Celebrating Women in the Physical Sciences
During March, AIP is committed to highlighting resources and materials that celebrate the contributions of women in science.
Highlighting Achievements and Challenges for Women in the Physical Sciences Community

Women have been vital to the physical sciences from the very beginning. Contrary to modern stereotypes, before the 1850s, physics was considered a “girls” subject. Since then, the work of luminaries such as Marie Curie, Lisa Meitner, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Chien-Shiung Wu, and countless other women set foundational knowledge that continues to drive our understanding of the universe and advance collective scholarship.

Not every physicist’s journey is linear - check out the video below to learn more about a modern woman’s journey in the physical sciences landscape.

The Element of Shift

K. Renee Horton, Ph.D.
Airworthiness Deputy, NASA

  • Women have defied boundaries and reshaped the landscape of the physical sciences throughout history, showcasing their resilience, intellect, and unwavering determination. Trailblazing scientists like Vera Rubin, Shirley Jackson, and Chien-Shiung Wu have made significant contributions to the sciences- breaking racial and gender barriers. As a Black woman, I’m grateful that they shattered glass ceilings so I can have an inspirational career of my own advancing diversity and equity in the sciences.
    Jovonni Spinner headshot
    Diversity, Equity and Belonging Officer American Institute of Physics
  • In our Global Survey of Scientists, we examined the situation for scientists around the world, accounting for sources of difference in experiences like academic discipline, time since degree, geographic location, industrial sector, and economic development. Despite these considerations, we still find women’s experiences in the sciences are consistently less positive than men’s. We advocate for systemic change because the physical sciences community needs a diverse set of unique people to tackle tomorrow’s issues.
Marching Towards Equality: Recognizing Women’s Achievements in Physics

Throughout March, AIP is committed to highlighting archival images, statistical data, teaching resources, and news and analysis that celebrate the accomplishments of women in science. By elevating their experiences, we hope to inform and inspire meaningful change and inclusion. Be sure to follow our social channels and join in on the conversation.

Women's History Month Book Recommendations
Women’s History Month Graphic Novel and Picture Book Recommendations
Delve into a curated collection of graphic novels and children’s books highlighting the educational and inspirational tales of women in physics.
Women at Wellesley.jpg
Teaching Guides featuring Women in Physics
Celebrate Women’s History Month with your students using these free science history teaching guides.
Initial Conditions Episode 1: Eunice Foote: A Once Forgotten Climate Science Pioneer
Uncover the life of Eunice Newton Foote, whose pioneering experiment revealed the warming effects of carbon dioxide on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Women Leaders in Astronomy
Explore archival photographs of women who served in leadership roles within the American Astronomical Society and other astronomical organizations.
Research of Underrepresented Voices: Primary Crumbs vs. Secondary Loaves
Join a researcher’s quest to shed light on the overlooked contributions of Katherine Clerk Maxwell and Émilie du Châtelet.
1901-2023: Women Nobel Physics Prize Laureates

Since its inception in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to 225 laureates – just five of those laureates were women. In recent years, there has been more recognition for women in the Physics category of Nobel and other sciences. This timeline spotlights the inspiring women laureates for the physics prize who defied the norms of their time and the ones breaking barriers today.

The Nobel Prize in Physics is established.
Marie Curie became the first woman to win the prize in only the third year it was given for her pioneering work on radioactivity. And in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.
Marie Curie lab
Sixty years after Curie, Maria Goeppert Mayer became the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on nuclear shell structures. Noted for working most of her career without pay or a tenured position, Mayer pursued her research “just for the fun of doing physics.” She was 58 before she became a full professor.
Goeppert Mayer and daughter.jpg
Another 55 years passed and in 2018 Donna Strickland won the prize for creating high-intensity laser pulses – a technique called chirped pulse amplification. Strickland’s work helped enable the most intense laser pulses there are with wide-ranging applications in medicine, industry, science, the military and security.
Andrea Ghez won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for her role in discovering a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Ghez shared the half of the prize awarded for the discovery with Reinhard Genzel. While they worked on the research at the same time, their separate teams verified each others’ results with a spirit of friendly competition.
And in 2023, Anne L’Huillier won the Nobel Prize in Physics for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter - work that reveals the hidden world of electrons, probing at the atomic timescale for electronic, chemical, and medical applications.
Closing the Divide: Tackling the Gender Disparity in Physics and Astronomy

Despite advancements across various fields, the physical sciences continue to grapple with a significant gender disparity in both representation and experiences. AIP Statistics showed that 24% of physics bachelor’s degrees and 20% of physics doctorates were awarded to women in 2020, while results from a 2018 Global Survey of Scientists indicated that women’s experiences in science are consistently less positive than men’s.

Efforts to address this disparity range from initiatives aimed at encouraging women to pursue STEM education to implementing policies that promote equitable hiring, funding, and advancement opportunities . Fostering an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute to the advancement of physics is essential for the field’s continued growth and innovation.

Unlike at most other observatories in the early 20th century, women working at Yerkes Observatory were able to earn graduate degrees. Here are some of their stories.

Although the physics community now struggles with the perception that physics is a discipline for boys, not girls, that stereotype is only about a hundred years old. Once upon a time, physics—or natural philosophy, as it was called until the second half of the 19th century—was a girls’ subject.

The first African American woman to earn a PhD in physics remains little known. But her legacy is enormous. On the 50th anniversary of Willie Hobbs’s PhD, Ronald Mickens introduces readers to Moore’s impressive life and career.

Founded by LaNell Williams in 2019, the Women+ of Color Project aims to increase representation in STEM PhD programs in the face of a lack of support from academia.

To succeed in her research at the turn of the 20th century, Maria Skłodowska (later Marie Curie) had to make a place for herself in the almost exclusively masculine world of laboratory science.