If you ask an ordinary person with whom he or she associates the concept of «science», you will probably hear in response such names as Mendeleev, Darwin, Einstein. So, the image of a scientist in our minds is strongly associated with men and this is a stereotype that has developed for centuries.
Nowadays a woman engaged in science is a ubiquitous phenomenon, but it was not always so. 150 years ago, women did not only have the right to vote, but even the right to receive education on an equal basis with men. But talent will make its way everywhere, and while in the United States and Europe the suffragette movement was gaining strength, in Russia women were making their way in science: the discoveries made by the first female scientists went down in the history of world science on a par with the achievements of their male colleagues.
Today, not only Russia, but the whole world is proud of such female scientists like: Sofya Kovalevskaya, Zinaida Yermolyeva, Fatima Butaeva.
Female professor. Sofya Kovalevskaya
The first female professor in Russia and Northern Europe, the first female professor of mathematics, and perhaps the most famous Russian female scientist. All these titles belong to Sofya Kovalevskaya.
There are different assumptions about why Sophia was interested in such a «non-female» occupation for her time, as mathematics. According to one legend, due to the lack of wallpaper for her children’s room, the walls there were pasted over with the lectures of the mathematician Mikhail Ostrogradsky on differential and integral calculus. So, the girl literally from infancy was «immersed» and surrounded by a world of formulas. Was it true or not, we do not really know, but the formation of such a phenomenal personality should certainly have been influenced by the entourage. Since the doors of Russian universities at that time were closed to women, she was able to get a higher education only abroad, in Germany. She first attended lectures at the University of Heidelberg, then at the University of Berlin, and in 1874 received her Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Göttingen.
Sofia’s mathematical talent has been recognized in the best European universities: She worked as a professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Stockholm, her scientific works were awarded the Borden Prize, and then the King Oscar II Prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In 1888, the first female professor wrote the paper «Problem of a rigid body rotation around a fixed axis», in which she discovered the third classical case of solving this problem, continuing the work started by Leonhard Euler and Joseph-Louis Lagrange.
Lermontov’s relative and theoretical founder of the Russian oil industry
The great female mathematician was linked for many years by friendship with another female scientist - Julia Lermontova who was a distant relative of the famous Russian poet. The first Russian female chemist to receive a doctorate degree in chemistry stood at the theoretical foundation of Russia’s future oil industry.
Lermontova’s path to science, just like her friend’s one, was not easy. But, unlike Kovalevskaya, she was able to achieve recognition in Russia. Julia became the first Russian woman to be awarded the right to work in the chemical laboratory of Moscow University. On the recommendation of Dmitry Mendeleev, Julia Lermontova was accepted to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society and became the only woman in its composition. Lermontova was engaged in the research of oil, conducted experiments on its thermal splitting and aromatization. And even more incredible at that time was the fact that her name was included in the designation of a chemical reaction. Three Russian chemists - Alexander Butlerov, Alexander Eltekov and Julia Lermontova - conducted parallel studies of the hydrocarbons synthesis. Their scientific results were called the Butlerov-Eltekov-Lermontova reaction. This reaction became the basis for the industrial production of some types of modern motor fuel.
Doctor Varvara Kashevarova-Rudneva
Varvara Kashevarova-Rudneva was the first woman in Russia to receive the degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences. Like Sofia Kovalevskaya and Yulia Lermontova, Varvara dreamed of studying science from childhood. Kashevarova-Rudneva came from a poor family and almost the only available way to get a higher education for her was to enter the Midwifery Institute, where midwives were trained. The desire for knowledge allowed her to master a one-year course of study in four months. Varvara Kashevarova-Rudneva became the first woman in Russia who was allowed to study not just at the higher medical university, but at the military Medical-Surgical Academy. Varvara was engaged in the research of medical innovative field at that time – women’s oncology. For her scientific research she received the degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences, her scientific articles were published in domestic and foreign journals. For example, the book «Female Medicals» was published in New York, where a separate article was devoted to Kashevarova-Rudneva. After having received an academic degree, Varvara reached the limit of a scientific career for a woman of her time. Her further professional life was not easy: she was subjected to unfair attacks in the press, there was even a trial which Kashevarova won. But the situation developed in such a way that the female doctor was forced to go to the hinterland and practice medicine among the peasants. In 1884, she published a popular book «Hygiene of the female body in all phases of life», engaged in literary work, wrote a series of autobiographical essays and the story «Pioneer».
«Madame Penicillin». Zinaida Yermolyeva
Zinaida Yermolyeva, who stood at the origins of Russian microbiology, can be called without exaggeration the greatest female scientist of the XX century. The choice of her profession was determined by fate itself. She decided to become a doctor after learning that her favorite composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky had died of cholera. It was then that Zinaida decided to devote her life in science to the fight against this disease and entered the Don State University.
Being a student, Yermolyeva conducted a deadly dangerous experiment that almost cost her life: during the cholera epidemic in 1922, while researching ways of infection, she deliberately drank water containing cholera vibrios. Thanks to this experiment, modern standards of water chlorination were later created.
In 1939, during a business trip to Afghanistan, Zinaida invented methods of rapid diagnosis of cholera and an effective drug not only against this disease, but also against typhoid fever and diphtheria. Already during the Second World War, Yermolyeva managed to save the besieged Stalingrad from the cholera epidemic. For this achievement Zinaida received the Order of Lenin, and the money was spent on the construction of a fighter aircraft, on the fuselage of which her name was later written.
In the scientific world, Zinaida Yermolyeva is called «Madame Penicillin» for the invention of the first domestic antibiotic krustosin, an analog of penicillin. The creator of penicillin itself was Howard Florey who visited the USSR with a delegation in 1944 to conduct comparative studies of two drugs. According to the results, it turned out that krustosin was not worse, but even more effective. Under the impression of these studies, Florey called Yermolyeva «Madame Penicillin».
