100 Women Who Made History book spread showing profiles of zoologistDian Fossey and virologist Francoise Barre-Sinouss

Famous Women in History: 5 Important Female Scientists

Famous Women in History: 5 Important Female Scientists

Our book 100 Women Who Made History celebrates the accomplishments of famous women throughout time, highlighting some of the bravest and most talented female figures our planet has seen! 

Many of these famous historical women made ground-breaking scientific developments and important discoveries. Here are five of our top female scientists from history. Who do you wish you could meet?

1. Dian Fossey | The pioneering zoologist

Raised in California, Dian Fossey began her career as an occupational therapist. While travelling in Africa in 1963 she became interested in primates. She was invited to study mountain gorillas, and soon established the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda.

Dian Fossey

The mountain gorilla population was rapidly dwindling in Rwanda due to poaching and loss of habitat. Fossey spent 18 years studying the structure and rituals of the gorillas’ society. Her work increased our knowledge about gorillas, helping us to better understand and protect them.

2. Lise Meitner | The brilliant nuclear physicist

Lise Meitner was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria in 1878, and although there were limited education opportunities for girls, she excelled at science. At the University of Berlin in Germany, Meitner and her laboratory partner, Otto Hahn, experimented with uranium. Meitner formed a theory that uranium atoms could be split in two, releasing huge amounts of energy. This process is called nuclear fission.

Lise Meitner

In 1948, Meitner fled to the US to escape the Nazis’ murderous campaign against Jews in Europe. After the war, her two German colleagues took all the credit – and a Nobel Prize – for their work on nuclear fission. Meitner’s contribution to physics has not been forgotten, however – element 109 was named Meitnerium in her honour.

3. Mary Anning | England’s foremost fossil finder

British amateur geologist Mary Anning trawled the sands of her local beach to make discoveries that would change our understanding of evolutionary history.

Mary Anning

Anning found hundreds of fossils of fascinating creatures that nobody knew existed on the same coast, including the skeleton of the world’s first plesiosaur (near-lizard) in 1821. Anning’s discoveries led other scientists to realize that this coastline had formed 185 million years ago!

4. Chien-Shiung Wu | The physics pioneer

Chien-Shiung Wu grew up in China and studied math and physics at Nanjing University. In 1936, she headed to the USA to study radioactivity. Her supervisor, American Ernest Lawrence, had invented a new kind of particle accelerator. Wu used this to split uranium atoms and produce radioactive isotopes (versions of an element that have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons).

Chien-Shiung Wu

Wu finished her studies in 1940, but stayed in the USA to research radioactivity further. She became an expert in her field, and was asked to join the top-secret Manhattan Project: the research project that created the atomic bomb that ended World War II.

5. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi | The virologist who discovered the HIV virus

In the 1980s, the deadly AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) disease became a crisis after it killed millions of people. French virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi conducted research on an infected patient  and discovered that an aggressive virus, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was the cause of AIDS.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

Barré-Sinoussi travelled to Africa and Asia to find out more about AIDS. She also became active in humanitarian organizations fighting the crisis. She conducted vital laboratory research and co-authored many scientific publications. In 2008, she shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with virologists Luc Montagnier from France and Germany’s Harald zur Hausen.


100 Women Who Made History takes kids on a tour of some of the great women in history, uncovers the stories of the important women and girls who have shaped the modern world. From scientists like Marie Curie to clued-up creatives like Emily Dickinson and leading ladies like Joan of Arc, profiles explore the lives of these powerful women in history, while quirky "bobble-head" illustrations present famous historical women in a new and fun way.

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