For the first time in its 117-year history, the Nobel Prize for chemistry went to American woman Frances Arnold, 62, a chemical engineering professor at California Institute of Technology.
Arnold was recognized for her work in mutating and creating enzymes, a process also known as directed evolution. “Directed evolution allows me to rewrite the code of life,” the Princeton graduate said in a video produced by the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation. “The wonderful thing about technology and directed evolution is that once you demonstrate this capability, then all sorts of creative people will apply it to solving problems.”
After studying engineering, Arnold went on to obtain her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work helped lead to the development of the drug Humira, which is used to treat autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s and Arthritis. It has also been used to create renewable energy and methods for manufacturing chemicals in ways safer for the environment.
Despite significant progress having been made as of late, women are still underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). On top of being the first American woman to win the Nobel for chemistry, Arnold has been added to the short list of only four other women who have won the prize, which includes Marie Curie and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie in 1935.
According to the Economics and Statistics Administration, women held 47 percent of U.S. jobs, but only 24 percent of STEM jobs in 2015. In addition, nearly as many women hold undergraduate degrees as men, yet make up only 30 percent of STEM degree holders. Women with STEM degrees are also less likely than men to end up working in STEM jobs.
Arnold addressed the lack of women in STEM in an interview with NPR, saying that she prefers to ignore those who doubt women’s capabilities in the sciences. “I am blissfully unaware of such people — and have been gifted with the ability to ignore them completely.”
Arnold was the first woman to the win the Millennium Technology Prize in 2016, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2013, among numerous other accolades.
“Some people breed cats and dogs,” Arnold told Reuters. “I breed molecules.”
Featured image via Syfy Wire.
Also published on Medium.