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Lost Women of Science

Author: Lost Women of Science

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For every Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin whose story has been told, hundreds of female scientists remain unknown to the public at large. In this series, we illuminate the lives and work of a diverse array of groundbreaking scientists who, because of time, place and gender, have gone largely unrecognized. Each season we focus on a different scientist, putting her narrative into context, explaining not just the science but also the social and historical conditions in which she lived and worked. We also bring these stories to the present, painting a full picture of how her work endures.
33 Episodes
Marie Nyswander died in 1986. She’d achieved almost everything she set out to, but she wanted more: even better medications than methadone, fewer regulations, and the holy grail—a cure for addiction. Addiction science has come a long way since Marie’s time, and it turns out, a lot of the field’s earlier assumptions were probably wrong. Neuroscientist Kent Berridge explains why wanting something isn’t the same as liking it. But a cure is still out of our reach
A reminder that our next episode is scheduled to come out next Thursday! In the meantime, we’ve hit a slight snag—Katie has COVID—but she’s resting up, and we’re doing our best to get that episode to you on time. Stay tuned for updates. We'll be back very soon.
Marie Nyswander and her team at Rockefeller unveil their findings at last: methadone has utterly transformed their patients. They’re going back to school, getting jobs, and reconnecting with family and friends. One of the very first patients went onto college and graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, all while taking methadone. But soon, Marie’s treatment starts getting resistance, from fellow doctors as well as patients, who think what she’s doing is immoral. See show notes and full transcripts at
After years of disappointing results in her quest to treat heroin addiction, Marie Nyswander was more than ready to try something new. When she met a prominent doctor from the prestigious Rockefeller Institute, they embarked on an experiment that would define both of their careers and revolutionize the treatment of addiction for decades to come. But not everyone was happy about it.
In the early 1950s, Marie Nyswander was ready to move on from addiction. She set up a private practice and specialized in treating women afflicted with what she would call one of the “gravest problems of our time”: sexual frigidity. She and her adoring husband were living the good life, hanging out with rich art collectors and members of the New York literary scene. But when Marie started getting phone calls for help, she got pulled in a very different direction. Show notes and episode transcripts are available at
In 1946, Marie Nyswander, a recent medical school graduate, joined the U.S. Public Health Service looking for adventure abroad. Instead, they sent her to Lexington, Kentucky’s Narcotic Farm, a prison and rehabilitation facility for people with drug addiction, where therapies included milking cows and basket-making. It was at Lexington that Marie encountered addiction for the first time, and what she saw there disturbed her—and reset her life’s course. For show notes and episode transcripts, visit
In 1965, a team of doctors at Rockefeller University announced what sounded like a miracle—they’d found a treatment for heroin addiction that actually seemed to work. For nearly two years, the researchers had been running an experiment with a small group of men, aged 19 to 37, who’d been using heroin for several years—and the results were astonishing. Men who’d been transfixed by heroin cravings for years, who had tried to quit before and failed, were suddenly able to return to their lives. One started painting. Another finished high school and got a scholarship to go to college.  The key to these transformations was a drug called methadone. But the treatment was controversial, and one of the doctors on the team already had a bit of a reputation as a bold, and possibly even reckless, defier of convention: Marie Nyswander. This season, we bring you her story and the radical treatment that would upend the landscape of addiction for decades to come.
In 1909, the Mayor of Tokyo sent a gift of 2,000 prized cherry trees to Washington, D.C. But the iconic blossoms enjoyed each spring along the Tidal Basin are not from those trees. That’s because Flora Patterson, who was the Mycologist in Charge at the USDA, recognized the original saplings were infected, and the shipment was burned on the National Mall. In this episode, assistant producer Hilda Gitchell explores Flora’s lasting impact on the field of mycology, starting with a blight that killed off the American chestnut trees, and how she helped make the USDA’s National Fungus Collection the largest in the world.
Scientist Leona Zacharias was a rare woman. She graduated from Barnard College in 1927 with a degree in biology, followed by a Ph.D. from Columbia University. But throughout her career she labored behind men with loftier titles who got the bulk of the credit. In the 1940s, when premature newborns were going blind after being born with perfectly healthy eyes, Dr. Zacharias was part of the team that worked to root out the cause. In this inaugural episode of Lost Women of Science Shorts, host Katie Hafner visits the archives at M.I.T. and The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston to try to understand Dr. Zacharias’s role in rooting out the cause.For host Katie Hafner, it's personal: Leona Zacharias was her grandmother.
Each season of Lost Women of Science tells the story of one remarkable female scientist, but hundreds more remain overlooked. That’s why we’re introducing Shorts—each 30-minute episode tells the remarkable story of a scientific breakthrough and the woman who played a crucial role in it. Join us as we launch Shorts on January 12th.
We’re hard at work producing the next season of Lost Women of Science, but we wanted to bring you this special guest episode from Portraits, a podcast from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was a towering figure in science whose parity experiment shattered our understanding of the physical world. She enjoyed rockstar status in China, met the pope, inspired an opera and even became a “Jeopardy!” question. But to Jada Yuan, she was grandma. See the portraits discussed in the episode: Dr. Wu in the lab Tsung-Dao Lee, Nobel Laureate Chen-Ning Yang, Nobel Laureate Dr. Wu on the forever stamp Also, check out Jada Yuan’s article about her grandmother here!
There's a test that we at Lost Women of Science seem to fail again and again: the Finkbeiner Test. Named for the science writer, Ann Finkbeiner, the Finkbeiner Test is a checklist for writing profiles of female scientists without being sexist. It includes rules like not mentioning her husband’s job, or her childcare arrangements, or how she was the “first woman to…”—all rules we break regularly on this show. In this episode, Katie Hafner talks to Christie Aschwanden, the science writer who created the test, and Ann Finkbeiner, who inspired it, to find out how they came up with these rules, and to see if there might be hope yet for our series. She reports her findings to Carol Sutton Lewis, who has a whole other set of rules for telling these stories.
This week, we’re bringing you an episode from another podcast hosted and produced by Katie Hafner, Our Mothers Ourselves. It’s a show that celebrates extraordinary mothers through conversations with their children. In this episode, Katie speaks with Yvonne Young Clark’s daughter, Carol Lawson. We hope you enjoy this episode of Our Mothers Ourselves, “The ‘Relentlessly Positive’ Yvonne Young Clark: An Interview with Y.Y.'s Daughter, Carol Lawson.”
YY taught at Tennessee State University, a historically Black university, for 55 years. In this episode, we hear from YY’s colleagues, students and family members about who she was as an educator and how she’s remembered. We’ll also explore where HBCUs stand today – particularly, why they graduate so many successful Black scientists compared to other institutions, and their place in the future of science. Plus, a reimagining of YY’s accomplishments: what did it mean to be the first? Access a transcript of the episode here:
What is mechanical engineering? What was YY actually doing? This episode is about the work itself – specifically, the work Yvonne Young Clark did at NASA on the Saturn V rocket, and in designing the “moon rock box” for transporting lunar samples back to Earth. And we take a deep dive into the history of the American space program, the mechanics of a rocket, and how YY brought her troubleshooter’s mind to a problem that was plaguing some of the country’s top scientists. Access a transcript of the episode here:
When YY started college at Howard University as a mechanical engineering student, there were three things she swore she’d never do: marry a tall man, become a teacher, and work for the government. But love and life had other plans, and YY soon discovered the difficulty of entering private industry as one of the few Black women in her field. After success at RCA-Victor and Frankford Arsenal, YY moved back to the South, where Brown v. Board of Education had recently integrated public schools, prompting a violent backlash. Access a transcript of the episode here:
With a librarian mother and a physician father, YY was brought up in a supportive, educated, and prosperous Black enclave of Louisville, Kentucky. Her parents nurtured her knack for engineering. She got her start as a young child when she repaired the family toaster. An early introduction to a Black pilot group inspired her to fly planes, and she applied to the University of Louisville, where she hoped to study engineering and eventually aeronautics—until she learned her race disqualified her. Access a transcript of the episode here:
Yvonne Y. Clark, known as YY throughout her career, has also been nicknamed “The First Lady of Engineering,” because of her groundbreaking achievements as a Black female mechanical engineer. Season 3 of Lost Women of Science traces her trajectory, from her unconventional childhood interest in fixing appliances to civil rights breakthroughs in the segregated South; from her trailblazing role at historically Black colleges and universities to her work at NASA. What can YY teach us about what it means to be the first in a scientific field, especially as a Black woman in America?
Carol Sutton Lewis, host of the podcast Ground Control Parenting, has long been interested in Black history. This season, she’s joining Lost Women of Science as a cohost to help tell the story of the mechanical engineer, Yvonne Young Clark. Known as Professor Clark to her students and YY to her engineering colleagues, YY’s career spanned academia and industry. She was a dedicated STEM educator and a champion of historically Black colleges and universities. Alongside cohost Katie Hafner, Carol will trace YY’s life and work through fascinating chapters of Black history, from the promises of Reconstruction to integration efforts at NASA.
The Weather Myth

