Photographs by Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures (left), Robert I.M. Campbell (center), and Rodney Brindamour (right)
Biruté M. F. Galdikas (left)
Born: May 10, 1946
Occupation: Primatologist, Conservationist, Ethologist
While in graduate school, Galdikas decided to study orangutans, at that time the least known of the great apes. She approached Louis Leakey, the world-renowned paleoanthropologist. Leakey helped Galdikas embark on field studies of orangutans. Over the course of nearly 30 years, Galdikas has greatly expanded scientific knowledge of orangutan behavior. In 1986 she established Orangutan Foundation International, a nonprofit group that raises funds for orangutan conservation.
Jane Goodall (center)
Born: April 3, 1934
Occupation: Primatologist and Anthropologist
After reading the children’s book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, a story about a doctor who travels to Africa and learns to talk to animals, seven-year-old Jane Goodall decided that she must go to Africa someday. She began reading every book about animals and Africa she could find.
Years later, a friend told her about a man named Louis Leakey, who was busy searching for evidence of early man in Kenya. Jane arranged an interview with Leakey. Impressed by her knowledge of animals, he hired Goodall.
Goodall has spent over 40 years studying the chimpanzees. Her goals have always been to understand and preserve the chimpanzees. Her work has been important in bringing the need for conservation to millions of people.
Dian Fossey (right)
Born: January 16, 1932
Died: December 26, 1985
Occupation: Primatologist, Zoologist, Wildlife Conservationist
Dian Fossey is considered the world's foremost authority on mountain gorillas. Throughout the 20 years she spent studying mountain gorillas in Africa, she strongly opposed the poachers (people who kill or take wild animals illegally) who threatened to wipe out the endangered primates.
Photography courtesy of Patricia Bath, M.D.Patricia Bath, M.D.
Born: November 4, 1942
Patricia Bath was the first African American woman to receive a patent for a medical invention. She developed a laser device to remove cataracts. Bath began her scientific career in cancer research as a teenager and then pursued ophthalmology in medical school. She developed a new field called community ophthalmology that was dedicated to providing quality eye care to underserved populations. In addition to her academic career, Bath also founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and serves as the organization's president.
Photograph by AP PhotoValentina Tereshkova
Born: March 6, 1937
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. Tereshkova got her start when she joined the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club and became a skilled parachutist. Inspired by the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, she volunteered for the Soviet space program. Although she had no experience as a pilot, her 126-foot (38-meter) jump record gained her a position as a cosmonaut in 1961. In 1963, she orbited the Earth for almost three days, proving that women had the same resistance to space as men. After her historic orbit, she toured the world promoting Soviet science and feminism and continued as an aerospace engineer in the space program. She has both an asteroid and a crater on the moon named in her honor.
Photographs courtesy NASAEllen Ochoa (left)
Born: May 10, 1958
Occupation: Electrical Engineer and Astronaut
Ellen Ochoa is noted both for her distinguished work in inventions and for her role in American space exploration. In the late 1980s she began working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an optical specialist. After leading a project team, Ochoa was selected for NASA's space flight program. She made her first flight on the space shuttle Discovery in April 1993, becoming the first Hispanic woman astronaut.
Sally Ride (right)
Born: May 26, 1951
Occupation: Astronaut and Physicist
Sally Ride is best known as the first American woman sent into outer space. At 31, she was also the youngest person sent into orbit. After NASA, Ride has been vocal about encouraging women to enter math and science. She considers this her "personal crusade."
Photograph courtesy AP PhotoMarie Curie
Born: November 7, 1867
Died: July 4, 1934
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first scientist to win the Nobel twice. With her husband Pierre Curie, Marie Curie developed and introduced the concept of radioactivity to the world. Her scientific efforts also included the application of x-rays and radioactivity to medical treatments. During World War I, Curie brought her technology to the war front. Radiological equipment was installed in ambulances, which meant that wounded soldiers would not have to be transported far to be x-rayed.
Photo by Michael Branscom, courtesy of Lemelson-MIT ProgramStephanie Louise Kwolek
Born: July 23, 1923
Stephanie Louise Kwolek is considered the pioneer of polymer research. Kwolek's work resulted in Kevlar, the ultra-strong material best known for its use in bulletproof vests. After graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1946, she became a researcher for DuPont and remained there for her entire professional career. Over the course of her 40-year career she obtained 16 patents for a variety of groundbreaking materials.
Kwolek is retired but continues to give motivational talks. She regularly receives letters from students interested in her work and tries to personally answer all of them.
Photograph courtesy Perry Pictures
Born: May 12, 1820
Died: August 13, 1910
Occupation: Nurse and Public Health Advocate
Florence Nightingale is generally regarded as having founded the modern profession of nursing. She was born to very wealthy parents who forbade her from becoming a nurse after she shared her career desire with them. Within a few years, she ignored their protests and enrolled in the Institution of Deaconesses in Germany.
Nightingale led a group of nurses to Crimea, an area where thousands of wounded British soldiers were dying due to poor medical conditions in makeshift hospitals. Nightingale worked tirelessly caring for the soldiers. At night she carried a lamp through the corridors, stopping to help the suffering. For this, she was nicknamed "the lady of the lamp."
Shortly after her arrival, she became severely ill. She returned to England in 1856, and remained bedridden for the rest of her life. Despite her illness, Nightingale continued to write about appropriate medical practices for the military, prompting the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army.
Photograph by Franco Origlia/Getty ImagesRita Levi-Montalcini
Born: April 22, 1909
Rita Levi-Montalcini is an Italian neurologist who discovered the nerve growth factor (NGF) with Stanley Cohen and received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Today, she is the oldest living Nobel laureate.