How has the Nobel Prize treated women in science?

In the 120 years of Nobel prizes in medicine, physics and chemistry, prizes were awarded 599 times to men and 23 times to women

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated on February 11. This day is an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. According to the UNESCO groundbreaking report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women, and differences are observed within STEM disciplines. The absence of female vocations in the so-called STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is especially concerning.

Historically, not a lot of women have won the Nobel Prize, especially in the scientific areas. Do you know how many women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 120 years? Just four. Andrea Ghez became the fourth woman to win a physics Nobel in 2020, following Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018. Ghez shares the prize with Reinhard Genzel and Roger Penrose.

Andrea Ghez became the fourth woman to win a physics Nobel in 2020 (Heising Simons Foundation)

“We are still not at 50%-50%”

“This year four women have won the Nobel Prize and three have been scientists. It has been a very good year, but we are still not at 50-50%”, Irene Lapuente, graduate in physics, science and technology disseminator and founder of the ‘Mandarina de Newton’, explained in a conference to inaugurate this edition of TecnoGirl, a project aimed for young girls to encourage them to study STEM.

Lapuente stressed that it would have to stop being news that ‘a woman has won the Nobel Prize in Physics’. “It should not be surprising news. We should not say that ‘a woman has won the Nobel Prize in Physics’. We should say Andrea Ghez has won the Nobel Prize in Pysics”.

“Woman have won quite a few battles in the lab, but not so many in the history books”

Lapuente feels that women have worked very hard for science, but they have not always been socially recognized as they deserved. “Women have always been involved with science, technology, mathematics… in the past, in the present, and in the future. Women have won quite a few battles on the battlefield, in the lab, but perhaps they have not won so many battles in the history books”, she declared.

2020 was also the first time a Nobel science prize was given to more than one woman, but no men, in a specific category. This has happened 169 times for multiple men and no women in a specific category since the prizes were awarded starting in 1901.

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna are the first two women to share the prize, which honors their work on the technology of genome editing. In the 120 years of Nobel prizes in medicine, physics and chemistry, prizes were awarded 599 times to men and 23 times to women

Although in the last years there has been more equity between men and women in science, as it has also been evidenced in the Nobel Prize, a lot of battles still have to be won. The rights of girls and women should be defended worldwide, and books should help us to write a history where we are all equal, in science and all aspects of life.

Post Author: Laura Andres Tallarda

Hello! I am Laura, a 27 years old journalist from Barcelona. I am addicted to chocolate and to travel. I have lived in Belgium and Canada, but I am allergic to umbrellas. I came to Greece looking for the sun and, above all, to discover hidden stories that still have not been told.

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