Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …


Most of you probably know that Madame Curie was the first women to lecture at the Sorbonne. How many of us know who the second woman scientist was?

Thanks to a fascinating book on DNA, The Violinist’s Thumb, I now know the answer. This is a must read if you enjoyed books like Guns, Germs and Steel. Written with a keen eye for detail and storytelling by Sam Kean, the book explores the story of DNA from several different facets. You will hear more about it in upcoming posts. But if you have a few hours to spare, open up another tab and order this book – it will be worth your time. You can read a much more articulate review here.

So who was she? Sister Miriam Stimson started off working on wound-healing hormones and helped create Preparation H. But what made her famous was her work on DNA that helped Watson and Crick (along with the work of many other scientists) to perfect their model that won them the Nobel Prize. She pioneered a new way of ultraviolet analysis of DNA as well.

The same chapter in the book also talks about the lives of of other women scientists – Lynn Margulis, and Barbara McClintock. Today we don’t see this as a big deal as the gender gap in the sciences is going down rapidly, but back in the days the commitment and determination required to work like these women scientists did is admirable indeed!

Even though admission to women at Sorbonne was opened in 1860, it took 46 more years for them to appoint their first woman professor. We have come a long way since then in terms of the place for women in our personal and professional lives but it seems amazing that even so many decades ago, social norms and glass ceilings could not prevent brave souls like these women from doing amazing work.

Read the book for great stories such as this that address several other aspects of the history of genes and genomes, including the fascinating tale of Craig Venter and the race to map the human genome.

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Comments on: "Women that helped unlock the DNA" (1)

  1. A few of you wrote in to me and reminded me that I left out Rosalind Franklin – guilty as charged. You can find more information about her contributions at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin. Heartening to see how the networked memory is way better that my poor physical one …

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