April 10, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

March is Women’s History month, so at I, Science we are highlighting some of the incredible women who have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths - who have often been overlooked in our textbooks.

Maria Kirch (nee Winkelmann) is credited as the first woman to discover a comet. In her early years, she was educated in Leipzig, Genrmany, by her father and uncle who believed in equal education. She began her career as an assistant to astronomer Christopher Arnold, and later became wife and assistant of Gottfried Kirch – astronomer appointed by Frederick I of Prussia. Their research was collaborative – his diary crediting her discovery of comet C/1702 H10 in 1702. She also prepared calendars and almanacs in her husband’s name.

After her husband’s death, she struggled to secure a place at an academy due to both her lack of degree and gender. She finally was accepted to the Berlin Academy of Sciences. She trained her son and two daughters and continued the production of calendars and almanacs. Unfortunately, male members of the Academy believed her work was too prominent so she was forced to work privately, leaving the more visible role to her son.