L'Oréal and New Scientist today announced the results of a poll revealing the most inspirational female scientists of all time. Nuclear physicist and chemist Marie Curie topped the poll which was created to celebrate 10 years of the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science program, with around a quarter (25.1%) of the vote. 

Voted for by more than 800 members of the scientific community and visitors to http://www.NewScientist.com, the poll highlights the absence of modern role models on the list; Astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (4.7%), responsible for the discovery of radiopulsars, and Jane Goodall, the primatologist (2.7 per cent) were the only scientists in the top ten to have research published in recent years, polled 4th and 10th, respectively. 

The poll comes as data from the UK Resource Centre For Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, confirms that women remain under-represented in UK scientific research. Statistics reveal that women comprise less than 30% of those in SET research positions in UK Universities, with lower proportions at later career stages. While girls make up 42.4 per cent of GCE A level students in science, this drops to 33.5 per cent at higher education level. Furthermore, in the workforce, women make up only 18.5 per cent of those working in science and engineering overall. 

2009 LOreal UNESCO For Women In Science Fellows Nathalie Seddon Elizabeth Murchison Jennifer Bizley Patricia Alireza
The 2009 L'Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science Fellows, Dr Nathalie Seddon, Dr Elizabeth Murchison, Dr Jennifer Bizley and Dr Patricia Alireza

Roger Highfield, Editor, New Scientist commented: "The poll indicates the vital need to celebrate and raise awareness of the many female scientists who have shaped modern science since Marie Curie, and who are making a bigger contribution than ever. 

When we asked respondents to suggest who else should be included in our poll, the name of Rita Levi-Montalcini, the Italian neurologist who is the oldest living Nobel laureate, came up the most, with 1.5 per cent of the vote." 

The results of the poll coincide with the announcement of the winners of the four 2009 L'Oréal UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowships (http://www.womeninscience.co.uk), at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Institution today. The fellowships promote the importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science and are run in partnership with the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain and the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. 

Grita Loebsack, Country Manager, L'Oréal UK and Ireland commented: "Women are at the forefront of advances in many scientific disciplines, particularly in health and life sciences. L'Oréal's business is founded on science, making programmes like For Women In Science fundamental to our future development." 

She added: "The aim of the poll was to celebrate the contribution women have made to scientific research but also to highlight the lack of modern role models to encourage young women to pursue careers in science. It is through programmes such as For Women In Science that we hope to draw more attention to the pioneering scientific research undertaken by women around the world and provide more visible role models for the female scientists of the future." 

Winners of the 2009 L'Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowships are: 

Dr Nathalie Seddon, Tutorial Fellow, University of Oxford for her research into the evolution of animal communication 

Dr Elizabeth Murchison, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute for her work on understanding the origins and development of transmittable cancers 

Dr Jennifer Bizley, Post-Doctoral Research Scientist, University of Oxford for her research into the human perception of pitch, tone, and spatial location of a sound source 

Dr Patricia Alireza, Honorary Research Associate, University College London for her research into new electronic transitions under extreme conditions of pressure, magnetic field and temperature.

 Top Ten Most Inspirational Female Scientists
      % of the vote
  1. Marie Curie 25.1
  2. Rosalind Franklin 14.2
  3. Hypatia Of Alexandria 9.4
  4. Jocelyn Bell Burnell 4.7
  5. Ada, Countess Lovelace - 4.5
  6. Lise Meitner - 4.4
  7. Dorothy Hodgkin - 3.8
  8. Sophie Germain - 3.7
  9. Rachel Carson - 3.4
  10. Jane Goodall - 2.7

For more information on the top 10 most inspirational female scientists, as voted for by visitors to http://www.NewScientist.com in conjunction with L'Oréal, click on the link above.

Source: The poll was commissioned by L'Oréal and conducted by New Scientist, polling 838 visitors to http://www.newscientist.com in June 2009.