Portuguese Women in STEM

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Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) have always been dominated by men. There have been a few ‘invisible’ STEM women pioneers in the past. Thankfully, there is now a drive to attract, and maintain, women in those subject areas. In this post I want to shed a spotlight on notable Portuguese women across STEM.


Notable Portuguese women in Science

Maria Amélia Chaves (1911 – 2017) was a Civil Engineer and the first Portuguese female engineer. Her hard work and competency eventually overcame obstacles in a male-dominated sector. “When we fight and we know what we’re doing” she said “we’re accepted”. Chaves was an innovator and the author of the first anti-earthquake tests in Portugal. She completed her last project while in her 90s and passed in 2017 aged 106.

Laura Ayres (b. 1922-1992) was a doctor, lecturer and an expert in Public health and virology. Her focus was on the flu virus and respiratory diseases. She too played a major role in the beginning of the fight against AIDS.

Odette Ferreira (n. 1925) is a multi-award winning lauded pharmaceutical, lecturer and researcher. She was a pioneer in AIDS research in Portugal. Ferreira identified Type 2 HIV which was a major discovery in relation to diagnosis. She is also a tireless AIDS campaigner and still active today at 92 years of age.

Maria de Lurdes Pintasilgo (1930 – 2004) is mainly known as the only Portuguese woman to have headed a  government and for her social policies in a short tenure but she was also an engineer. Pintasilgo graduated in 1953, aged 23 years old, in Chemical-Industrial Engineering at a time, during the dictatorship, when very few women chose that route. She was one of three women in a 250 cohort

Margarida Perestrello Ramos, is a Physiologist a researcher in cell and epithelial physiology, with published work in the science journal Nature. Her current research is focused on eco-physiology and plant water relations.

Maria Leite da Silva Tavares Paes Moreira, was the first woman to enrol in her Polytechnic and the only one from a 206 cohort. Her name doesn’t appear on the roll call because the administrator didn’t believe it could be a woman and wrote Mario, the masculine form of the same name. Her thesis was on pregnancy hygiene and childbirth. She was Queen Amelia’s physician, the last Queen consort of Portugal

Maria da Graça Carvalho is both an eminent engineer and has been Minister of Science of Portugal, an MEP and is currently a senior member of the European Commission Science Advice Mechanism (SAM) Unit at DG Research.  

Manuela M. Veloso is Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and Heads the Machine Learning Department. She researches in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Machine Learning. She founded and directs the CORAL research laboratory, for the study of autonomous agents that Collaborate, Observe, Reason, Act, and Learn.

Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986) was an outstanding scientist who worked under Madame Marie Curie. Her research work in nuclear physics for peaceful means was finally recognized by the Portuguese State at the age of 67.

Maria Manuel Mota (b.1971) is a scientist based in New York, working in the field of Malaria. Her first big discovery was in 1999.

The engineer Elvira Fortunato (b.1964) created the first paper-based chip which has many applications including screens, identification chips and medical.

Renata Gomes (b. 1985) is a Cardiovascular Regeneration Scientist based in the UK

Carolina Beatriz Ângelo (1878 –1911) was a Portuguese doctor, feminist and the first woman to vote in Portugal.

Carolina, Elvira, Maria Mota, Branca and Lurdes here also includes in a previous post celebrating Portuguese women

There’s more!

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you want to find out more, these links may be of interest:





Feel free to add more names in the comments, stating their role and contribution.


Changing tide

There have been efforts in recent years to encourage more women to join the STEM sectors, including a number of campaigns. The Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in Portugal, for example, launched in 2016 the Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo Prize to promote gender equality at IST and to recognize the role that women play in all areas of Engineering.

There are also many organisations providing mentoring and coding training for young girls and women. Just search online and you’ll find the right one for you or your children.


Lisbon’s booming start up scene

Portugal, and Lisbon itself is a tech hub. The Web Summit technology conference, an important event in the sector attracting in the region of 60,000 professionals, moved to Lisbon in 2016. Many start-ups are either choosing Lisbon to establish themselves or moving there.

Portugal is a dynamic country on a high and the future looks bright, especially if diversity continues to grow, and take hold. Read this Forbes article about the Lisbon Start-Up Boom


Why talk about science in a blog about bilingualism?

It’s important to my husband and I that our children are well-rounded individuals, able to reach for the stars and fulfill their potential, whatever they decided that might be. I don’t want them ever to think there is anything they can’t do. Our support as parents is important, as is the visibility of role models. Pride in their heritage culture is also important for their bilingual developments and bicultural identity.

We want our girls to be citizens of the world, bilingual, multicultural women who can achieve anything they set their mind to. I think that’s reasonable, don’t you?

See also how our recommendations of books, toys and things to do to foster a love of STEM in children

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