Influential Women in Chemistry From the Last 10 Years

Influential Women in Chemistry From the Last 10 Years

Our list of influential women in chemistry includes academics, researchers, businesswomen, trailblazers, and creators. Earning Nobel Prizes, occupying leadership roles in universities, and formulating products we use every day, women chemists continue to impact our world, and our list highlights the cream of the crop.

Top 10 Women in Chemistry From the Last 10 Years

  1. Jennifer Doudna
  2. Asa Yonath
  3. Stephanie L. Kwolek
  4. Kára McCullough
  5. Padmasree Warrior
  6. Zhenan Bao
  7. Yamuna Krishnan
  8. Jacqueline Barton
  9. Karen L. Wooley
  10. Carolyn Bertozzi

Chemists are creators. Whether it’s the food we consume, gasoline we burn, lotions we apply, or medicines we use, a team of chemists is responsible for placing these modern conveniences at our fingertips. Some chemists go on to work in the pharmaceutical, consumer, oil and petroleum, or food industries, to name a few. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a job growth rate of 6% between now and 2030, denoting the creation of roughly 6000 new jobs over the next decade.

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry will incorporate the field’s five main branches: inorganic, organic, analytical, physical, and biochemistry. Inorganic chemists study non-carbon materials, such as minerals and semiconductors. Organic chemists work with carbon-containing materials, often in pharmaceuticals and plastics. Analytical chemists study the composition of substances, such as food nutrients. Physical chemists examine the behavior of matter and related energy changes, studying reaction rates and mechanisms, while biochemists study the matter and processes of living organisms, such as metabolism and epidemiology. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry can find careers in areas such as education, research support or production; however, many students elect to continue their studies by earning an advanced degree in one of the main branches identified above.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of women acquiring advanced degrees in chemistry. However, there remains a gap between the number of women and men in the field, most notably at the doctoral level. Though women held about 45% of the master’s in chemistry degrees in 2019, only 39% held a doctorate in chemistry.

The Women Chemists Committee (WCC) serves female members of the American Chemical Society, an organization in which most professional chemists are enrolled. The group aims to “attract, retain, develop, promote, and advocate for women to positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Society and profession.”

Women have increasingly taken on leadership roles and have made notable advancements in the industry. In fact, our top influential chemist, Jennier Doudna, recently won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, along with a female physicist, Emmanuelle Charpentier , for their work on CRISPR-Cas9. Jacqueline K. Barton is currently the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry, and in her recent past, she was the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech. As the first woman elected to head of chemistry at Edinburgh, Lesley Yellowlees also serves as the head of the College of Science and Engineering. Anna I. Krylov, a chemistry professor at the University of Southern California, is the inventor of the spin-flip method, president of Q-Chem, Inc., and an elected member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and Academia Europaea.

Influential Women in Chemistry From the Last 10 Years

  1. #1

    Jennifer Doudna

    1964 - Present (59 years)

    Areas of Specialization: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology
    Jennifer Doudna is a Li Ka Shing Chancellor Chair Professor for the Department of Chemistry and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, she has been a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes. She earned a B.A. in biochemistry from Pomona College and a Ph.D. in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard Medical School.

    She is best known for her work with CRISPR. She, along with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, were the first to suggest that genes could be edited or reprogrammed, now considered one of the most impactful discoveries ever made in the field of biology.

    For her work in gene editing, she has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Gruber Prize in Genetics, the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and in 2016, she was runner-up for the Time magazine Person of the Year, alongside her fellow CRISPR colleagues.

  2. #2

    Ada Yonath

    1939 - Present (84 years)

    Areas of Specialization: Crystallography
    Yonath is Director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science. She received her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1962, her master’s in biochemistry in 1964, and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1968.

    Yonath is a crystallographer, a branch of chemistry that studies the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids. Yonath has applied crystallographic techniques to the study of the ribosome, which has resulted in pioneering research in that area. In 2009, Yonath won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on the structure and function of the ribosome (along with two colleagues). She became the first Israeli woman ever to win the Nobel Prize as well as the first woman in 45 years to win in the Chemistry field.

    Yonath has held postdoctoral positions at Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She founded the first protein crystallography laboratory in Israel, has been visiting Professor at the University of Chicago, and also directed a Max-Plank Institute Research Unit in Hamburg Germany. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Yonath won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2006, and many other awards during her long and distinguished career.

  3. #3

    Stephanie Kwolek

    1923 - 2014 (91 years)
    Stephanie Louise Kwolek was a Polish-American chemist who is known for inventing Kevlar. Her career at the DuPont company spanned more than 40 years. She discovered the first of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide.
  4. #4

    Kára McCullough Temple

    1991 - Present (32 years)

    Kára McCullough Temple came to fame as Miss USA 2017. As Miss USA, Temple represented the United States at Miss Universe 2017, where she placed in the top ten. Prior to becoming Miss USA, Temple attended the HBCU South Carolina State University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a concentration in radiochemistry. After graduation Temple then worked as an emergency preparedness specialist in the United State’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response. The Miss USA title allowed Temple to found Science Exploration for Kids (SE4K). SE4K creates fun and interactive activities celebrating math and science to cultivate a passion for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) among students.

