ALD21: Alice Ball, Chemist

Alice Ball

Alice Ball

Alice Ball was an American chemist who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, which until then had a very poor prognosis and was highly stigmatised. 

Born in 1892, Ball was the first woman and first African American to earn a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and was also the university’s first African American chemistry lecturer. 

Since the 1300s, leprosy had been somewhat ineffectively treated using chaulmoogra oil, made from the seeds of the Hydnocarpus wightianus tree. The oil was sticky and thick, making it unsuitable for topical application. When injected, it tended to form blisters under the skin which could develop into abscesses. Its awful taste frequently caused vomiting when it was taken orally. 

Ball developed a method to process the raw oil, via saponification, acidification and finally purification to produce ethyl ester compounds which were water soluble and thus more easily absorbed by the body, whilst maintaining the oil’s therapeutic properties. In 1915, she was made head of the chemistry department. 

She died a year later, aged just 24, before she had a chance to publish her findings. Her master’s degree advisor, Arthur L Dean – who was also a chemist and later became president of the University of Hawaii – mass produced the chaulmoogra extract and treated some 78 patients at the Kalihi Hospital, each of whom recovered sufficiently to be released. He published his results and named the process after himself, without ever mentioning the work that Ball had done. 

Despite an attempt in 1922 by Harry Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at a leprosarium in Honolulu, to gain recognition for Ball, her name is still not widely known, although her process is now known as the Ball Method. The University of Hawaii has named a scholarship for her, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has added her name to its iconic frieze, along with those of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Florence Nightingale, joining those of 23 male medical innovators. 

Further reading

Ada Lovelace Day webinars

Ada Lovelace Day is just a month away and we have three awesome webinars lined up for you. All three will be streamed live on our YouTube and Facebook pages, plus you can sign up for each one on Eventbrite and we’ll send you handy reminders so you don’t miss out!

Frontiers in Engineering

In partnership with STEM Wana Trust, we invite you to join Sujata Roy, system planning engineer at Transpower, Renée Young, associate mechanical engineer at Beca, Natasha Mudaliar (right), operations manager at Reliance Reinforcing, and Victoria Clark, senior environmental engineer at Beca, for a fascinating conversation about the challenges and opportunities of engineering.

13:00 NZST, 12 Oct: Perfect for people in New Zealand, Australia, and the Americas.

Fusing Tech & Art in Games

The technical artist is a relatively new kind of role in the games industry, yet the possibilities for those who pursue this career path to create and merge art and technology together are endless.

Ada Lovelace Day and #RaiseTheGame invite you to join Kristrun Fridriksdottir (right), Jodie Azhar, and Emma Roseburgh for our tech art webinar. This panel will discuss what kind of work the tech artist does, the cutting edge of tech artistry, and how tech artists are pushing the boundaries and creating new experiences for players.

13:00 BST, 12 Oct: Perfect for people in the UK, Europe, Africa, Middle East, India, for early birds in the Americas and night owls in AsiaPacific.

Register now or watch on:

The Science of Hypersleep

Prof Gina PoeHypersleep is a common theme in science fiction, but what does science have to say about putting humans into suspended animation? What can we learn from hibernating animals? What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep? What health impacts would extended hypersleep have?

Ada Lovelace Day and the Arthur C. Clarke Award invite you to join science fiction author Anne Charnock, Prof Kelly Drew, who studies hibernation in squirrels, and Prof Gina Poe (right), an expert on the relationship between sleep and memory, for a discussion of whether hypersleep in humans is possible.

19:00 BST, 12 Oct: Perfect for people in the UK, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Register now

or watch on:

Apply for our new mentoring scheme

We are offering a year’s free access to our Finding Ada Network mentoring program to women in STEM in the UK. We will provide you with access to our mentoring platform, where we will match you with a mentoring partner, as well as our online content covering careers, professional development, soft skills and more. We’ll also support you with webinars about topics like goal setting, being a good mentoring partner and how to create good habits.

We will give priority to women from who are from a low-income background or are the first in your immediate family to study or work in STEM, but thanks to some generous donations we are opening up this scheme to all women in STEM.

We are particularly keen to hear from mentors who can help undergraduates, graduates and PhD students to understand their career options, whether that’s in academia or industry, and to take their next steps. We have students in chemistry, biology, physics, neuroscience, maths, astrophysics, engineering and computer science/programming who are looking for mentors. So if you’d like to improve your leadership skills and give back to the community, please apply to become a mentors now. 