«Fluorescent lamp» and Butaeva laser
A native of a small North Ossetian village, Fatima Butaeva made a significant contribution to scientific developments that changed the lives of most people on the planet. Fatima was the eldest daughter among five children: having lost her mother early, the girl had to work hard, so that it tempered her character and was later useful in her scientific work. Butaeva was so purposeful that she was able to graduate from the Physics and Mathematics Department of the Pedagogical Faculty at the Second Moscow State University, without having a systematic secondary education. After graduation, Fatima began her career as a mathematics teacher in Kuybyshev. Then she worked as a teacher of theoretical mechanics at the technical school of the Metrostroy Training Plant in Moscow.
The main scientific activity of Butaeva began with the work in the All-Union Electrotechnical Institute in the laboratory of light sources, first as an engineer, and then as the head of the department. Thanks to the research of the gas discharge by a group of Soviet scientists, which included Fatima Butaeva, it was in the USSR that the development of the first fluorescent lamps began. Together with researchers Valentin Fabrikant and Mikhail Vudynsky, Fatima Butaeva made a scientific breakthrough that was ahead of its time – Soviet scientists formulated a quantum method for amplifying light, now it is used in lasers.
Female academician. Lina Stern
Lina Stern, originally from the province of Courland (now Latvia), became the first female professor at the University of Geneva, where she studied, and then the first female academician in the USSR. She returned to her homeland in 1925, and was invited to head the Department of Physiology at the Second Moscow State University (later the 2nd Moscow Medical Institute). According to her colleagues, Lina had an incredible efficiency and energy, which allowed her to combine the position of head of the department with the director’s post in the Institute of Physiology of the People’s Commissariat of the RSFSR (later the USSR Academy of Sciences). On the eve of the Great Patriotic War in 1939, Stern conquered the «scientific Everest» – she was elected an academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences.
Lina Stern studied the physical and chemical basis of physiological processes in humans and animals. It was she who introduced the term «blood–brain barrier» – a mechanism that selectively regulates the metabolism between the blood and the central nervous system and performs a protective function of the body.
Under her leadership, an electropulse method for stopping ventricular fibrillation was developed and the first installation for heart electrotherapy was created. Thanks to her, a method of treating traumatic shock was developed. It was used in military hospitals during the Second World War. And in 1947, Stern proposed to treat tuberculous meningitis by injecting the antibiotic streptomycin into the spinal fluid through the skull.
Her scientific achievements helped her avoid being shot in the 1949, case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee: she said at the trial that she did not want to die because she had not yet done everything for science. For several years after the trial, she lived in exile in Kazakhstan, and in 1953 returned to Moscow and headed the Department of Physiology in the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
«Kovalevskaya» of the XX century. Olga Ladyzhenskaya
Prominent mathematician of the XX century Olga Ladyzhenskaya, just like her outstanding predecessor Sofya Kovalevskaya, «fell ill» with exact sciences as a child. Thanks to studying mathematics with her father – a school math teacher and former tsarist officer Alexander – Olga was already able to solve problems from higher mathematics at the age of 10. But the path to science was almost closed to her by the brand of «daughter of the enemy of the people» (her father was arrested and shot in 1937). Only in 1943, she managed to enter the Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty of Moscow State University. After graduating from postgraduate studies at Leningrad State University, she received the degree of Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and became a professor of the Department of Higher Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at the Faculty of Physics at Leningrad State University.
Known for her inquisitive mind, Ladyzhenskaya has authored more than 200 papers that cover a wide range of issues and problems in the theory of partial differential equations. For example, her work on the theory of hydrodynamics helps in developments related to the movement of a ship, a torpedo, blood in vessels and fluid in pumps.
Despite her mathematical mindset, Olga Ladyzhenskaya was able to appreciate the finer things. There were many cultural figures among her friends: she was friends with Anna Akhmatova and was a member of the inner circle to which the poetess entrusted her poems during the years of repression. Olga is one of the 257 «Witnesses of the Archipelago» whose stories, letters, memoirs and corrections were used by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn in the creation of the book «The Gulag Archipelago».
«Petrol of Mezhlumova». Anna Mezhlumova
«Car is not a luxury, but a means of transportation» - Ostap Bender (the main anti-hero of the Soviet novels "The Twelve Chairs" and "The Golden Calf") once said. These days, the words of «The Great Combinator» have become a reality. Every day we fill up our «iron horses» with fuel on our way to work, to the countryside and while traveling. But few of the inhabitants know that the high-octane petrol was invented with the help of a woman - Anna Mezhlumova.
Initially, Anna Mezhlumova’s plans included pedagogical activity, but during the distribution to a higher educational institution, the occupations of her father and husband, who were oil workers, were taken into account, so she was enrolled in the Grozny Oil Institute. After graduation, Anna was accepted into the laboratory of the company that produced aviation oils, where she worked throughout the Great Patriotic War. Mezhlumova did not leave the plant even during air raids. She also led the plant’s preparation for evacuation to the Urals.
After the war, Anna headed the oil refining laboratory. It was then that Stalin gave the order to create a high-quality fuel. And Mezhlumova and her team created a high-octane petrol, which is poured into most modern car tanks. But a woman who was directly related to the oil refining industry, did not have all the benefits that we associate with people «involved» in this area. Until the age of 80, Mezhlumova worked at the department of Grozny Institute, conducted new research, and, at the same time, lived in communal apartments.
And what female scientists in your country do you know?
AUTHOR: Spoda Olesya, political scientist, analyst