Like most things, the Nobel Prize winners historically have been white men. In every category, from chemistry to economics, generations of men have been celebrated for their achievements, while women have been routinely left out. But, this year, for the first time in more than half a century a woman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (yes, you read that right).
Dr. Donna Strickland, a Canadian scientist, has officially become one of only three women in the history of the prestigious prize — alongside Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer — to win the award. Lauded for discoveries and accomplishments in the field of laser physics, Strickland shares this year's prize with two other scientists, Gerard Mourou of France and Arthur Ashkin from the United States.
Interestingly, Dr. Strickland told the BBC she has always been treated as an equal in her career and that she was surprised it had been so long since a woman won this award. And though it’s reassuring to hear that Dr. Strickland has not experienced harassment based on her gender in her career, these experiences are a definite departure from many of the contemporary conversations had around sexism in the science industry.
To be sure, Dr. Strickland’s historic award is a reason for celebration, but we must also use such landmark moments as reminders of the ways that women have historically been — and continue to be — sidelined and silenced in most industries, not just science. And so, though we should definitely celebrate these sorts of wins, we also should bear in mind that there remains so much work to be done.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: according to the New York Times, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel prizes, announced last week that it planned to change its nomination guidelines to make more room for diversity in the future. Let's hope future awards do more to accurately reflect the genius and ingenuity present across all races and genders.