Women in Math: Geometry and Physics Pioneers

Geometry and physics are two areas of math that can often overlap. Throughout the centuries, remarkable women have made countless contributions in these two fields. Here are a few of these amazing women and their accomplishments.

Role Models: 

  • Hypatia (c.370-415): First recorded woman mathematician

While other unrecorded women may have contributed to mathematics before her, Hypatia of Alexandria is the earliest known female mathematician. She learned a great deal from her father Theon, a renowned Egyptian Mathematician. She eventually taught math and astronomy at a Platonic school. According to MashUp Math, one of her most famous advancements was her work with conics, parabolas, and ellipses.  We can see examples of these in everyday life when observing the arc of water from a water fountain, the path a ball takes when thrown to someone, and a curved lamp like at the dentist’s office. 

  • Marie Curie (1867-1934): Pioneer of radioactive research and double Nobel Prize winner

Have you or someone you know ever needed an X-ray or had radiation to treat cancer? You can thank physicist Marie Curie for her research contributions to radioactive studies. These led her to create the first mobile X-ray machines for use in field hospitals during World War I. (Credit goes to Wilhelm-Rontgen for the original X-ray machines.) She was the first woman to be awarded two Nobel Prizes, one for Physics in 1903 and one for Chemistry in 1911. Brittanica explains, “Following work on X-rays during World War I, she studied radioactive substances and their medical applications.” 

  • Lise Meitner (1878-1968): Co-discoverer of Nuclear Fission 

Few people, let alone women, can say that an element has been named for them. But Lise Meitner was given that honor posthumously in 1992 when element 109 was named meitnerium (Mt). As a pioneer in radioactivity and nuclear physics, many consider her to be “the most significant woman scientist of the 20th century,” notes Life Science. In their article, “Women in Physics,” Science Magazine explains how Lise worked with fission which includes splitting atoms to release a lot of energy. This led to advancements in science and technology like electricity being produced by nuclear power plants and submarines being powered by nuclear propulsion engines. 

  • Karen Uhlenbeck (1942-present): Modern geometer 

In 2019, Karen was the first woman to receive the Abel Prize, one of math’s most prestigious awards. This was for “the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics,” notes Smithsonian Magazine. Her experiments and understanding of math led to the discovery of why soap bubbles are always a perfect sphere. She also co-founded their Women in Mathematics program. 

  • Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017): Modern mathematician and geometer

In 2014, Maryam became the first woman to win the Fields Medal, one of the highest awards given in mathematics (equivalent to the Nobel Prize). Brittanica noted this was for “her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.” You can read more about her life and accomplishments in the Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani by Megan Reid.

Need ideas on how to inspire the girls in your class to get involved with geometry and physics? Check out these websites! Some are free and some require purchases or subscriptions.

Geometry activities websites: 

Physics activities websites: 


Rocky the Raccoon headshot

Want to know more?

Let’s Talk

ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

About The ORIGO Approach
Rocky figure flying a kite.