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While Marie Curie dominates the conversation, there have been many other brilliant women who have pursued science over the years. (Harold Clements / Daily Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images; The Granger Collection, New York (4); Bernard Gotfryd / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know

Before Marie Curie, these women dedicated their lives to science and made significant advances

smithsonian.com

When it comes to the topic of women in science, Marie Curie usually dominates the conversation. After all, she discovered two elements, was the first women to win a Nobel Prize, in 1903, and was the first person to win a second Nobel, in 1911. But Curie was not the first female scientist. Many other brilliant, dedicated and determined women have pursued science over the years.

Emilie du Chatelet (1706 – 1749)

Emilie du Chatelet
(The Granger Collection, New York)

Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, the daughter of the French court’s chief of protocol, married the marquis du Chatelet in 1725. She lived the life of a courtier and bore three children. But at age 27, she began studying mathematics seriously and then branched into physics. This interest intensified as she began an affair with the philosopher Voltaire, who also had a love of science. Their scientific collaborations—they outfitted a laboratory at du Chatelet’s home, Chateau de Cirey, and, in a bit of a competition, each entered an essay into a contest on the nature of fire (neither won)—outlasted their romance. Du Chatelet’s most lasting contribution to science was her French translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which is still in use today. At age 43, she fell in love with a young military officer and became pregnant; she died following complications during the birth of their child.

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Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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