• A 'cartoon-style' image depicting a scientist manipulating DNA with a pair of scissors
07 Oct | Gender Equality | Women in Science

Well I never! Two female chemists share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020

This isn't the first time that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has set a record. It's not the first time the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a woman. It is, however, the first time a Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to two female scientists, and it is only the third time in over a hundred years that a Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a woman that is not shared with a male colleague!

Illustration credit: Johan Jarnestad / The Royal Swedish Academy of Science

Marie Curie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 - she was the sole recipient (and this was the second Nobel prize she had won — she was awarded (25%) the Nobel Prize for Physics 1903, together with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel). Her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, shared equally with her husband (Frédéric Joliot-Curie). In 1964, the honour went (solely) to Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, followed by Ada E.Yonath in 2009 (shared equally with two male colleagues: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, and Thomas A. Steitz) and Frances H. Arnold in 2018 (shared unequally with 2 male colleagues: George P Smith (25%) and Sir Gregory P. Winter (25%), with 50% going to Frances).

And here we are in 2020. The Royal Swedish Academy of Science has just awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry to American biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, for their 2012 discovery that a bacterial immune system called CRISPR can be repurposed to edit DNA, the molecule of heredity.


© The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

In an interview with reporters after the award was announced, Charpentier said that while she considers herself a scientist first, she is happy and a bit shocked that two women won the Nobel. “I think it’s very important for women to see a clear path. I think the fact that Jennifer Doudna and I were awarded this prize today can provide a very strong message for young girls,” she said.

Doudna said: “I’m proud of my gender. I think it’s great, especially for younger women, to see this and to see that women’s work can be recognized as much as men’s.”

"Suddenly it was there - they found something amazing!"

After the announcement, Professor Claes Gustafsson, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, was interviewed by freelance journalist Joanna Rose regarding the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Prize announcement. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 8 Oct 2020