Renee Watson delves deep to unveil the truth behind pioneers of some of the biggest contributions to our world

Until a month ago I had never heard the name Mary Anning. Turns out she is the world’s most prolific fossil hunter.

So much so that she has just had the Ichthyosaurus anningae, the huge sea monster that lived among the dinosaurs, named after her. Believe it or not that is the way scientists compliment each other.

My seven-year-old daughter is totally fascinated with her story and it has taken us on a wonderful ride through history. I have learned a lot, not least that our past is littered with the ghostly remains of extraordinary women who made some of the biggest contributions to our modern world but whose names are as well known as my boring uncle’s boring cat.

Wifi – we all love it, we rely on it. In fact where on earth would we be without the easy wireless connectivity that enables us to talk to anyone, anywhere. Imagine a stereotypical male computer supernerd inventing it in a blue-lit garage? Wrong. The glamorous Hollywood actress and passionate inventor Hedy Lamar was the person who laid down the original ideas that led to our modern wireless communications.

Maths – the foundation of everything, was changed completely by Emmy Noether whose mathematical theories were ground-breaking and inspired. So much so that some chap named Albert Einstein wrote in the New York Times shortly after her death: “In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Then we have Ada Lovelace (world’s first computer programmer), Dorothy Hodgkin (technique for understanding molecules like vitamin B12, penicillin and insulin), Gerti Cori (how energy is produced and moved around the body), Marie Maynard Daly (link between cholesterol and heart attack), Rosalind Franklin (structure of DNA) just to name a few.

Surely you can’t deny that these women are extraordinary? And what is even more impressive is that they worked in areas that are still largely considered “male” subjects. They did it with two fingers up to the social norms of their day and without any of the fame and glory that their male counterparts enjoyed.

Then there are the women who are making history as we speak. I recently had the immense pleasure of working with Prof Helen McShane who works on TB. Helen is working at the University of Oxford’s Churchill Campus on new TB vaccines and is a world leading authority on the serious risk TB poses for us all (more on that next time).

Maryam Mirzakhani is an exceptional mathematician making waves just as Emmy Noether did. Maryam is noted for her mathematical vision and problem-solving ability.

May-Britt Moser has already won a Nobel Prize with her husband for her research on the brain.

Kathryn Sullivan and Helen Sharman have taken the universe by storm, both making it into space. Before heading out to the space station, Helen studied the chemical properties of chocolate because, she said, she liked to eat it. Who couldn’t like a person who makes work choices based on their favourite foods.

Jane Goodall is the world expert on chimpanzees and one of the only people in history to have been accepted into a chimpanzee society where she lived for nearly two years. Jane campaigns for conservation and animal welfare with science and experience in her armoury.

Sure, there are lots of men doing a great job, winning Nobel Prizes all over the place and making world-changing contributions to science. But the women always seem to have lurked in the shadows. These women ROCK and their names deserve to be shouted from the rooftops, or at least a viable topic of conversation at your dinner table. Choose your favourite and play female scientists Top Trumps (no really! Download yours here

If I had to pick my favourite I would have to agree with my daughter. Mary Anning was one awesome chick.

She came from a disastrously poor family, had no education, was struck by lightning and lost her father and eight siblings before she turned 12.

Yet her passion for finding fossils, or “curiosities” as she called them, drove her to excel in a dangerous science that shaped our understanding of the world and its history.