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Big Picture Science

They were pio­neers in their fields, yet their names are scarce­ly known – because they didn’t have a Y chro­mo­some. We exam­ine the accom­plish­ments of two women who pio­neered code break­ing and astron­o­my dur­ing the ear­ly years of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and did so in the face of social oppro­bri­um and a fre­quent­ly hos­tile work environment.

Hen­ri­et­ta Leav­itt mea­sured the bright­ness­es of thou­sands of stars and dis­cov­ered a way to gauge the dis­tances to galax­ies, a devel­op­ment that soon led to the con­cept of the Big Bang.

Eliz­a­beth Fried­man, orig­i­nal­ly hired to test whether William Shake­speare real­ly wrote his plays, was soon estab­lish­ing the sci­ence of code break­ing, essen­tial to suc­cess in the two world wars. 

Also, the tech indus­try is over­whelm­ing­ly male. Girls Who Code is an ini­tia­tive to redress the bal­ance by intro­duc­ing girls to com­put­er pro­gram­ming, and encour­ag­ing them to fol­low careers in tech.