International Women’s Day acknowledges the achievements of women around the world. This year, women are uniting and holding a strike to call attention to the significant contributions women make in society. In solidarity, we are recognizing five WINGS fellows whose incredible discoveries significantly advanced their respective fields of science. Without these trailblazers, our understanding of the world and the universe surely would be hindered. They are truly Women of Discovery. To learn more about the rest of our Fellows and the incredible work they do, visit our Fellows page.
Sue Hendrickson has been involved in major discoveries both on land and in sea. She helped excavate a 400-year-old sunken ship, called the San Diego, off the coast of the Philippines as well as Heracleopolis, a city of ruins, located in Egypt. She is best known for discovering Sue the T-Rex, the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. She won the WINGS Sea Award in 2005.
Dr. Beate G. Liepert discovered the phenomenon of global dimming – the reduction of sunlight that reaches Earth’s surface, thought to be caused by pollution. When she made global dimming the subject of her doctoral thesis, she almost wasn’t granted her PhD because no one believed her results. A year later, Liepert’s thesis was cited in the first United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climatic Change Report, contributing to how we understand climate change today. She was given the 2016 WINGS Women of Discovery Earth Award this past October.
Katy Payne began her career with a bachelor’s degree in music. She went on to study the songs of humpback whales until she and two colleagues discovered infrasonic calling in elephants, low-frequency sounds that allow elephants to communicate. She went on to found the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University, whose work has been instrumental in advancing elephant conservation programs in Africa. Payne was presented with the WINGS Earth Award in 2004.
It was the late Vera Rubin who discovered that the universe is comprised mainly of dark matter, an unidentifiable substance that is distinct from ordinary matter. Rubin’s work shapes the way humans understand the universe, but she was also a fierce advocate for women and minorities. From the time she was in high school, when her physics teacher advised her not to study science in college, she broke down barriers for those who wanted to pursue astronomy but were not permitted. She was given the WINGS Air & Space Award in 2004.
For centuries humans have searched in vain for proof of the giant squid. It wasn't until 2012 when oceanographer and deep-sea explorer Edith Widder, along with two other scientists, captured the squid on video for the first time in its natural deep-sea habitat using specialized camera equipment that she designed. She also discovered that the suckers on a deep sea octopus are bioluminescent. She won the WINGS Sea Award in 2006.