  5. #5

    Padmasree Warrior

    1961 - Present (62 years)
    Padmasree Warrior is an Indian-American businesswoman and technology executive. She is known for her leadership roles in technology firms like Cisco where she served as the CTO for seven years, and at Motorola where she was the CTO for five years. She also served as the CEO of NIO USA, an electric car maker. Currently, she is the founder and CEO of Fable, a curated reading platform focused on mental wellness. She also serves on the board of directors of Microsoft and Spotify.
  6. #6

    Zhenan Bao

    1970 - Present (53 years)
    Zhenan Bao , is the K. K. Lee Professor of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, with courtesy appointments in Chemistry and Material Science and Engineering. She has served as the Department Chair of Chemical Engineering from 2018-2022. She is known for her work on organic field-effect transistors and organic semiconductors, for applications including flexible electronics and electronic skin.
  7. #7

    Yamuna Krishnan

    1974 - Present (49 years)
    Yamuna Krishnan is a professor at the Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago, where she has worked since August 2014. She was born to P.T. Krishnan and Mini in Parappanangadi, in the Malappuram district of Kerala, India. She was earlier a Reader in National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India. Krishnan won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for science and technology, the highest science award in India in the year 2013 in the Chemical Science category.
  8. #8

    Jacqueline Barton

    1952 - Present (71 years)
    Jacqueline K. Barton , is an American chemist. She worked as a Professor of Chemistry at Hunter College , and at Columbia University before joining the California Institute of Technology. In 1997 she became the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and from 2009 to 2019, the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech. She currently is the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry.
  9. #9

    Karen L. Wooley

    1966 - Present (57 years)
    Karen L. Wooley is an American polymer chemist. She is a Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University whose research focuses on developing novel polymers and nanostructured materials. Early life and education Wooley was born and raised in Oakridge, Oregon, a small logging community in the mountains of Oregon. She received her B.Sc. in Chemistry from Oregon State University in 1988, and a Ph.D. in Polymer/Organic Chemistry from Cornell University in 1993 under the guidance of Jean Fréchet.
  10. #10

    Carolyn Bertozzi

    1966 - Present (57 years)

    Areas of Specialization: Biorthogonal Chemistry, Glycobiology
    Carolyn Bertozzi is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, and is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She earned a BA in chemistry from Harvard University and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

    Bertozzi is perhaps most famous for being considered as the founder of biorthogonal chemistry, a subfield of chemistry that allows scientists to modify molecules in living organisms without disrupting processes occurring within the cells. She has also worked extensively to study how viruses can bind to sugars, known as glycobiology. Her work on the interactions of sugar within the body, and diseases such as arthritis, tuberculosis and cancer, have yielded critical insights with implications across medical specialties.

  11. #11

    Helen Sharman

    1963 - Present (60 years)
    Helen Patricia Sharman, CMG, OBE, HonFRSC is a British chemist and cosmonaut who became the first British person, first Western European woman and first privately funded woman in space, as well as the first woman to visit the Mir space station, in May 1991.
  12. #12

    Lesley Yellowlees

    1953 - Present (70 years)

    Areas of Specialization: Inorganic Electrochemistry, Solar Cell Chemistry
    Yellowlees is Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She is the first woman elected to head of chemistry at Edinburgh. She is also Head of the College of Science and Engineering. Yellowlees received her bachelor’s degree (BsC) in Chemical Physics at the University of Edinburgh in 1975, and finished her Ph.D. in Inorganic Electrochemistry at Edinburgh in 1982.

    Yellowlees’ career has focused on important areas of inorganic chemistry, including work on solar cell chemistry and electrochemical research. She became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005 as well as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2015. Yellowlees was also the first woman ever elected as the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a seat she held from 2012–14. In 2014, she was included in the BBC’s 100 Women, a series highlighting the role of women in the 21st century.

