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Women who made Nuclear Astrophysics

Nuclear astrophysics is a diverse and complex field that deals with diverse and complex questions. We are trying to understand how stars work, how they shine, how they synthesize the elements we see around us, and how they explode. This requires the close collaboration between astronomers, astrophysicists, nuclear physicists, and other scientists from many more sub-disciplines.

Over the years, many women scientists have contributed to the field. Sometimes the scientific community recognized their contributions and honored them for their discoveries, but unfortunately many times they were ignored. That’s how we end up today with only a handful of recognizable women physicists throughout the history of the field.

Marie Curie is a name familiar to most. Her daughter Irene Curie may or may not ring a bell. Lise Meitner is sometimes known as the “mother of the atomic bomb” although she was never involved in its development. Maria Goeppert Mayer is only the second woman Physics Nobel Laureate, until recently with Donna Strickland’s recognition in 2018. It is striking that in 117 years, and 209 Nobel Laureates in Physics, only 3 women were found worthy of the award!!!!

In an effort to highlight the contributions of women scientists to the field of nuclear astrophysics, a group of scientists from all over the world worked together to create a poster and a short conference-proceedings publication on exactly this topic: presenting 12 brilliant women, whose discoveries paved the path of the field of Nuclear Astrophysics. Their contributions might not be equally important. Their research goals might not have been related to Nuclear Astrophysics at the time. They might have lived even before the field was born. No matter what, it is certain that these 12, and many more, women have helped to push the limits of discovery and to open our eyes to some of the most fascinating secrets of the Universe.

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