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Three leading women in science share the highlight of their careers

As innovators, women in science – and particularly those in minority ethnic groups – can face major challenges in getting their ideas recognized and adopted. Many women who make their mark do so by forging a new path, opening the way for the next generation of researchers.

Nature Index spoke to three pioneering women in science, who share what they consider the turning point in their careers, and the factors that drive their success.

Susan Solomon

Critical thinker

Atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon was the first to propose chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole in a 1986 article published in Nature.

With colleagues at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aeronomy Laboratory, Solomon measured concentrations of chlorine dioxide (an indicator of the effects of chlorofluorocarbons) that were around 20-50 times higher than expected under the Antarctic ozone hole.

The team showed that chlorine chemistry was greatly enhanced in the Antarctic and provided observational evidence that CFCs were contributing to the ozone hole.

“It was a moment of exhilaration like no other,” says Solomon, now the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

“Standing out in the wind in -40°C temperatures to adjust [the] equipment only added to the feeling that this was a very special scientific moment.”

Solomon’s work laid the foundations of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international agreement that aimed to stop the production and import of ozone-depleting substances and reduce their concentration in the atmosphere.

She says that while teamwork and close collaboration are necessary to advance scientific knowledge, it’s also important to not become constrained by conventional wisdom.

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