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Crowdsourcing Pioneering Women in the Geosciences

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Did you know it was a woman who discovered that the earth has a solid inner core? Or that Bascom Crater on Venus was named for the first woman geologist hired by the USGS? Were you aware that two 19th century women wrote and illustrated the standard reference work on British graptolites? Or that a woman was one of the discoverers of the mid-ocean ridge?

Yeah. Women have made some pretty amazing contributions to the geosciences. And they’ve been doing outstanding geology for centuries. Thing is, we don’t know them the way we should. If I asked you to name the most influential early geologists, you’d probably give me names like Steno and Hutton and Lyell. But women have been making important advances since the early days, and without them, the men wouldn’t have gotten so far (just ask Lyell, whose wife, Mary, accompanied him in the field and was instrumental to his success). Those names roll off your tongue without more than an instant’s pause. I’d like to see the names of great women in geology springing to mind as easily.

I’ve got a small list to begin with, but I’m sure there are gaps. Perhaps you can help fill them. I’m looking for early days to begin with, anyone up until the mid-20th century, although if you know pioneers in the geosciences whose discoveries are more recent, feel free to share them.

What am I doing with my little list, you ask? I’m starting a series, of course! I’m already knee-deep in research and have a few biographies ready to go. I’m discovering brilliant, super-smart, and determined women whose curiosity about how the earth works was insatiable. They faced down all sorts of challenges. They left behind a body of work that increased our knowledge and understanding of our world, and trained up others who continued the advance long after they were gone. They’ve left us many legacies. I can’t wait to discover even more, and share them with you.

Let’s make my little list a very long one indeed.

Portrait of Mary Anning by Henry De la Beche. British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia. Portrait of Mary Anning by Henry De la Beche. British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia.

While you’re pondering, don’t miss our own David Bressan’s article on the history of women in the field.

(Previously posted at En Tequila Es Verdad)

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. tempiprofondi 6:28 pm 03/19/2013

    > ” [...] Perhaps you can help fill them. I’m looking for early days to begin with, anyone up until the mid-20th century, although if you know pioneers in the geosciences whose discoveries are more recent, feel free to share them.”

    > Here are some names which I consider of great importance in their respective fields: Helen Duncan (geology), Dorothy Vitaliano & Adrienne Mayor (geomythology), Halska Osmolska, Teresa Maryanska, Angela Milner (paleontology).

    Link to this
  2. 2. JMI99 9:13 pm 03/19/2013

    Really interesting Dana, thanks!

    Given your interest in applying crowdsourcing, I think that you (and the other readers here) would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across that theorizes about crowds and such similar phenomena.

    It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here if you’re interested:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115

    In my view it provides a powerful, yet simple model, getting to the heart of the matter. Enjoy!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Geotripper 9:17 pm 03/20/2013

    I’m glad to see you already have Inge on your list. I don’t have too many suggestions, but don’t forget Tanya Atwater for her contributions to plate tectonics (and a continuing career in science education). She’s at UC Santa Barbara. You made me think hard to remember the names the women who discovered some of the first dinosaur bones and other important fossils: Mary Anning and Mary Ann Mantell (http://www.strangescience.net/women.htm). I remember being shocked in college when I found that only 2% of employed geologists in the 1960s were women.

    Link to this
  4. 4. sfoxx78 7:50 am 03/21/2013

    Tanya Atwater has long been a hero of mine.

    Link to this

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