In celebration of National Periodic Table Day February 7, 2020, and of the upcoming Women’s History Month in March, here’s a look at some of the women who made key breakthroughs in the creation of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

First, some general background. 2019 was the “International Year of the Periodic Table”, celebrating the 150 years since the 1869 discovery of the Periodic System by Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic table. As anyone who has taken a science class can attest, the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements has been one of the most significant breakthroughs in science, setting a chart of all the chemical building blocks of matter.

Mendeleev left blank spaces for elements yet to be discovered, and discovered they were. Today, 118 elements have been observed and charted by humans, found in nature and also made artificially through intensive research and science lab work. Some of the people who made it happen were:

Lise Meitner

Discoverer of protactinium. The heaviest known element was named after Lise for her research in the 1930s and 40s, and she’s received an Enrico Fermi Award for her work, a top honor from the U.S. Department of Energy. The element meitnerium was named after Lise. Read more about her.

Julia Lermontova

Helped refine the separation process for ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum. Julia was the first woman to get a doctorate in chemistry in Germany. Read more about her.

Margaret Todd

She suggested the term “isotopes” to the man who received credit for coining the term. Margaret was a doctor in Scotland and published author. Read more about her.

Harriet Brooks

Studied radioactive decay and determined a new element could be produced in the process. Read more about her.

Marie Curie

Likely the major name on this list you’ve already heard of. Marie discovered the elements Polonium and Radium in the late 1890s when she was working on radioactivity. The element Curium (96) was named in her honor. Read more about her.

Ida Noddack

First scientist to propose the concept of nuclear fusion in her paper “On Element 93”. Helped discover two elements, one of which was formally accepted at the time. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times. Read more about her.

Marguerite Perey

Discoverer of francium, which was the last element to be discovered in nature. Marguerite started working as a lab tech at age 19. Read more about her.

Darleane Hoffman

A Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher who confirmed the existence of element 106, seaborgium. Darleane discovered the isotope fermium-257 could split spontaneously. Read more about her.

Dawn Shaughnessy

Helped discover six new elements in her work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, elements 113-118. Read more about her.

Julie Ezold

Her work as a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 252-Californium Campaign helped discover tennessine, a synthetic chemical element (117). Read more about her.

Clarice Phelps

Clarice Phelps is a nuclear chemist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who was the first African-American woman to contribute to the discovery of an element in the Periodic Table (117) tennessine. Read more about her. 


And the list goes on. Many women, in and out of the limelight, share the credit behind the 118 elements and study of their properties in today’s Periodic Table. Bring these stories to the spotlight and share this their work with others.

For more STEM news, visit

AnneMarie Horowitz
AnneMarie Horowitz has been with the Energy Department since 2010 and is the Acting Communications Director for the Arctic Energy Office.
more by this author