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ACS Comment: Celebrating women heroes of chemistry

by Amy M. Balija, chair, ACS Committee on Women Chemists
March 27, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 11


Amy M. Balija.
Credit: Radford University
Amy M. Balija

Marie Curie is one of the most well-known chemists, along with scientists like John Dalton, Michael Faraday, and Linus Pauling. But what about Anna Lee Fisher, Bettye Washington Greene, Katharine Burr Blodgett, and many other women chemists whose stories include discoveries, inventions, and new techniques? During my first year as chair of the Women Chemists Committee (WCC), I met many outstanding women chemists. While they may not have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, their accomplishments are just as important. This year, the WCC celebrates its 95th anniversary, providing an excellent opportunity to recognize the perseverance and dedication of women who positively impact the chemical enterprise. I dedicate this article to the chemists whose stories I tell here and to all women whose work furthers scientific knowledge in chemistry.

In response to the hardships of the pandemic and to showcase how women have overcome adversity, the WCC coproduced the ACS webinar “The Resilience of Women in Chemistry” in March 2021. Patricia Silveyra, Sara Mason, and Allison Aldridge discussed how they persevered throughout COVID-19. Their candid reflections on quarantining during the early days of the pandemic resonated with everyone. The conversation continued at the ACS Fall 2021 meeting, in which the WCC sponsored the symposium “Resilience (of Women) in Chemistry.” Personal accounts highlighted maintaining safety in the workplace, educating students remotely, and preserving a work-life balance during the pandemic. Hopefully, these programs will generate more opportunities for women chemists to vocalize their concerns and experiences.

At every gathering, I encounter women who heroically faced hurdles. Working mothers of young, unvaccinated children struggle with the decision to return to work or remain at home. Some women chose not to attend professional conferences in person because of the risk of infecting their children. A chemistry professor who lives and works in an area recovering from multiple natural disasters related how she works tirelessly to provide opportunities for her students while attempting to initiate a local WCC chapter. Another professor witnessed the need of students in developing countries and decided to recycle used lab coats by sending them overseas. These chemists have a positive attitude and give unlimited energy to their projects.

Women chemists: don’t stop. Continue to forge new paths of chemical advancement and to challenge the culture surrounding chemistry.

Recently, a professor related how she felt little support for her efforts to fulfill the university’s tenure requirements. She recounted a story of marginalization that I hear frequently. In 2021, Geraldine Richmond and coworkers published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America describing how women and other researchers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups do not receive sufficient support in their graduate careers (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2020508118). While graduate schools need to change this culture, women can and must support each other. The WCC endeavors to do just that through initiatives such as its awards program.

Women in chemistry are strongly impacted by those who have gone before us. A retired chemistry teacher prior to her passing, Ruth Woodall was the executive director of Tennessee Scholars, a program that provided the resources for students to get free college tuition in Tennessee. Her work inspired many in ACS and her local community. Her legacy is embodied by the individuals who attended college through this program and the other initiatives she sponsored within ACS.

It is possible to impact the chemistry enterprise without working in academia or industry. ACS staff works tirelessly to support members. Whether investigating sexual harassment claims, networking with other committees on women’s issues, or developing programs to increase diversity, these individuals assist ACS members to advance their careers and passions. I have been fortunate to work with two strong women on staff who passionately promote the WCC’s mission and goals. Their dedication and energy, even during times of uncertainty, have allowed positive changes within the committee and the community.

I have met spouses, partners, children, relatives, and colleagues who support the women in their lives. Their stories also are important. They cheer us on during challenging times, act as sounding boards, or just leave the light on for us.

This year, as the WCC celebrates its 95th anniversary, we honor all chemists and their supportive team members. To encourage more women to support each other at the local level, the WCC is offering a limited number of mini grants for student chapters, international chapters, and local WCC groups to develop events that allow women chemists to network. Additional information can be found at

My hope is that in the future, the list of famous chemists will contain many more women scientists—not just those who have won the Nobel Prize but those who successfully navigated challenges in the workplace, in the home, and in their professional lives. Women chemists: don’t stop. Continue to forge new paths of chemical advancement and to challenge the culture surrounding chemistry. We need you. You are important. You are our heroes.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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