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More Professional Firsts for Women

Tapputi-Belatekallim, a female chemist and perfume maker, is mentioned on a Mesopotamian tablet from around 1200 B.C.E. 

Did you know that the world’s first chemist may have been a woman? Her name was Tapputi, and she appears on a cuneiform tablet from about 1200 B.C.E. Her trade: perfumery. (This tablet is also the first recorded mention of a still, which Tapputi used to create her perfumes.)

Until the twentieth century, however, most women were excluded from receiving a traditional scientific education. Even when they got the opportunity to study the science they loved, they rarely got the recognition and positions they deserved. Today women have reached the upper echelons of science, and this year CHF is pleased to honor three of them through our awards program.

Yesterday Nancy Chang became the first woman to win the Biotechnology Heritage Award. This award “honors individuals who have contributed significantly to the growth of biotechnology through discovery, innovation, commercialization, and/or public understanding.” Dr. Chang not only founded a company that made significant breakthroughs against asthma, allergies, and HIV/AIDS, she supports and stimulates the launch and growth of new biotechnology companies around the world.

In April CHF honored two other extraordinary women. At CHF’s Heritage Day, Marye Anne Fox became the second woman to take home the Othmer Gold Medal, which recognizes exceptional multidisciplinary achievements. To be considered for the award, a candidate must have excelled in at least four of the following: innovation, entrepreneurship, research, education, public understanding, legislation, or philanthropy. Dr. Fox received a standing ovation at the award dinner—the first I’ve ever seen there, regardless of the winners gender.

That same day Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, received the AIC Gold Medal for her groundbreaking work on telomeres and telomerase. The AIC Gold Medal has existed since 1926, and was the first major prize in chemistry awarded to a woman (Mabel Garvan, back in 1929). Since then, however, women have been scare in its ranks—Dr. Blackburn is only the third woman to claim the hexagon.

As more and more women work their way through the scientific ranks, you can expect more of them to show up on CHF’s roster of laureates. I take special pride when I see a woman cross our stage to receive her medal or plaque. It’s a reminder that while women are still fighting their way to the top, they certainly belong there.

Sarah Reisert is the coordinator for awards and affiliate relations at CHF.

Related:
Women in Chemistry [Discover CHF]
Women in Chemistry Are Not Named Marie Curie [Philosophically Disturbed]

Posted In: History

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