The participation of women in science has long been a very controversial debate. Just like many other stereotypes, unfortunately, there still are many people that believe women are not good enough when it comes to mathematics, various branches of science, etc. however, I personally believe that one of the main reasons there have not been many women pursuing science comparing to men is because they have been highly demotivated throughout the course of history. In fact, Professor Alessandro Strumia’s remarks during a gender workshop in Geneva organized by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in October 2018 can be a really good example of how women are publicly and highly demotivated not to pursue STEM, although they are amazing contributors to the fields. He made various sexist statements; for instance, “physics was built by men,” or, “Physics has become sexist against men,” claiming that women are often hired over men who have more citations. It was only a few days after Professor Strumia’s remarks that not only two women (Dr. Donna Strickland, and Dr. Frances H. Arnold) won the Nobel Prize for Physics and Nobel Prize for Chemistry, but they also shared the prizes with other [male] scientists such as Dr. George P. Smith, Dr. Gregory Winter, and Dr. Gérard Mourou; which shows that men and women equally contribute to various branches of science.
However, women like Dr. Frances H. Arnold are shining stars in the sky of science that not only inspire other women to pursue STEM, but they also hugely contribute to the field, making many things easier not only for hundreds of other scientists, but also to all the people worldwide.
Dr. Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work “the directed evolution of enzymes,” according to the award citation. Directed evolution, pioneered by Dr. Arnold in the early 1990s is a bioengineering method for creating better and new enzymes in the laboratory, using the principles of evolution. Today, Dr. Arnold’s method is used in hundreds of laboratories and companies worldwide that make everything, from laundry detergent to biofuels and medicine. Reportedly, enzymes created with the technique have replaced toxic chemicals in many industrial processes.
“Frances’s work on directed evolution is a beautiful example of an enterprise that has both a deep scientific significance and an enormous practical consequences,” says David A. Tirrell, Caltech’s provost, the Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, “Through decades of commitment to exploring a powerful idea, Frances has transformed the fields of protein chemistry, catalysis, and biotechnology. She has changed the way we think about things and the way we do things.”
Among the many amazing contributions that Dr. Arnold has been making, one has been using directed evolution to persuade bacteria to make chemicals not found in nature, including molecules containing silicon-carbon or boron-carbon bonds, or bicyclobutanes, which contain energy-packed carbon rings. By using bacteria, researchers can potentially make these chemical compounds in “greener” ways that are more economical and produce less toxic waste. Dr. Arnold while receiving 2016 Millennium Technology Prize states, “My entire life I have been concerned about the damage we are doing to the planet and each other, science and technology can play a major role in mitigating our negative influences on the environment. Changing behavior is even more important. However, I feel that change is easier when there are good, economically viable alternatives to harmful habits.”
According to an article shared by California Institute of Technology, Dr. Arnold was the first woman to receive the 2011 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). She is among the small number of individuals, and the first woman, elected to all three branches of the National Academies: the NAE (2000), The National Academy of Medicine (20014; it was then called the Institute of Medicine), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS; 2008). She received the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. She has won numerous other awards, including the 2017 Sackler Prize in Convergence Research from the NAS and the Society of Women Engineers’ 2017 Achievement Award.
Dr. Arnold’s efforts and works towards making the world a better place is endlessly inspiring, despite all the discouragement and demotivation that women scientists face around the world today. She has changed the way that world sees and do things, and we definitely need more people like her.