Biographies of women chemists

German pioneers in chemistry

You can access the articles by clicking on the photos. Further biographies follow in loose order.

Marika Geldmacher-
von Mallinckrodt
Annelore Köster-
Hochschularchiv RWTH Aachen, Sig.: Fotosammlung 3.2.9_f (Ausschnitt aus  Foto)

When we look at the prizes and awards in chemistry, we almost exclusively meet well-known men. Is chemistry a purely male domain? Certainly not today! But by 2020, the Nobel Prizes awarded went to 782 men, 56 women (6.7%) and 28 organizations (excluding the Nobel Prize for Economics; source ). In chemistry, we have seven Nobel Prize winners (3.8%) out of a total of 185 winners - four of them in the last ten years ( source ):

Emmanuelle Charpentier (2020)
Jennifer Doudna (2020)
Frances H. Arnold (2018)
Ada Yonath (2010)
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1964)
Irène Joliot-Curie (1935)
Marie Curie (1911)

Then there is Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard - a biologist and biochemist - who was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1995 in the Physiology / medicine category as the only German natural scientist to date.

We are currently seeing that more and more women are gaining international recognition for their scientific achievements. But it will take some time before prices are named after them, as this usually only takes place after their death.

Last year 2020, the GDCh awarded the Hildegard Hamm Brücher Award for equal opportunities in chemistry, which was named after a woman for the first time - a clear commitment to more equal opportunities in chemistry.

Even if chemistry has been dominated by men in retrospect, there have always been women who have not been intimidated by it. With a thirst for knowledge, tenacity and a dash of moral courage, they went their way in science, business, public service or politics. Despite some hostility, they even gained recognition from the men they worked with - including Nobel Prize winners. You have to keep in mind that at the beginning of the 20th century it was not yet socially customary for women to graduate from high school, study and then also practice their profession. Unfortunately, however, their achievements were not taken into account in honors, such as the awarding of prizes or as namesake.

So that these first women in chemistry are not forgotten, Prof. Dr. Eberhard Ehlers and Prof. Dr. Heribert Offermanns took the initiative to honor her posthumously and to show her exciting and diverse career paths in short portraits.

As early as 2003, the GDCh working group Group for Equal Opportunities in Chemistry (AKCC), headed by its chairman Dr. Marion Hertel published a brochure for women chemists - they existed and are still there with seven portraits and two interviews. But there are many more women pioneers who should be remembered.

The GDCh will now distribute these 30 portraits of the first female chemists (born until 1939) online on its website over the course of 2021. Announcements in various channels reach a broad readership and the topic remains lively throughout the year. Let yourself be impressed and inspired by the productivity and enthusiasm of early women chemists for their profession. The GDCh would like to thank the two authors and Prof. Dr. Barbara Albert, TU Darmstadt, for her conceptual advice.

We hope you enjoy reading and discussing

Dr. Hildegard Nimmesgern
Chair of the GDCh Commission for Equal Opportunities

Dr. Karin J. Schmitz
Head of GDCh Public Relations

January 2021

Photo credits: see individual contributions (click on photo)

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last modified: 09.06.2021 14:59 H from