When rocket scientist Yvonne Brill passed away in 2013, the New York Times published an obituary (which has since been edited) that started with a paragraph about her cooking skills, and her role as a wife and mother. It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers learned about Ms. Brill’s incredible achievements and brilliant contributions as a scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
The obituary’s initial focus on Ms. Brill’s domesticity prior to sharing her important, groundbreaking scientific work, caused a flurry of negative attention, and became the inspiration for journalist Rachel Swaby’s awesome new book, Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World, released April 7th by Broadway Books.
Rachel Swaby is a reporter and has never written a book before, nor is she involved in the sciences, but after reading the New York Times obituary on Ms. Brill, she was left wondering “Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?”
“As girls in science look around for role models, they shouldn’t have to dig around to find them.”
With that question lurking in her mind, Rachel went on to research and collect the stories of these 52 scientists. The book, which only includes scientists whose life’s work has already been completed, covers Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known, but hugely significant female scientists in all fields. Rachel shares their triumphs, as well as the struggles many of them encountered on their paths to success.
“As I was researching almost every person would make me ask ‘How do I not know this person?’ I unveiled a whole history of the world I didn’t see,” said Rachel in a recent podcast interview with Bitch Media. “I didn’t know a woman mapped the ocean floor. I didn’t know that a woman discovered the inner core of the earth. I didn’t know that there was a pre-teen who discovered a dinosaur. These stories seem pretty basic, like the ones you would want to hear when you were in elementary school, and thinking back ‘Why didn’t I hear these stories? These are amazing stories,’ and I would have loved to know that in this very accessible way, women were responsible for how we understand the world.”
Headstrong writes some of our brightest female scientists into history, where they rightfully belong, while also offering much needed inspiration and encouragement to a new generation of girls to explore the beauty and mystery of science. And we love it!