From Sir Isaac Newton to Steve Jobs, a lot of math and science history is shaped by the work of white men.
Their names and pictures are all over elementary school books, and many awards and organizations are named after them as a way to honor the things they did. Being smart is a blessing, but it's a privilege to be noticed for it.
Hidden Figures, which was nominated for an Oscar, talks about how many of the "hidden figures" in math are Black women, whether they helped the US send the first man into space or are studying the incredible force of dark matter. Even though it's great and important to recognize Black women mathematicians, it's shocking that it took until 2017 for a big-budget movie to bring them wide attention. Even though it's been almost 60 years, the fact that Black women are still underrepresented in the hard sciences is extremely disappointing.
There are so many unsung heroes all around us, and we should recognize them now instead of in 20 or 30 years. Here are some more amazing Black women who are making math and the world a better place.
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, M.D.
Dr. Prescod-Weinstein works as an astrophysicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. She calls herself an "axion wrangler." She has always been passionate about math and space, and she is currently studying dark matter candidates.
Prescod-Weinstein not only studies cosmology, but she is also a vocal supporter of non-binary and Black women in STEM, especially in the mathematical sciences. She keeps a Decolonizing Science Reading List that anyone interested in social justice and science should look at.
Dr. Chelsea Walton
Dr. Walton is a Selma Lee Bloch Brown assistant professor in the math department at Temple University. She is a master of algebra and does amazing work.
During her last two years of high school, Walton investigated how to become a math professor. Some of her teachers told her to keep going, which helped her.
Walton says that her work is mostly about noncommutative algebra, which means that she looks at algebraic structures where multiplication doesn't work the same way every time (where x times y does not always equal y times x). Functions are an example of this kind of structure, since running two functions one after the other can lead to different results depending on the order in which they are run. (Try putting your clothes in the washer last!)
Walton was named a Sloan Foundation fellow on February 21. This is an honor for young scientists who are doing great work. Since 16 of the people who won it went on to win the Fields Medal in mathematics, it is a very prestigious award.
Dr. Talithia Williams
Dr. Talithia Williams is a statistician who works in the math department at Harvey Mudd College. She has also done research for the National Security Agency, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
More than 1.2 million people have watched Williams' 2014 TED Talk about tracking our bodies' own data. This makes it her most well-known work. Her talk is both informative and funny. She talks about the benefits of keeping track of things like sleep, menstruation, and heart rate.
Williams said in her TED Talk, "You become an expert on your body when you take control of your data and measure yourself every day. You take on the role of a leader."
In 2014, Dr. Williams became the first Black woman to get tenure at Harvey Mudd College.
Turner is an assistant professor of math at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. In addition to her job as a teacher, she is very interested in her research in commutative algebra. Since 2012, she has had ten research papers on math and STEM education published.
In June 2008, Eubanks-Turner was named a Project NExT Fellow by the Mathematical Association of America. (MAA). The next year, the MAA gave her another honor by making her a LA/MS Section Next Fellow. The National Science Foundation then awarded her a research grant of over $2 million in 2012 for her work. Eubanks-Turner is a member of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), which works to make math fair for both men and women.
Even though interest in STEM fields as a whole has grown over the past 20 years, the mathematical sciences have had trouble getting more women of color to study them. The US Census says that in 2011, only 26% of STEM workers were women, while 74% were men. Even less Black women than white women work in STEM fields, and white women still outnumber Black women by a large amount.
The successful women shown here are just a small but important group of people who will help move gender equality forward in their fields. Hopefully it won't take another fifty years before they are the main characters in their own Oscar-winning movies.