March is Women’s History Month, a month that celebrates women and their contributions to events in history, especially ones that continue to have a lasting impact. Although historically sidelined in fields such as science, literature, politics, and more, women have played an important role in their advancement. Standards are no exception, especially standards that depend on scientific concepts and technologies that women have helped pioneer. Highlighted below are several women scientists, their discoveries, and standards that depend on their discoveries.
Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper
While Charles Babbage is credited for the development of the concept of a digital programmable computer, Ada Lovelace was the first to recognize its uses beyond pure calculation and published the first algorithm to be carried out by such a machine. It would be nearly a century before the earliest models of a computer as we now know it would be built, but Ada Lovelace is widely considered to be the first programmer.
Grace Hopper, another pioneer in computer programming, was the first to develop the theory of machine-independent programming languages, and the programming language she developed was later used to design COBOL, a programming language that is still used today. ISO/IEC 1989:2014, Information Technology - Programming Languages, Their Environments And System Software Interfaces - Programming Language COBOL, specifies the syntax and semantics of COBOL. Its purpose is to promote a high degree of machine independence to permit the use of COBOL on a variety of data processing systems. ANSI produced USA Standard COBOL X3.23 in August 1968, which became the cornerstone for later versions. This version was known as American National Standard (ANS) COBOL and was adopted by ISO in 1972. The standard is now maintained by ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1, Information technology, Subcommittee (SC) 22, Programming Languages, their environments and system software interfaces. The U.S. plays a leading role in JTC 1/SC 22, holding the secretariat position. The ANSI-Accredited Technical Advisory Group (TAG) Administrator to JTC 1/SC 22 is the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards.
Marie Curie and Lise Meitner
Marie Curie is a science celebrity, as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work on radioactivity. Lesser known, however, is Lise Meitner, who was the first to discover nuclear fission, the technology behind nuclear power plants. Marie Curie unfortunately died due to her constant exposure to radiation, the dangers of which were not known at the time of her research. Now that we know that exposure to radiation can be deadly, we are able to take preventative measures to protect workers from radiation poisoning. ASTM E1168-95(2020), Standard Guide For Radiological Protection Training For Nuclear Facility Workers, covers general recommendations with respect to standard work practices, procedures, and measurement methods for the radiological protection portion of health and safety training for radiation workers at nuclear facilities. This guide defines the elements of a training program for radiation workers consistent with the philosophy that occupational radiation exposure be kept as low as is reasonably achievable. This standard was developed by ASTM International, an ANSI audited designator.
Rosalind Franklin and Barbara McClintock
Rosalind Franklin was the first to discover that DNA is in the shape of a double helix, a discovery that led to so many other discoveries about the DNA of living organisms. Barbara McClintock would later discover that DNA is responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off. She developed theories to explain the suppression and expression of genetic information from one generation of maize plants to the next. Ultimately, this knowledge about how genes contribute to certain characteristics have allowed humans to genetically modify plants to have certain desirable characteristics. Genetically modified plants might be more nutritious, grow faster, or be more insect resistant. ISO 21570:2005, Foodstuffs - Methods Of Analysis For The Detection Of Genetically Modified Organisms And Derived Products - Quantitative Nucleic Acid Based Methods, provides the overall framework of quantitative methods for the detection of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in foodstuffs, using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). It defines general requirements for the specific amplification of DNA target sequences in order to quantify the relative GMO-derived DNA content and to confirm the identity of the amplified DNA sequence. This standard was developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 34, Food products, SC 16, Horizontal methods for molecular biomarker analysis. The U.S. also plays a leading role in ISO/TC 34/SC 16, holding the secretariat position. The ANSI-Accredited TAG Administrator to ISO/TC 34/SC 16 is American Oil Chemists Society.
Throughout history, women have played a crucial role in the advancement of society, and their work has contributed greatly to the development of standards. In keeping with ANSI’s mission to promote and facilitate voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and to safeguard their integrity, we recognize that all voices bring a unique perspective to standards development. We hope you join us in celebrating the contributions that women have made to science, technology, and standards development.