  13. #13

    Tracy Caldwell Dyson

    1969 - Present (54 years)
    Tracy Caldwell Dyson is an American chemist and NASA astronaut. Caldwell Dyson was a Mission Specialist on Space Shuttle Endeavour flight STS-118 in August 2007 and part of the Expedition 23 and Expedition 24 crew on the International Space Station from April 2010 to September 2010. She has completed three spacewalks, logging more than 22 hrs of EVA.
  14. #14

    Reiko Kuroda

    1947 - Present (76 years)
    is a Japanese chemist who is a professor at the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Tokyo. Early life and education Kuroda was born in Akita but grew up in Miygai, on the island of Honshu, Japan. She obtained her MSc and PhD in Chemistry from the University of Tokyo. Her doctorate focused on determining the stereochemistry of metal complexes.
  15. #15

    Michelle Francl

    Michelle M. Francl is an American chemist. Francl is a professor of chemistry, and has taught physical chemistry, general chemistry and mathematical modeling at Bryn Mawr College since 1986. Francl is noted for developing new methodology in computational chemistry, including the 6-31G* basis set for Na to Ar and electrostatic potential charges. She received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine in 1983
  16. #16

    Emily A. Carter

    1960 - Present (63 years)
    Emily Ann Carter is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University. She has been on the faculty at Princeton since 2004, including as serving as Princeton’s Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science from 2016 to 2019. She moved to UCLA to serve as Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and a distinguished professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, before returning to ...
  17. #17

    Anna Krylov

    1967 - Present (56 years)
    Anna I. Krylov is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California , working in the field of theoretical and computational quantum chemistry. She is the inventor of the spin-flip method. Krylov is the president of Q-Chem, Inc. and an elected member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and the Academia Europaea.
  18. #18

    Elmira Süleymanova

    1937 - Present (86 years)
    Elmira Süleymanova , is an Azerbaijani chemist and civil servant. In 2002 she became the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic. Biography Süleymanova was born in Baku on 17 July 1937 and graduated in Chemistry from the State University of Azerbaijan and graduated with honors. Since then she worked in the Institute of Petrochemical Processes of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences as a laboratory assistant and later became the Head of the laboratory. In 1967 she got a postgraduate from the National Academy of Sciences, in 1980 a doctorate and has been a university professor since 1...
  19. #19

    Eva Åkesson

    1961 - Present (62 years)
    Eva Barbro Helen Åkesson is a Swedish professor of chemical physics who was the Rector of Uppsala University 2012-2020. She was previously Pro-Rector of Lund University. Career After taking the social sciences programme at Ängelholm Upper Secondary School, Åkesson studied chemistry at Umeå University, completing her doctorate in physical chemistry in 1989. She subsequently joined the faculty of Lund University as a researcher and teacher, later serving as director of studies in chemistry. In 2003, Rector Göran Bexell appointed her to one of the two newly established positions as Vice-Rector a...
  20. #20

    Clare Grey

    1965 - Present (58 years)
    Dame Clare Philomena Grey is Geoffrey Moorhouse Gibson Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Grey uses nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study and optimize batteries.
  21. #21

    Alice Y. Ting

    Alice Yen-Ping Ting is Taiwanese-born American chemist. She is a professor of Genetics, of Biology, and by courtesy, of Chemistry at Stanford University. She is also a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigator.
  22. #22

    Catherine Coleman

    1960 - Present (63 years)
    Catherine Grace “Cady” Coleman is an American chemist, an engineer, a former United States Air Force colonel, and a retired NASA astronaut. She is a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, and departed the International Space Station on May 23, 2011, as a crew member of Expedition 27 after logging 159 days in space.
  23. #23

    Donna Nelson

    1954 - Present (69 years)
    Donna J. Nelson is an American chemist and professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma. Nelson specializes in organic chemistry, which she both researches and teaches. Nelson served as a science advisor to the AMC television show Breaking Bad. She was the 2016 President of the American Chemical Society with her presidential activities focusing on and guided by communities in chemistry. Nelson’s research focused on five primary topics, generally categorized in two areas, Scientific Research and America’s Scientific Readiness. Within Scientific Research, Nelson’s topics have been on ...
  24. #24

    Suzanne Fortier

    1949 - Present (74 years)
    Suzanne Fortier is a Canadian crystallographer and the 17th Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University. Early life and education Fortier was born in Saint-Timothée, Quebec, a town on Île-de-Salaberry in the St. Lawrence River. Her parents ran a small local hotel. She grew up speaking only French and attended a small local convent, which served as elementary school. A nun who taught chemistry and was enthusiastic about the subject inspired her to pursue science.
  25. #25

    Aïssata Issoufou Mahamadou

    Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou is a Nigerien chemist, chemical engineer, mining specialist, and healthcare advocate who served as First Lady of the Republic of Niger from 7 April 2011 to 2 April 2021. She is the first wife of former President Mahamadou Issoufou and shared the title of First Lady with Issoufou’s second wife, Lalla Malika Issoufou. Issoufou Mahamadou is president of the Guri-Vie Meilleure Foundation.
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Image Credits:

Top row, left to right: Patricia Hill Collins, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Malala Yousafzai, Shafi Goldwasser, Jennifer Doudna, Fabiola Gianotti, Michiko Kakutani, Lauren Underwood.

Bottom row, left to right: Fei-Fei Li, Esther Duflo, Kathy Reichs, Nancy Fraser, Brené Brown, Judith Curry, Jill Lepore, Zaha Hadid.

Image Attributions