Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Book review: Female innovators who changed our world: how women shaped STEM

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, England, United Kingdom


Cover of Female innovators who changed our world: how women shaped STEM Emma Shimizu, Pen and Sword Books, 2022 ISBN 9781526789693 for review. Graphics depicting different science topics.
Cover of Female innovators who changed our world: how women shaped STEM by Emma Shimizu.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) play an important part in our lives. The march of scientific and technological progress continues unabated and is responsible for revolutionizing life in the modern world. But schools, universities, and professional societies worldwide lament that not enough female pupils enter careers in these fields.

The author, an engineer and STEM ambassador, has produced an inspiring book summarizing the lives of forty-five women who made outstanding contributions, some famous, others who deserve to be better known. It is not surprising to find Marie Curie, a double Nobel laureate in physics (1903) and chemistry (1911), included along with her daughter, Irene Joliot (Nobel laureate in chemistry, 1935). However, it is also good to be reminded about Lise Meitner and her work on nuclear fission. Meitner collaborated with Otto Hahn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944, a distinction which perhaps should have been shared with Meitner.

Ada Lovelace, the famous British mathematician from the Victorian era is well-known, but how many are familiar with Sutyata Al-Mahamali, a brilliant tenth-century Iraqi mathematician who made inroads in both algebra and the law? We also learn about the major contributions of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of the structure of DNA by X-ray crystallography. She died at thirty-seven, and Watson and Crick won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine instead. Had she been alive it is likely she would have been a co-recipient of this honor.

Pioneers in medicine and medical sciences include Rosalind Yalow and her work on radioimmunoassay; Gerty Cori, the pioneering biochemist who worked on carbohydrate metabolism and the Cori cycle; and the French Nobel prize-winning virologist François Barré-Sinoussi, whose work on retroviruses and HIV is often overshadowed by her co-worker Luc Montagnier. (They shared the Nobel Prize in 2008.) The contributions of anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar to the welfare of the newborn (Apgar score), Helen Taussig to advances in pediatric cardiology, and Anna Freud (daughter of Sigmund Freud) to child psychiatry and psychotherapy are also acknowledged and make fascinating reading.

The women featured in this book are from different eras and continents, and made contributions in science, engineering, medicine, global health, climate change, and the environment to improve the quality of people’s lives. The notes for further reading enable the reader to research these women’s lives in more detail. The brief yet enlightening biographical sketches are inspiring and should serve to encourage interest in STEM careers. We are all reminded about these remarkable women who persisted with determination and hard work to overcome obstacles and achieve brilliance.


Female innovators who changed our world: how women shaped STEM
Emma Shimizu, Pen and Sword Books, 2022
ISBN 9781526789693



ARPAN K. BANERJEE qualified in medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham 1995–2019. He was President of the radiology section of the RSM 2005–2007 and on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012–2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology 2012-2017. He is Chairman of ISHRAD. He is author/co-author of papers on a variety of clinical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books, including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology (2005) and The History of Radiology (OUP 2013).


Winter 2022 | Sections | Books & Reviews

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