5 Canadian Women Trailbazers in Science
By Carolina Salinas
Gender equality is a human right, but our world faces a persistent gap in access to opportunities for women. More specifically, this inequality is present when it comes to women in more male dominated workplaces or careers. However, this has not hindered Canadian women from being successful in their chosen professions.
Here are FIVE Canadian women trailblazers in the field of science:
1. Elizabeth Bagshaw Pioneer of birth control and sexual education in Canada
Dr. Bagshaw was one of the most passionate doctors that Canada has ever had. Even though she graduated from University of Toronto focusing on Obstetrics, and had a successful 60-year medical career, she was best known for her 30 years of practice as the Director of the Hamilton Birth Control Clinic.
This was Canada´s first birth control clinic during the decade of 30´s, at a time when it was illegal. Elizabeth Bagshaw was a pioneer in teaching women about sexual education, and providing information about reproductive birth control. As a positive consequence, her birth control clinic was legally recognized and supported by government grants in 1969.
Bagshaw’s passion led her to be the oldest practicing physician in Canada, having over 40 patients at the age of 95. However, she did shortly retire.
2. Roberta Bondar First Canadian Woman and Neurologist In Space
Did you know that the first Canadian woman to be sent into space was a neurologist by the name Roberta Lynn Bondar? Becoming the second Canadian sent to space and the first neurologist in space, Dr. Bondar flew aboard the American space shuttle Discovery, in 1992 Dr. Bondar specialized in the nervous system and her research mission included over 40 scientific experiments in space, studying the effects of microgravity on the human body and its ability to recover.
In 1983, the Canadian Astronaut Program, now a part of the Canadian Space Agency, began to recruit Canada´s first astronauts. Dr. Bondar did not hesitate and immediately applied. According to author Joan Dixon´s biography of Dr. Bondar, she was chosen out of approximately 4,300 other applicants, with only 11 per cent of the applicants being women. This led Dr. Bondar to become the only woman on the first team of Canadian astronauts, made up of six people. Dr. Roberta Bondar is now retired.
3. Harriet Brooks The First Canadian Woman Nuclear Physicist
Born in 1876 in Ontario, Canada, Harriet Brooks was a nuclear physicist. Graduating from McGill University, she became the first woman to get a master´s degree in Electromagnetism.
Brooks conducted nuclear science research with her graduate supervisor Ernest Rutherford. While working with Rutherford, she discovered the element of radon and helped prove that uranium emits beta rays. Brooks also worked with Marie Curie at her Curie Institute in Paris in 1906.
After Harriet Brooks died at the age of 56, she was acknowledged as the first Canadian woman nuclear physicist. Her hard work, intelligence and discoveries have attributed her to the same relevance in terms of physics, in the area of radioactivity, as Marie Curie.
4. Elizabeth Cannon First Female Dean of Engineering
Elizabeth Cannon is a geomatics engineer, who was born in Charlottetown, P.E.I. She has two bachelor´s degrees, with the first one in Applied Science in Mathematics from Acadia University, and the second one in Geomatics Engineering from University of Calgary. Cannon also obtained a Master of Science, as well as a PhD in geomatics engineering. She became the first Dean of engineering for the Schulich School of Engineering in 2006. She has also received multiple awards and distinctions for her advocacy for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
Cannon stood out after having developed an innovative online mentoring program, dedicated to encourage girls to explore careers in STEM fields. With her passion for science shining through, Elizabeth Cannon said: “Whether you are the first female dean of engineering or the first female president, you don´t do it for those reasons. But it does give you a mantle, a voice, and an opportunity to impact others - either in a vocal way or in a subtle way”
5. Dr. Mona Nemer Fellow of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada
Dr. Mona Nemer is Canada´s Chief Science Advisor, a pivotal role for Canadian Science, and particularly for women where their participation is rapidly increasing. At a very early age, Nemer showed an interest towards Science, and as a young student, fought and looked for changes to improve her school’s syllabus to have more science classes catered to girls. Throughout her career, she has worked in many different areas, such as chemistry, cellular/molecular biology, pathophysiology and clinical studies. Among her biggest scientific accomplishments is the development of diagnostic tests for heart failure, and the genetics of cardiac birth defects.
Nemer has won several awards and honours, highlighting the Women of Distinction Award from the Women´s Foundation of Montreal. She is also a member of the Order of Canada and Fellow of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada. Nemer wants to keep working on science so that the public can understand better the role that science plays in our everyday lives.
Even though science has been dominated by men, this does not mean women have not made their mark in the industry. On the contrary, it seems women participating in STEM areas will not be slowing down anytime soon.