Science is not just a story about discoveries; it’s also a story about people. Their passions, preferences, insights and determination shape scientific progress.
Some win awards for their work — Nobels, Lasker Awards, the Breakthrough Prize. But even among the prizewinners, very few receive widespread public acclaim. Scientific celebrity is rare. More often, scientists toil away, recognized by their peers but not many others. And in too many cases, the names of those who made important contributions are dropped from the discoveries they made possible.
This collection highlights scientists who deserve to be better known — some of them went unrecognized at the time of their work, while others have been forgotten by the passage of time. There’s a focus on people who have accomplished great things despite the barriers of sexism and racism. But we’ve also included amateur and citizen scientists who have contributed new ideas and essential data, researchers who take on the seemingly thankless task of communicating science in an age of disinformation, and those who are pushing to make science more inclusive. This collection will grow with time — there are many more stories to tell.
What was Rosalind Franklin’s true role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix?
Two researchers say that Rosalind Franklin knowingly collaborated with James Watson and Francis Crick to discover the molecular structure of DNA.
Herminia Pasantes discovered how taurine helps brain cells regulate their size
Mexican scientist Herminia Pasantes spent decades studying how nerve cells regulate their size and why it’s so vital.
Marie Maynard Daly was a trailblazing biochemist, but her full story may be lost
Marie Maynard Daly was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry, but her own perspective on her research is missing from the historical record.
Core memory weavers and Navajo women made the Apollo missions possible
The stories of the women who assembled integrated circuits and wove core memory for the Apollo missions remain largely unknown.
Luis Miramontes helped enable the sexual revolution. Why isn’t he better known?
By synthesizing norethindrone, one of the first active ingredients in birth control pills, Luis Miramontes helped usher in the sexual revolution.
By taking on poliovirus, Marguerite Vogt transformed the study of all viruses
She pioneered the field of molecular virology with her meticulous lab work and “green thumb” for tissue culture.
Haiti’s citizen seismologists helped track its devastating quake in real time
Two scientists explain how citizen scientists and their work could help provide a better understanding of Haiti’s seismic hazards.
Vera Rubin’s work on dark matter led to a paradigm shift in cosmology
‘Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond’ tells the story of how astronomer Vera Rubin provided key evidence for the existence of dark matter.
Mathematician J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. was a Manhattan Project standout despite racism
Black scientist J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. made nuclear physics calculations that helped build an atomic bomb.
A new memoir tells the life story of NASA ‘hidden figure’ Katherine Johnson
"My Remarkable Journey" gives the backstory of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, the central character of the 2016 film "Hidden Figures."
Meet three moderators fighting disinformation on Reddit’s largest coronavirus forum
Science News spoke with volunteers about what it takes to correct misinformation online during a pandemic.
Marie Tharp’s groundbreaking maps brought the seafloor to the world
In part because of her gender, Tharp was the right person in the right place at the right time to make the first detailed maps of the ocean’s bottom.
Hear from people taking action against COVID-19
Researchers, a health care worker, a clinical trial volunteer and others share their experiences during the pandemic.
A #BlackBirdersWeek cofounder aims to amplify black nature enthusiasts
Wildlife biologist Danielle Belleny hopes the social media campaign represents black birders and nature enthusiasts of color in a hobby often stereotyped as white.
These women endured a winter in the high Arctic for citizen science
Two women have spent the winter on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to collect data for climate scientists around the world.
How Julia Robinson helped define the limits of mathematical knowledge
Born 100 years ago, Julia Robinson played a key role in solving Hilbert’s 10th problem.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell wins big physics prize for 1967 pulsar discovery
Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaks about winning the Breakthrough Prize, impostor syndrome and giving back.
In her short life, mathematician Emmy Noether changed the face of physics
A century after she published a groundbreaking mathematical theory, Emmy Noether gets her due.
The amateur who helped Einstein see the light
With help from Science News Letter, eccentric amateur Rudi Mandl persuaded Einstein to explore the phenomenon of gravitational lensing.
Unsung characters Milestones
With the 1918 influenza pandemic racing through military training camps, the U.S. Army Nurse Corps began accepting Black nurses two days after World War I ended. Nine of the first group of 18, shown here around 1919, went to Camp Sherman in Ohio.
Cecilia Payne (shown) discovers what stars are made of: mostly hydrogen and helium.
In a discovery that portends the possibility of atomic bombs, Otto Hahn (right) and Fritz Strassmann report evidence that uranium atoms produce barium when bombarded with neutrons. As explained by their collaborator Lise Meitner (left) and her nephew Otto Frisch, this is fission, the splitting of atoms.
Barbara McClintock (shown) describes her studies from corn kernels of genetic elements that can move from chromosome to chromosome — transposable elements, or transposons.
Microbiologist Elizabeth Lee Hazen (left) and chemist Rachel Fuller Brown (right) discover the first effective antifungal, nystatin.
Luis Miramontes (shown) made one of the first active ingredients in birth control pills – norethindrone.
Grace Hopper (shown) creates the first compiler. It translated instructions into code that a computer could read and execute, making it an important step in the evolution of modern programming languages.
Vincent G. Allfrey, Alfred E. Mirsky and Marie Maynard Daly (shown) report direct experimental evidence that protein synthesis requires RNA.
Narinder Singh Kapany successfully sent high-quality images through a bundle of optical fibers.
Columbia University researchers Bruce Heezen, Marie Tharp (shown) and Maurice Ewing create the first comprehensive map of an ocean basin, revealing a deep rift right at the center of a long underwater mountain chain cutting through the North Atlantic.
Marian Diamond provides early evidence for the brain’s ability to change, or plasticity, later summarizing her findings with the phrase, “Use it or lose it.”
Beatrice Mintz creates a mouse with two mothers and two fathers to demonstrate which parent’s genetic contribution ended up in which region of the body.
Chemist Stephanie Kwolek (shown) invents Kevlar while looking for light, strong fibers to replace steel wires in car tires.
Vera Rubin (shown), Kent Ford and Norbert Thonnard measure the rotation rates of stars in outer parts of galaxies, strongly implying the existence of dark matter.