Eight Women In Chemistry Who Have Changed Our World

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This past weekend we came across the documentary Women in Chemistry: Lessons from Life and the Laboratory, an incredible collection of stories featuring eight remarkable women who have made important contributions to science. The documentary, which originally aired last year, has been running again on PBS in honor of Women’s History Month. We are so glad we didn’t miss it!

Developed by The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), the film follows the adventures of Nancy Chang, Uma Chowdhry, Mildred Cohn, Mary L. Good, Kitty Hach-Darrow, Paula Hammond, Stephanie Kwolek, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, and celebrates the common element these leading women share: a life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science.

“Women have been central to the chemical and molecular sciences since antiquity, though their role has been – intentionally or not – obscured or missing in the annals of history.” CHF explains on their website, “We are committed to collecting and preserving the stories of the women behind the breakthroughs and innovations, and hope to inspire young women to consider careers in these fields.”

In addition to the film, CHF created the Women in Chemistry oral history project, a collection of stories with women who entered the workforce in the first and second generations after the establishment of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.

The oral histories focus on formative experiences, the importance of mentors and networks, as well as the changing roles of women in chemistry throughout the twentieth century. This is one of several projects CHF has taken on within its Center for Oral History.

CHF is single-handedly filling in the gaps of history where women have been traditionally left out. Watch the trailer below or click here to view the full documentary. If you can see it, you can be it!

Meet The Women In Chemistry


Nancy Chang, co-founder and former CEO of the biopharmaceutical firm Tanox. Through the airplane window 19-year-old Nancy watched Taiwan disappear beneath her. To pass the time on the long trip to the United States, she opened a copy of The Double Helix, James Watson’s first-person account of discovering the structure of DNA. Sixteen hours later when the plane touched down, she had made up her mind: she would study biology.


Uma Chowdhry, retired senior vice president and chief science and technology officer of DuPont. An ambitious teenager Uma left her home in India to study chemistry in the United States, determined to win a Nobel Prize. But after falling in love with materials science, the study of solids at the molecular level, she decided to work in industrial research.


Mildred Cohn, first female president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Mildred was determined to prove that talent should be the only qualification for working in chemistry. At a time when open displays of prejudice against women and Jews were not uncommon, she fought for and won a place in high-level government and university laboratories.


Mary L. Good, former president of the American Chemical Society, undersecretary for technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, and recipient of the Priestley Medal didn’t envision the head-spinning list of accomplishments that awaited her when setting off for college. But one day in a required chemistry course, she learned about Marie Curie and was captivated by her scientific achievements.


Kathryn (Kitty) Hach-Darrow, co-founder of the Hach Chemical Company, which manufactures and distributes analytical instruments to test the quality of water, is the only woman to receive CHF’s Pittcon Heritage Award. A child of the Great Depression, Kitty watched her family struggle to recover after they lost their car dealership. She knew that keeping things afloat meant getting creative.


Paula Hammond, Professor in engineering at MIT. Paula is in pursuit of the invisible. In her lab she creates technologies so small that you can’t see them with most microscopes, that is, until they save a soldier’s life on the battlefield, or illuminate light bulbs using stored solar power.


Stephanie Kwolek, former research associate at DuPont and inventor of Kevlar. In 1965 DuPont was looking for its next big innovations, the kind of products that would change people’s lives. They assigned Stephanie, then a research chemist, to find one, and she did.


Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder, chairman, and managing director of Biocon Limited. In 1978 Kiran became managing director for Biocon India, a business she referred to as a “multinational company.” What she neglected to tell applicants, however, was that Biocon India was operating out of her home garage. With just two employees and her father’s blessing, she began a business specializing in industrial enzymes for food and textile makers around the globe.