Search for "women in STEM"

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Frances Oldham Kelsey

​Frances Oldham Kelsey, CM, pharmacologist (born 24 July 1914 in Cobble Hill, BC; died 7 August 2015 in London, ON). As an employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kelsey blocked the sale of thalidomide in the United States. The drug, which had been widely prescribed in Europe and Canada, was later shown to cause severe birth defects in children whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant. In recognition of her “exceptional judgment” and determination, Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Kelsey and her work have been widely lauded in the United States but are less known in Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada shortly before her death.

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Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam, BMBS, physician, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada (born 1965 in Hong Kong). Dr. Tam is Canada’s chief public health officer, the federal government’s lead public health professional. She has expertise in immunization, infectious diseases and emergency preparedness. She has served on several World Health Organization emergency committees and has been involved in international missions to combat Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and pandemic influenza. She has also worked toward the eradication of polio. Dr. Tam became widely known to Canadians through media briefings in 2020 as she led the medical response to the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Biruté Galdikas

Biruté Marija Filomena Galdikas, OC, primatologist, conservationist, educator (born 10 May 1948 in Wiesbaden, Germany). Galdikas is the world’s leading authority on orangutans. She has studied them in Indonesian Borneo since 1971. She is also involved in conservation and rehabilitation efforts for orangutans. Galdikas forms part of a trio of primatologists nicknamed the “Trimates,” along with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Galdikas spends part of the year in Indonesia and teaches half time at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

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Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks Pitcher, physicist and nuclear scientist (born 2 July 1876 in Exeter, ON; died 17 April 1933 in Montreal, QC). Harriet Brooks made important contributions to the field of atomic physics. She discovered that one element could change into another element through radioactive decay. Brooks was the first woman to receive a master’s degree from McGill (1901). She is considered the first Canadian female nuclear physicist. Ernest Rutherford referred to her as “the most pre-eminent woman physicist in the department of radioactivity,” next to Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie.

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Jennie Smillie

Jennie Smillie Robertson, physician, surgeon and teacher (born 10 February 1878 in Huron County, ON; died 26 February 1981 in Toronto, ON). Smillie is considered the first recorded female surgeon to practise in Ontario. She also performed the first major gynecological surgery in Canada.

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Margaret Wilson Thompson

Margaret (Peggy) Anne Wilson Thompson, CM, human geneticist (born 7 January 1920 on the Isle of Man, England; died 3 November 2014 in Toronto, ON). Thompson contributed to human genetics through research on a variety of genetic disorders, particularly muscular dystrophy. She also cowrote Genetics in Medicine, a widely used text. While celebrated among her peers for her gifts as a scientist, mentor and teacher, she left a controversial legacy for her participation in eugenics in the early 1960s.

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Irene Uchida

Irene Ayako Uchida, OC, geneticist (born 8 April 1917 in Vancouver, BC; died 30 July 2013 in Toronto, ON). Dr. Uchida pioneered the field of cytogenetics in Canada, enabling early screening for chromosomal abnormalities (i.e., changes in chromosomes caused by genetic mutations). She discovered that women who receive X-rays during pregnancy have a higher chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. She also discovered that the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome may come from either parent, not only the mother.

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Bonnie Henry

Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer of British Columbia (2018 to present), epidemiologist, physician (born 1965 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island). Dr. Bonnie Henry is best known for leading British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also worked to eradicate polio and to contain Ebola and SARS. Henry is a family care physician and a specialist in preventative medicine. She is the first woman to serve as BC’s provincial health officer.

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Brenda Milner

Brenda Atkinson Milner (née Langford), CC, GOQ, FRSC, FRS, neuropsychologist (born 15 July 1918 in Manchester, England). Dr. Milner pioneered the field of neuropsychology, combining neurology and psychology. Most notably, she discovered that the part of the brain called the medial temporal lobe (which includes the hippocampus) is critical for the forming of long-term memories. Milner’s later work revealed that the learning of skills involving the combination of vision and movement is not part of the medial temporal lobe system. These discoveries proved that there are different forms of memory in different brain regions. Through her observation of patients, Milner changed forever our understanding of the brain’s learning and memory mechanisms.

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Martha Salcudean

Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj, Romania; died 17 July 2019 in British Columbia). Salcudean was a leading authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. This made her the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department. Salcudean dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships. She fostered collaboration between universities, government agencies and industry groups in sectors such as mining, pulp and paper and aeronautics.

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Roberta Bondar

Roberta Lynn Bondar, CC, OOnt, FRSCastronaut, neurologist, physician, educator, photographer (born 4 December 1945 in Sault Ste Marie, ON). Bondar became the first Canadian woman and second Canadian in space when she flew aboard the American space shuttle Discovery in 1992. A doctor specializing in the nervous system, she is a pioneer in space medicine research. Bondar is also an exhibited and published nature photographer. She established The Roberta Bondar Foundation to educate people about environmental protection through art, and she currently serves as one of the organization’s directors.

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Nobel Prizes and Canada

The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually for achievements that have significantly benefitted humankind. The prizes are among the highest international honours and are awarded in six categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace, and economics. They are administered by the Nobel Foundation and awarded by institutions in Sweden and Norway. Eighteen Canadians have won Nobel Prizes, excluding Canadian-born individuals who gave up their citizenship and members of organizations that have won the peace prize.

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Donna Strickland

Donna Theo Strickland, CC, physicist (born 27 May 1959 in Guelph, ON). Donna Strickland is a pioneering physicist, known for her work on ultrafast lasers. She is currently a professor of physics at the University of Waterloo. She has authored more than 90 publications and has made seminal contributions to the field of laser technology. In 2018, Strickland was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on the development of laser technology.

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Sandra Perron

Sandra Marie Perron, army officer, businesswoman, women’s rights advocate (born 29 December 1965 in Portage la Prairie, MB). Perron made history as the first female Regular Force infantry officer in the Canadian Army. She later wrote a memoir about the obstacles she overcame to achieve her goals.

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Catherine Sutton (Nahneebahwequa)

Catherine Sutton (née Sonego or Sunegoo) (sometimes spelled Catharine, also known as Nahnee, Nahneebahwequa and Upright Woman), Anishinaabe (Mississauga) writer, Methodist missionary and political advocate (born 1824 in the Credit River flats, Upper Canada; died 26 September 1865 in Sarawak Township, Grey County, Canada West). Catherine Sutton was as an advocate for her people during a time when the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada were formally eroded by assimilationist policies.

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Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Louise Jamieson, OC, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) lawyer, ombudsman, Six Nations chief, policy advisor, senior mediator, businesswoman (born in 1953 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, ON). Jamieson was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree (1976); first non-Parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee (1982); first woman appointed ombudsman in Ontario (1989); and first woman elected as Six Nations chief (2001).