You can expect the mentoring program to take up around 1 to 2 hours a month for mentors, and 2 to 3 hours a month for mentees, although obviously in both cases you get out what you put in, so you may choose to devote more time to your mentoring partnership.

To apply, please complete the form below and we will get back to you as soon as possible. And don’t forget, the more money we raise in our GoFundMe, the more women we can help!

Twitter Spaces with Shraddha Surana, Sue Nelson and Dr Helen Scales

FindingAda founder Suw Charman-Anderson is going to host a series of audio conversations with women in STEM on Twitter Spaces over the next few weeks. She’ll be having an information chat for half an hour or so, and you’ll be able to ask questions via Twitter. 

Spaces is Twitter’s new audio broadcast service. You can listen via or on the official Twitter app on any device. Just click the link below and you’ll be taken to the conversation, or keep an eye out in the Twitter app for a notification. You can also set a reminder if you click this link before the broadcast starts.

Thurs 10 June, 15:00 BST: Shraddha Surana on mentoring

Shraddha SuranaShraddha and Suw will be talking about Shraddha’s experience mentoring, why she decided to become a mentor, why mentoring is important, and lots more. To listen to Shraddha and Suw talk about mentoring, open this link in your browser or the official Twitter app at 3pm on 10th June.

Shraddha Surana is the global data community lead at Thoughtworks, with an interest in anything data, algorithms & sciences. She has published papers & given conference talks on machine learning and has worked in BFSI, retail, astrophysics & life science domains. Along with her job, she mentors several students from India & Africa. She is the co-organiser of the ‘Bridge&Beyond’ series that helps to bridge the academic-industry gap. She strives to create & be part of a system where people look out for each other.

Twitter: @SuranaShraddha
LinkedIn: /shraddasurana
Blog: @Shradda.Surana

Thurs 24 June, 19:00 BST: Sue Nelson on women in space

Sue NelsonSue will be talking to Suw about NASA’s bid to put the first woman on the Moon, European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti going back into space, and the ESA’s call for astronauts. Spaces link to come. 

An award-winning radio producer, science journalist and former BBC TV science and environment correspondent, Sue has reported on science for all the BBC’s national television and radio news programmes.

Sue has presented numerous Radio 4 programmes, was editor of The Biologist (2010-15) and produces documentaries for BBC radio. She is a published playwright, has written for a TV game show, most of the UK’s newspapers and has had several screenplays made into short films. Her latest book, Wally Funk’s Race for Space, was published in 2019 (USA and UK paperback).

Twitter: @ScienceNelson

Thurs 8 July, 19:00 BST: Dr Helen Scales on her new book, The Brilliant Abyss

Helen ScalesHelen and Suw will be talking about Helen’s new book, The Brilliant Abyss, which “brings to life the majesty and mystery of an alien realm that nonetheless sustains us, while urgently making clear the price we could pay if it is further disrupted”. In the UK, you can buy direct from Bloomsbury and get a 20% discount with the code OCEAN20. The Brilliant Abyss will be published in the US and Canada in early July. Spaces link to come. 

Dr Helen Scales is a marine biologist, writer and broadcaster. She is author of the Guardian bestseller Spirals in Time, New Scientist book of the year Eye of the Shoal, and the children’s book The Great Barrier Reef. She writes for National Geographic Magazine, the Guardian, and New Scientist, among others. She teaches at Cambridge University and is science advisor for the marine conservation charity Sea Changers. Helen divides her time between Cambridge, England, and the wild Atlantic coast of France.

Twitter: @helenscales
Instagram: @drhelenscales

Launching and Running an Advocacy Group

Panel discussion from the Finding Ada Conference 2020.
Why create a women's equality advocacy group? What challenges do founders face? And what are their goals for their organisations? We also talked about using social media to grow communities, different financial models for community organising, fundraising, and the difference between grassroots advocacy and business-backed groups.


Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Finding
Vanessa Vallely OBE, founder of WeAreTechWomen
Elisabeth Holm, founder of Sisterhood of Native American Coders
April Moh, executive sponsor of SUSE’s Women in Tech Network

About our speakers
Suw Charman-Anderson
Suw Charman-Anderson is the founder of which inspires and supports women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) with three major projects: Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women’s achievements in STEM; the Finding Ada Conference, an online event covering car...



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