Celebrating Women in Chemistry

What do you think of when you hear the word “woman”? Our views of women and the roles they play in society today are greatly affected by culture, age, experience and a number of other factors. Words that once defined the stereotypical woman: wife, mother, cook, homemaker, etc., are still very relevant today. The difference between then and now is how women have professionally morphed over the years. Why can’t a mother of three also be the founder and CEO of a successful company? She can, and with women representing 47% of today’s U.S. workforce1, she is.

At Xylem, we are fortunate to be part of a global company which embraces the talents and brainpower women have to offer in all parts of the business. Across the brand, women are fearlessly leading the way as executives, chemists, engineers, assembly specialists, product managers, marketing gurus, IT experts, human resource specialists and more. We are proud our Xylem culture is one that celebrates what women, as equal individuals, are capable of bringing to the table.

In the spirit of March representing Women’s History Month, we’d like to further celebrate the lives of women who have achieved major accomplishments in chemistry. These women may have also held the titles of wife, mother and homemaker, but their love for science propelled them into greatness, paving the way for future chemists.  

NOTE: The information for the following profiles was sourced from Science History Institute's "Women in Chemistry" : https://www.sciencehistory.org/learn/women-in-chemistry

Mildred Cohn, PhD

As a Jewish woman in the early 1900s, the odds were stacked against Mildred Cohn as she set out to prove her worth as a chemist. Through determination, she beat those odds finding herself later employed in top government and university laboratory positions. Cohn’s claim to chemical fame was transforming the study of enzymes, engineering her own instruments when what she needed wasn’t available. She also helped pioneer the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and instruments like NMR spectrometers, which enabled her to study how enzymes and other proteins behave during chemical reactions in the body.

   


Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is proof that a woman who believes in her abilities and takes action can become a billionaire entrepreneur. Born in the 50s in Bangalore, India, Mazumdar-Shaw knew she had a passion for chemistry, but was also aware of the cultural barriers she faced. In her words: “I think it’s very important to keep evolving, and I think when you have that kind of a mindset, then reinventing yourself or reinventing your business is a natural part of that process. You have to keep challenging the status quo.”  Mazumdar-Shaw pressed forward stepping into her father’s shoes as master brewer at United Breweries, which led her into crossing paths with the founder of Biocon Biochemicals, who steered her into the role of managing director for Biocon India in 1978. What began as a two-employee “garage shop” for the engineering of industrial enzymes for food and textile producers has now evolved into the largest biotechnology corporation in India, employing 5,000+. Biocon now serves the pharmaceutical industry as Asia’s primary provider of insulin, and is an innovator for diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis cures.   


Paula Hammond, PhD

As an African American woman, Paula Hammond followed her love for chemistry to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during a time when women only accounted for one-fifth of the student population, and African American students were a rarity at MIT, in general. In her pursuit of studying nanotechnology (the creation of technologies that work at the molecular or atomic level), she made the discovery that polymers increase the amount of power held by solar cells, and she created materials that reorganize their own molecules. As a cofounder of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology founded in 2002, Hammond uses her scientific mind to aid in U.S. military safety. One of her main breakthroughs has been developing a spray coating that helps blood clot quickly, which could make a life or death difference to soldiers wounded in action.  “You can start with an idea, and it’s just an idea. But when you get into a lab and you begin to put these things together it becomes real, and that’s incredible.”

 

Sources:

  1. Association for Women in Science (AWIS): https://www.awis.org/
  2. Science History Institute Women in Chemistry : https://www.sciencehistory.org/learn/women-in-chemistry