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Matilda Effect and the untold "Oppenheimer" story

Updated: 7 days ago

Hello everyone,

I'm Nidhi Gupta, and this is Women Weekly! As a new writer here, I'm thrilled to announce a new series focusing on the stories of the wonderful women in STEM who have fallen victim to the Matilda Effect.


Imagine this: you are a dedicated scientist on the brink of a groundbreaking discovery, and suddenly, your recognition vanishes faster than a shooting star. The world of science is brimming with unsung heroes, often overshadowed despite their remarkable contributions.

Over the years, countless women scientists have experienced a similar fate: their achievements have been forgotten, sidelined, or ignored in the history of science. This widespread bias is so prevalent that it has been termed the Matilda Effect.


Join me as we uncover some incredible stories of these forgotten pioneers, bringing their achievements into the spotlight they deserve.

 

In 1993, historian of science Margaret W. Rossiter was the first to pen an essay titled The Matilda Effect in Science, shedding light on this troubling phenomenon in the scientific community. Katie Hafner, a journalist and executive producer of the podcast project Lost Women of Science, explained that the problem extends far beyond being overlooked for Nobel Prizes. “It's about not being named in a study; to be just an asterisk or a footnote,” she said. The Lost Women of Science database is a testament to this reality, documenting hundreds of female scientists who have fallen victim to the Matilda Effect.



lise meitner

Let's kick things off with the incredible Lise Meitner, the queen of nuclear physics! She cracked the code to nuclear fission, only to have Otto Hahn receive the Nobel Prize. She contributed to the discovery of the radioactive element protactinium, and unlike her close collaborator Otto Hahn, she began her research career without pay, a stark reminder of the barriers faced by women in academia during her time.


One of the defining moments in Meitner’s career came with the discovery of nuclear fission. Working with Otto Hahn, she played a pivotal role in deciphering the experimental results that led to the understanding of this revolutionary process. However, when Hahn published their findings, Meitner’s name was notably absent from the paper. She was relegated to the role of an "assistant" or "technician" in public discourse, despite her crucial contributions. Undeterred by this setback, Meitner went on to independently theorize and publish the fundamental explanation of nuclear fission.


The recent blockbuster movie "Oppenheimer" highlights a disturbing trend in modern media: the bias against women's scientific achievements. The Manhattan Project would not have been possible without Lise Meitner's discovery of nuclear fission. Yet, in "Oppenheimer," Meitner is not mentioned, and despite being nominated for the Nobel Prize 48 times by renowned scientists like Planck and Einstein, she lost every time.


Despite the injustices she faced during her lifetime, Lise Meitner’s contributions have since been recognized and celebrated. Her work laid the foundation for advancements in nuclear physics and energy, influencing generations of scientists to come. Today, Lise Meitner’s name rightfully stands among the giants of physics, a testament to her intellect, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity.


 

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3 Comments


Guest
Jun 19

Very nice Nidhi, keep it up

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Guest
Jun 19

A masterpiece to read. Super proud of you Nidhi, keep up the good work

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Guest
Jun 18

Proud of you Nidhi Gupta. Your writeups are always worth reading <3

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