Dr. Yvonne Cagle stands in a NASA uniform in front of images of space.

14 Women in STEM Currently Changing the World

Many women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) across history have changed the world. Most of us are familiar with some of these powerful pioneers such as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Hedy Lamarr, and Katherine Johnson, just to name a few. 

But how well do you know the women currently transcending time and space to impart change in the world of STEM in today’s age? So many of these women are overlooked and under-represented, so check out these female trailblazers of the 2010s and beyond.

Wendy Freedman

Image from Hubble telescope of a galaxy.
Hubble Image of Spiral Galaxy NGC 4603. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Newman (Univ. of California at Berkeley) and NASA.

Prominent astronomer Wendy Freedman has changed the world of the space community. She was the co-leader of the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project as well as a key figure in accomplishing the monumental feat of calculating the Hubble constant with an outstanding accuracy of 10%.

She holds the distinguished position of John & Marion Sullivan University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and is recognized globally for her work in observational cosmology. Aside from her academic accolades, she has also served as Director of two renowned space observatories in California and Chile.

Dawn Song

computer keyboard with Closed Padlock.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Having made pivotal strides in the areas of software, networking, cryptography, blockchains, smart contracts, and machine learning, Dawn Song is known internationally for her cutting-edge research and innovations. As the founder of Oasis Labs, Ensighta Security, and Menlo Security, as well as a professor at UC Berkeley, Song is famous as a serial entrepreneur with many different STEM endeavors under her belt. She has been recognized greatly for her research and achievements in STEM. But maybe most impressive of all: Song is presently ranked as the most cited scholar in the computer security industry. 

Katherine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe leans agains a rustic looking wall with desert plants in background.
Photo Credit: Texas Tech University.

One of the leading voices in climate science, Katherine Hayhoe spearheads the mission for climate resilience and policy at both federal and local levels in the US and worldwide. She has helped create innovative strategies for solving the climate crisis, assessing long-term observations, future scenarios, and global models. Dr. Hayhoe has been publicly recognized multiple times for her dedication and hard work in the field of climate science, most notably earning the United Nations “Champions of the Earth” award, the highest environmental honor given by the organization.

Jennifer Doudna

Genetic manipulation and DNA modification concept.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Earning the respectable title of Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Jennifer Doudna currently holds the position of Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology. Her work primarily focuses on medical innovation in the world of RNA biology, and most notably, Doudna’s research led to the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. CRISPR-Cas9 has been a groundbreaking tool for genome editing, adaptive immunity, genetic studies, and much more. 

Ayanna Howard

Ayanna Howard sits with a robot.
Image Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology 2008/Rob Felt. Uploaded by Jiuguang Wang, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Renowned roboticist, entrepreneur, and educator Ayanna Howard, currently the Dean of Ohio State University College of Engineering, is the founder and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab (HumAnS). Howard primarily sets her sights on multidisciplinary robots and artificial intelligence, and one of her robotic inventions studied the impact of global warming on the Antarctic ice shelves, while another of her creations, Zyrobotics, has made strides in providing therapeutic treatment for children with special needs. Prior to her work in robotics, Howard also contributed to space engineering research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Yvonne Cagle

Dr. Yvonne Cook stands with children wearing flowers on her head while visiting the Cook Islands.
Photo Credit: US Embassy from New Zealand, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

With an impressive resume filled with accomplishments, Dr. Yvonne Cagle is perhaps most well-known as an astronaut. Beyond this, Cagle is also a consulting professor at Stanford University, where she has vast experience in the cardiovascular medicine and electrical engineering departments.

She is also a certified senior aviation medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration and chief scientist for the Level II Program Office of NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program, among other influential roles at NASA. Her medical career and contributions to a longitudinal study on astronaut health have earned her top-notch accolades in the field.

Kizzmekia Corbett

Close up human fingers in gloves, holding syringe with needle and covid-19 vaccine vial.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

As one of the leading medical researchers in the realm of immunology, Kizzmekia Corbett employed her expertise in groundbreaking vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. Her work includes mRNA-1273, the top vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 which was eventually used by Moderna.

Corbett holds the esteemed role of Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard and has 15 years of experience conducting novel research for dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronavirus. She is a vocal advocate of STEM education and vaccine awareness.

