Women make a strong impact on the Nobel Prizes

By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.

Every year, the best and brightest in the science community and abroad are celebrated at the Nobel Prize ceremony. This year, several records were broken, and norms were shattered with some of the winners.

One of the most noticeable winners of the night was the Nobel Prize for Physics recipient Donna Strickland. As the first woman to win the award in fifty-five years, and third in general, the win seemed like a grand statement towards women in the science field.
Strickland, alongside her co-inventor Gérard Mourou, developed a method of “generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses” according to the Nobel Prize website. In a subsequent NPR interview, Strickland gushed about the honor, proclaiming, “I feel unbelievably honored to be, you know, with Marie Curie and Goeppert Mayer. It’s like, how can I be in the same breath as those three?”

Curie famously broke the barrier in 1903 for her studies on radiation, and sixty years later Mayer accrued the award for nuclear physics. So, the best that can be said about the wide gap is at least Strickland did not have to wait another sixty years.

Another landmark moment occurred over at the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, where Frances H. Arnold became the fifth woman to ever share a Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She took home the coveted prize for her work on the directed evolution of enzymes.

After ditching her work as a mechanical engineer, she became what the Nobel Prize website called “a protein engineer”. She says her work as a mechanical engineer greatly helped her though, because she could “take a look at the problem thorough a different set of eyes” as opposed to other biologists who solely work on proteins. Arnold shared the award with George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter but both of them won their awards for separate inventions.

What truly made it a watershed moment though was that, for the first time ever, women won both the Chemistry and Physics award in the same year. More so, a woman also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 too, making it the first year where half of the awards went to women.

The Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, shared her award with Denis Mukwege for their work on “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” While Mukwege gained experience in that field working at a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Murad felt firsthand the effects of sexual violence at the hands of ISIS.

During their initial tyrannical reign through Iraq back in 2014, thousands of the ethnic group the Yazidis were brutally massacred. The remaining women who had to watch their husband and children get murdered were then forced into sex slavery. Murad was one of those sex slaves, but after she managed to escape ISIS she promised to never stay silent, despite constant death threats. Together, the two of them have pushed to stop sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The 2018 Nobel Prizes show that worldwide women are reaching their potential and breaking the glass ceiling in several ways.

From Donna Strickland’s work in physics, to Frances H. Arnold’s efforts in chemistry, to Nuria Murad’s movement to end sexual violence in war, the three recipients serve as inspirations to billions of women in the world that they can do anything, even in male-dominated areas like science.

PHOTO COURTESY: THE CONVERSATION

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