The Roundup: Sharing stories of women in science

In the early 1930s, you’d have some difficulty finding women in medical courses. It would be near impossible to find women teaching at them.

Yet, that’s just one of the notable accomplishments of Dr. Mary Bernheim. She was a British biochemist who, in her work at Cambridge, discovered an enzyme now known as monoamine oxidase (MAO). The discovery of this enzyme would revolutionize the way we treat schizophrenia and depression, but also Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Without it, we wouldn’t have drugs such as Prozac, which work to inhibit monoamine oxidase’s breakdown of serotonin.

Her discovery revolutionized the role of biochemistry in treating these disorders. Likewise, Dr. Bernheim revolutionized the role of women in biochemistry.

She was among the first women to teach at Duke University in the 1930s. Her tenure there saw a slow incline in women enrolled there, from one or two to half of the graduating class. When she died in 1997, she was the oldest member of the original faculty of Duke’s medical school.

Despite all these accomplishments, one distinction continued to elude her. Her Wikipedia article was woefully inadequate at matching the impact of her life. Just four short sentences.

That’s when a student in Dr. Heather Tienson’s Chem 153A Honors class at UCLA began working on it. The student contributed a substantial expansion, adding information about the importance of Bernheim’s discovery, and adding additional information about her career at Duke Medical School.

When it comes to Wikipedia articles about women scientists, they’re too often short, poor, or nonexistent altogether. A 2011 study showed that Wikipedia has a disproportionate number of biographical articles about men, and a more recent study showed that women with articles on Wikipedia often have to accomplish more to be included than men.

We’re proud of the impact that Wiki Ed’s Year of Science is having on the creation of articles about women scientists. As we’ve talked about before, knowing that women not only “can be” scientists, but that they are and were, reduces the impacts of stereotype threat for young women in science. We think that can help the next generation of women scientists stick with the careers they study.

We’d love to help your higher ed classroom share the inspiring stories of women scientists. Our Year of Science initiative has a special focus on biographies of women this year. Think your class has some potential to get involved, and bring more role models to young scientists in your classroom (and beyond)? Get in touch with us! We’d love to help you get started:


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