Cynthia Breazeal

A human finger and a robotic finger converge amidst a luminous network of digital connections, symbolizing human-AI interaction.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Cynthia Breazal is a distinguished professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, the MIT Dean for Digital Learning, and the Director of the MIT Initiative on Responsible AI for Social Empowerment and Education. Breazal founded and directs the Personal Robots group at the Media Lab and co-founded Jibo. Her current research involves social robotics and human-robot interaction, studying the impact of AI on humans and everyday life. She even established a website during the pandemic that supported parents and teachers during quarantine. Breazal’s work mainly balances technical innovation in AI, UX design, and psychology and targets subjects such as education, pediatrics, health, and aging.

Carolyn Greider

Carolyn Greider smiles at the Nobel Prize Press Conference.
Photo Credit: © Prolineserver 2010 / Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most breakthrough research ever conducted in the field of molecular biology was directed by Carolyn Greider. With an emphasis on her discovery of telomerase—an enzyme that is key to the aging process and the growth of cancer cells—Greider’s findings have had major implications for medical research. This research greatly impacts the world’s continuing knowledge and studies of cancer, aging, and other diseases today.

25 years after her extraordinary discovery, she earned the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. She was also a Distinguished Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins University, and continues to encourage women around the world to pursue careers in STEM.

Rhadika Nagpal

Radhika Nagpal sits with fascinating looking robots.
Photo Credit: Radhika Nagpal via Princeton University News

Rhadika Nagpal is a renowned Professor in Robotics at Princeton University, holding a joint position between the departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science.

Her impressive body of work mainly revolves around investigating topics such as bio-inspired robots, decentralized algorithms theory, models for self-organization, and swarm programming, where she has led innovations in educational robotics. Nagpal holds many awards in support of her pioneering work in these fields.

Janet Conrad

IceCube Neutrino Observatory surrounded by snow.
IceCube Nutrino Observatory. Image Credit: Depositphotos.com.

Known for her extensive research on the lightest known matter particles—the neutrino—Janet Conrad is a physicist well on the way to paving new grounds in the physics of neutrinos. Conrad’s work studies a range of subjects, from quantum mechanics to particle physics, helping to bring more understanding to the fundamentals of natural science.

She also commanded the IceCube Experiment, a project establishing an observatory at the North Pole to detect astrophysical neutrinos. She has most recently held the position of Walter O. Lecroy Professor of Physics at Columbia University.

Maryna Viazovska

Maryna Viazovska teaches in a university classroom.
Photo Credit: Simons Foundation YouTube and International Mathematics Union.

Prestigious Ukrainian mathematician Maryna Viazovska, presently a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, is one of the world’s leading experts in her field. She earned massive global recognition for her work on sphere-packing in dimension 8, which stunned the mathematics community. She also made history as the second woman ever to receive the prestigious Fields Medal and was further included in BBC Women's list of 100 Most Inspiring Women. Her honors and accolades are vast, earning her a top spot as one of the most influential female mathematicians in the world.

Ange-Therese Akono

Ange-Therese Akono stands in front of a green background.
Photo Credit: North Carolina State University.

Using her expertise in nanotechnology, materials science, and theoretical and applied mechanics, Ange-Therese Akono has directed some of the most cutting-edge research for restoring the quality of life of patients with facial deformities.

Her team investigates fracture and failure mechanisms in complex materials systems from the molecular level up to the macroscopic scale, employing sciences such as bone tissue regeneration, nano-mechanics, and fracture analysis to assist in facial reconstructions. 

Amy Atwater

A selection of images from Amy Atwater's Instagram account that show dinosaur bones.
Image Credit: Amy Atwater Instagram @mary_annings_revenge

Amy Atwater is bringing the world of paleontology to light one Instagram reel at a time. With an admiration for English paleontologist Mary Annings, Atwater has extensive knowledge and fieldwork experience in excavating digging sites and discovering fossils.

She is also the Director of Development at Dinosaur Ridge and the co-host of the Weird and Dead Podcast. Atwater uses her Instagram platform as a way to encourage girls and women to follow their passions for STEM while educating audiences about paleontology. She is a young, passionate voice with a big impact on the STEM community.

Author: Jorie Logan

Title: Writer

Expertise: Travel, Wellness, Advocacy

Jorie Logan is a copywriter, brand strategist, and traveler with extensive solo travel experience. She's passionate about sharing stories that empower women to explore their world and discover their authentic joyful selves.