thing she saw on Earth was her hometown of Chicago! On the mission Dr. Jemison conducted bone cell research while orbiting the Earth 127 times. Her focus of late has been on developing the 100 Year Starship, a group that exists in their own words “to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years.”


MARYAM MIRZAKHANI, PhD – Mathematician at Stanford University & 2014 Fields Medal Recipient

Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She is the first woman in the prize’s 80-year history to earn the distinction. The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement.


While I said this was all awesome female scientists, math is essential for science, and Dr. Mirzakhani is way too amazing to not include in this list! She gained much acclaim recently for being the first woman in history to win the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics or the Fields Medal, which is the highest mathematics award. Dr. Mirzakhani is from Tehran, Iran, and by the time she was in high school she was already being awarded international honors in mathematics. Her focus is on pure math, which does not have a specific intended application but which will certainly be applicable to many fields in the future. According to an interview with Wired Magazine, Dr. Mirzakhani views solving mathematical problems in the same light as writing a novel, except her characters are proofs. As a young professor and scholar, Dr. Mirzakhani undoubtedly has much more exciting work ahead of her!

Hopefully that provided you with a touch of inspiration to get you through the rest of the week and beyond. For stories about more amazing women and others, check out this article: