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Celebrating women breaking barriers in STEM

By Rachel Myers

2022 Science Talent Search finalists pose with an If/Then statue of an STS alumna.
Five 2022 Science Talent Search Finalists pose with a statue of a Society for Science competition alumna, as part of the Smithsonian's If/Then She Can exhibit. Courtesy of Society for Science

Since Marina Meyers was named a top winner in the 1942 Science Talent Search, Society for Science competition alumni have gone on to break barriers and make life-changing discoveries in STEM. Even the Society’s President and CEO, and Publisher of Science News, Maya Ajmera, is an alumna of the 1985 Science Talent Search. From being named a Pew Scholar to making strides in understanding Lyme Disease, these alumnae can do anything they set their minds to.

Sana Batool

Now studying medicine at Harvard University, Sana Batool competed in ISEF in 2014. She and her family immigrated to the United States in 2013 from Pakistan. A first-generation college graduate, Sana plans to work with refugees and asylees as a global health professional after she receives her medical degree.

Linda Bockenstedt

Dr. Linda Bockenstedt, a professor of medicine at Yale University, competed in STS in 1974. Her research focuses on understanding how Lyme disease develops. Linda is internationally recognized for her research of the host immune response to spirochetal infection, the infection which leads to Lyme disease and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.

Harriet Fell is an alumna of the Society for Science's 1961 Science Talent Search.
Harriet Fell competed in the 1961 Science Talent Search. Courtesy of Harriet Fell

Harriet Fell

A professor at Northeastern University’s College of Computer Science, Harriet Fell competed in STS in 1961. As a freshman at MIT, she was one of only 23 women in a class of about 900 students. “In one math class, a male student told the professor he was upset because I was better than he was. The professor assured him that it didn’t matter because I would drop out to get married and have babies while he would still do mathematics,” said Harriet. “I was always good at math and sciences. I was really bad at French and history. I hated subjects where I had to memorize lots of stuff. I don’t know why I never felt like I had to memorize a lot for science subjects. All those science words somehow stuck without much effort.”

Madhavi Gavini

After competing in DCYSC in 2003 and 2004 and ISEF in 2006, Dr. Madhavi Gavini now serves as CEO and cofounder of Droplette, a technology company working to revolutionize skin care. She is also the president and cofounder of Novopyxis, a biotechnology company dedicated to developing medical devices and therapeutics. In December 2021, Madhavi discussed how Droplette came to be and the impact trailblazing women can have in the field of STEM in the podcast, Girls in Tech, which you can listen to here.

Caroline Herzenberg

After competing in STS in 1949, American physicist Dr. Caroline Herzenberg was one of the very few women to attend MIT. Caroline’s research includes experimental nuclear physics and Mössbauer spectrometry. During her time at IIT Research Institute in Chicago, she served as a principal investigator analyzing lunar samples returned by the NASA Apollo mission. She was the first scientist to be inducted into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame.

Esther Hu

Esther Hu, an STS 1970 alumna worked as a research associate with the x-ray group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute. An astronomy professor at the University of Hawaii, Esther currently holds the record for distant object detection, successfully studying distant objects across the universe using sensitive telescopes and instruments.

Gina Levy

Using her background in technology, 1983 STS alumna Gina Levy founded KindraConnect to help connect people with kindred spirits. Inspired by her many trips to the cultural gathering, Burning Man, Gina’s goal is to bring people together in a digital space that shares the same authenticity of Burning Man. She previously worked in business-to-business technology marketing and has won several awards for her films and filmmaking.

Sohini Ramachandran is an alumna of the Society for Science's 1989 Science Talent Search and International Science and Engineering Fair.
Sohini Ramachandran competed in the 1989 Science Talent Search and International Science and Engineering Fair. Courtesy of Sohini Ramachandran

Sohini Ramachandran

Director of the Data Science Initiative and Center for Computational Molecular Biology at Brown University, 1989 STS and ISEF alumna Dr. Sohini Ramachandran uses math, statistics and computer modeling to make inferences about evolutionary history. Sohini credits her parents, who were both professors, and her doctoral advisor, Marc Feldman, for inspiring her to become a STEM professor. “My advice for young people interested in science is to not worry about competing against others, but to study science out of curiosity, excitement and the chance to make lasting contributions to the scientific endeavor,” she says. “My parents really emphasized that anyone can, with enough work, learn anything; saying to me all the way through graduate school, ‘If someone is able to get an A in that class, so can you.’”

Want to learn more about the Society for Science’s alumni? Head to our Notable Alumni page, where you can read about more women who are making waves in STEM, Congress and even Hollywood. In celebration of the Society’s centennial, the Notable Alumni page highlights impressive changemakers working to improve the world we live in.

Rachel Myers