Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World by Rachel Ignotofsky Book Review

This month I read Women In Science: 50 Fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky  as part of The Women In Science History Event hosted by Doing Dewey.

This was a fun book! As I said earlier this month, this book is geared towards younger readers -junior high school level- and is intended to whet their appetites to learn more about women in science. And, it succeeds! The left side of the page has a fun drawing of the scientist, highlighting her main contributions, and an inspiring quote from her at the bottom of the page. The right side of the page features the scientist’s name and field of study at the top of the page with a high level overview set against an eye catching colored background. Everything about this book is visually appealing and drew me in immediately.

The bad part about this book is that the stories are brief-I mean, just the main points, brief. The good part about this book is that it succeeded in making me want to learn more about these women of science. Google was definitely my friend.

It was great to learn that we have, at least, 50 female scientists in our history; but, it was sad that I have not heard of most of them. At the beginning of the month, I could only name a handful of female scientists; now, I am aware of so many more, and some, like Alice Ball, I won’t soon forget. It was also interesting to see  all the different fields of study: chemistry,  biology, botany, physics, astronomy, geology, psychology, genetics, engineering…

And there were fields of study I had never heard of: agrostology (a study of botany that focuses on grasses) and cytogenetics (the study of chromosomes). 

Women have been contributing to science for hundreds of years and in many different ways. Some pursued higher education and worked harder and longer than their male counterparts; others did not pursue a degree, but let their passion for their subject matter drive them forward. 

Florence Bascom was the second woman in the US to earn a doctorate in geology, but she had to take her classes behind a screen so that she would not be a distraction to the male students in her class. Agnes Chase was a botanist and suffragist, she never earned a degree, but became a senior botanist who wrote numerous books and “discovered thousands of new species of grasses from around the world”. Esther Lederberg was a biologist who, along with her husband Joshua, studied bacteria. Her research into bacterial mutations and their resistance to antibiotics helped her husband to win a Nobel Prize – and he never thanked her for her research in his speeches! Finally, Barbara McClintock-the cytogeneticist-discovered transposons. These are genes that “jump to a different part of a chromosome and turn on and off”, and it took 20 years for the scientific community to recognize her achievements. And then, when her work was recognized, she won the Nobel Prize!

It would be easy for me to go on about all of these brilliant women and their contributions to science. This book is a very easy read, you could read it while having a cup of coffee. What makes this book so great is that it really shows you that there are numerous female scientists who have worked tirelessly to better our world; now, we just need to learn more about who they were and recognize them for their accomplishments!


Women In Science: Katia Krafft 

I have been reading  Women In Science- 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky and highlighting one notable female scientist each week from this book. March is almost over, which means, at the end of the month, I will post my reviews of the books I’ve been reading. But, before I post my review of this book, I wanted to highlight one more inspiring female scientist. Really, there are so many inspiring women to feature from this book, sometimes it’s difficult to pick just one.

However, when I first read Katia Krafft’s story I knew that I would blog about her. Her professional life was defined by excitement and adventure, and to me, she just seemed cool…and maybe a bit crazy! She was a geologist and Volcanologist…so she chased volcanoes!


By United States Geological Survey (Website of the USGS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

She worked alongside her husband, Maurice, also a geologist and Volcanologist. They were more than thrill seekers, though, they were scientists who observed and documented their findings. Katia photographed  the volcanoes while Maurice recorded them on video. So, while the town was evacuating, they were running towards the volcano! Individually,  they were both fascinated by volcanoes and together their work has increased our understanding of these unpredictable forces of nature. “They took viscosity measurements and gas readings and collected mineral samples just feet away from erupting volcanoes. They documented how these eruptions affected the ecosystems” (p 107). Their work also focused on ash clouds and acid rain and they helped towns set up evacuation routes.

There is a PBS documentary from 1987 on utube titled The Volcano Watchers that they made if you are interested in watching it.  You can see them, hear their voices and get a good idea of the work they did; you can even see how close they got to the hot, flowing lava.The documentary also has a clip of them going out onto a lake of acid on a rubber raft to collect samples! Mind boggling.

I can’t understand why anyone would run towards an erupting volcano and this is what fascinates me about Katia. I would love to listen to her tell a few stories.

Sadly, they both passed away in 1991, along with 41 other individuals, journalists and scientists, when lava flow changed direction. To live your life following your passion, working alongside your partner, in life and work, is truly a life well lived.


Well, this concludes my weekly segment of a notable female scientist. I had a lot of fun with this event! I have loved the two books I read and I feel like I have learned volumes about women in science. I can now list the names of several female scientists from interesting and diverse backgrounds. Tomorrow I will post my review of this book and next week I will post my review of The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown. Until then, it’s still Women’s History Month, so read on and share what your learning about women in history! 🙂

Women In Science: Alice Ball

Alicia Augusta Ball

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week I blogged about Elizabeth Blackwell in honor of the Women In Science History Event hosted by Doing Dewey. This week I would like to feature Alice Ball.
I am reading  Women In Science- 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky and I am learning so much about the various women of science, including how little I know about them.

