On Wednesday, Dr. Frances H. Arnold was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making her only the fifth woman to receive the honor in the 117-year history of the award. Dr. Arnold won the award for her work with directed evolution of enzymes, which is a bioengineering method she first began working on in the 1990s. These enzymes have since been used to replace some harmful chemicals used in items like laundry detergent and medicine in addition to biofuels.
When she first began working on a new way to approach these enzymes, people were skeptical. In 2011, she expressed her thoughts on those doubts while speaking with the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation, saying, "They might say ‘It’s not science’ or that ‘Gentlemen don’t do random mutagenesis.’ But I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a gentleman, so it didn’t bother me at all. I laughed all the way to the bank, because it works.”
She shares the award with George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter, who were each awarded this year for their work in the area of phage display. Dr. Arnold is currently a professor of bioengineering, biochemistry, and chemical engineering in Pasadena at the California Institute of Technology.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was first awarded in 1901, and since then 177 people have been given the prize for their outstanding work in the field. And including Dr. Arnold, only five of the 177 awards given have gone to women. The four previous women awarded the honor include Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, and Ada E. Yonath. Another milestone was reached this week when Professor Donna Strickland became the third woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work with lasers.
While we congratulate these brilliant women on their achievements, let's hope that one day the number of women who have won these awards will be too high to count.