The Weather Myth


We saw the story over and over again: computer programmer Klára Dán von Neumann was a pioneer in weather forecasting. But when we talked to Thomas Haigh, a historian who studies Klári’s work, he said he’s found absolutely no evidence of this. How did this weather myth start? We set out to answer that question, and in the process, we asked this: Why is it so tempting to credit the wrong person, even when that false credit is given with the best of intentions? Note: we’d like to acknowledge the operators of the ENIAC who ran the 1950 weather simulation, Homé McAllister and Clyde Hauff. Access a transcript of the episode here:
Comments (9)

Susanne Bittner

Get fully well soon!

Apr 27th

Pony Co

perfect subject for a podcast

Apr 13th

Sara Shahriari

This episode was great 👌🏻

Feb 18th

Billy Weinheimer

I did not know that! “Since her death in 1979, the woman who discovered what the universe is made of has not so much as received a memorial plaque. Her newspaper obituaries do not mention her greatest discovery. […] Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.” — Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition Cecilia Payne gets, even today, for her revolutionary discovery. (via alliterate) OH WAIT LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT CECILIA PAYNE. Cecilia Payne’s mother refused to spend money on her college education, so she won a scholarship to Cambridge. Cecilia Payne completed her studies, but Cambridge wouldn’t give her a degree because she was a woman, so she said to heck with that and moved to the United States to work at Harvard. Cecilia Payne was the first person ever to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College, with what Otto Strauve called “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” Not only did Cecilia Payne discover what the universe is made of, she also discovered what the sun is made of (Henry Norris Russell, a fellow astronomer, is usually given credit for discovering that the sun’s composition is different from the Earth’s, but he came to his conclusions four years later than Payne—after telling her not to publish). Cecilia Payne is the reason we know basically anything about variable stars (stars whose brightness as seen from earth fluctuates). Literally every other study on variable stars is based on her work. Cecilia Payne was the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within Harvard, and is often credited with breaking the glass ceiling for women in the Harvard science department and in astronomy, as well as inspiring entire generations of women to take up science. Cecilia Payne is awesome and everyone should know her.

Jan 17th
Reply (1)

Fatemeh Dehqan

that was excellent 👌🏼😍

Sep 27th

Sara Shahriari

this podcast is amazing 👏 😍 keep going 💪🏻

Jun 23rd
Reply (1)


m.h xxxx

Jun 9th
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