As I was reading through this book, I knew that I wanted to write about Alice Ball; I found her story both inspiring and heartbreaking. She was someone that I was previously ignorant of, but thanks to this book, I now know what a remarkable woman she was. In her short life she made a big impact on seriously ill patients who were ostracized by their society. What did she do?  She developed a treatment for Leprosy that was able to be injected. Sadly, I also learned about the leper colony in Hawaii where those afflicted with Leprosy were sent-often after being arrested! Arrested for being sick!?? This is why science is so important: so facts trump fear.

A treatment already existed, the “sticky oil of the Chaulmoogra tree’s seeds”, but it couldn’t be mixed with water and injected (it wasn’t very effective when applied topically or ingested). Alice Ball changed that and at the age of 23, she successfully developed a method to inject this vital remedy by “…isolating the ethyl esters in its fatty acids, she found the oil could be blended with water for injection.” P 45  This is the key to her work: the medicine could now be injected, making it much more effective. In doing so, she reunited families and allowed those afflicted with Leprosy to return home to live normal lives.

Alice Ball was remarkable in many ways. She was not only the first woman, but also the first African-American to graduate from the University of Hawaii. What an accomplishment! She earned her Masters degree in chemistry and then immediately went to work. Sadly,  she passed away at the age of 24. Tragic.

 The book gives a very high level overview of her life, but further reading adds that someone else took credit for her ideas after her death and it was many years before she was recognized for her contributions. Also, there seems to be some controversy over her death and her death certificate may even have been altered. The book doesn’t get into this, further online reading does, but I would love to learn more about this amazing woman and seek out a good biography of her. I would also like to learn more about this leper colony. As it turns out, Leprosy is NOT highly contagious and it’s sad to think about how this fear of contagion has hurt so many people through the years. Learning more about this disease and this colony would highlight, not only her contribution to science, but just how she set so many people free.

Women In Science: Elizabeth Blackwell 

In honor of the Women In Science History Event, hosted by Doing Dewey, I have also picked up Women In Science- 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky.

  I will be reading this along with The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown during the month of March. This book, which is geared towards younger readers, gives a high level overview of several female scientists throughout history and their various contributions. Its a fun book, visually appealing, but its also incredibly  educational. I’m sad to say that I have not heard of most these women, but it’s inspiring to read their stories and learn more about them. I will post more about my thoughts on this book at the end of the month, but, for now, I would like to highlight at least one notable female scientist each week that I have learned about from this book. I will post these each week with the weekly link up over at Doing Dewey-so be sure to hop over to her blog to read any weekly updates. This week, I would like to share more about Elizabeth Blackwell.

  Here are a few facts that I learned about her from this book:

  • She decided to become a doctor after a friend of hers died from  cancer-probably uterine cancer 
  • She became the first female medical doctor in the US
  • Her sister, Emily, was also a doctor 
  • In 1857, Elizabeth opened the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children with her sister, Emily, and another inspiring female doctor: Marie Zakrzewska 
  • There, the poor were treated and female students received medical training 
  • She also urged hospitals to practice better hygiene 
  • In fact, her thesis was about how hygiene could stop the spread of typhus
  • She helped other women to pursue a career in medicine 

What an inspiration! She worked hard to achieve her goal which allowed her to provide medical care to the poor and needy and, along the way, she blazed a trail for women who wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

      I have learned that there are actually many women of science in history, we just don’t know that much about them. They made sacrifices and persevered because of their love of learning and passion for their subject matter. Their stories are inspiring and their contributions and  discoveries  are still being used today. March is Women’s History Month, read on and enjoy learning more about Women In Science! 

      Women in Science History Event

      Hello, Book Lovers!

      I’d like to make you aware of a  great reading event taking place during the month of March.

       Doing Dewey is hosting a Women In Science History  Event. The goal is to read a book about a female scientist and then blog about it. You can read non fiction or historical fiction as long as the book features a real, historical female scientist. You can check out her post to read more about it and she offers a few book recommendations to get you started if your interested.

      This event sounds like a lot of fun! I will be reading The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown, which is a work of historical fiction. It’s about Caroline Herschel, the sister of William Herschel, who discovered Uranus. Although the two worked together, Caroline made her own contributions to the field of astronomy. I remember learning about Caroline and William from Dava Sobel’s book The Planets.  In the chapter on the discovery of Uranus, Caroline filled us in on the details surrounding the discovery of the planet. The Stargazer’s Sister promises to explore, not only Caroline’s life, but her journey towards independence and becoming an astronomer of her own.

      This is going to be a great event!