Last week the 2020 Nobel Prize winners were announced, and for the first time in the history of the award, four women earned the accomplishment of Nobel Laureate: Andrea Ghez, Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Louise Glück. This is the largest number of women to ever earn that title in one year. In previous years, it has been rare for even two to be selected for Nobels among the large pool of male candidates. These women have not only done groundbreaking work within their respective fields, but collectively have shattered the glass ceiling of the prize as well.
Individually, each of the female Laureates also made history within their categories. Andrea Ghez became the first female astrophysicist to earn the Nobel Prize for her work regarding black holes, a category that has been extremely rare for women to win. This means that, with the exception of the fictitious Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory, Ghez is only the fourth woman to earn a Nobel Prize in physics in the history of the award. Some argue that the reason for such a scarce number of female recipients in this category is due to a lack of female physicists. This, however, is simply not true. According to Forbes Magazine, women make up about 30% of physicists with advanced doctorates who are also pursuing research. Yet, only 1% of physics Nobel Laureates are women. The other 99% have been solely caucasian men, making Ghez’s win even more historic. It is hoped by many that the Nobel committee will diversify its selections in future years.
Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier earned the prize in chemistry for their research on CRISPR gene editing technology. In past years when a woman has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, it has always been awarded to a man as well. This is the first year that two women, and two women alone, have won in the category. Doudna and Charpentier’s research could help trace the exact cause and origins of COVID-19, and eventually be instrumental in creating a vaccine. Their win comes after a large debate within the scientific community about who exactly should receive credit for CRISPR technology. Two male professors from Cambridge sought credit, claiming that it was their invention, but organized records and data from Doudna and Charpentier’s studies proved otherwise. Their win truly clarifies who the real pioneers in CRISPR gene editing are.
Finally, in a more comical sense, Louise Glück was the first Nobel Prize winner to hang up on the Nobel committee when they called to notify her of the accomplishment. In her own words, “It was early in the morning and it said ‘unknown call from Sweden’. I thought they were a scam caller!” Regardless of her hilarious mix-up, Glück has truly revolutionized literature in the past year with her experimental style of poetry, which many experts say will be studied by future generations as Shakespeare is today.
Collectively these women have brought hope to other female professionals that the future of the Nobel Prize will be less male dominated. Their wins are well deserved and signify a new era of equality.
Lauren Grae ‘23, Staff Writer