From nutritional foods when humans first walked the earth, to chocolate chip cookies (Ruth Wakefield, 1938); from formulating algorithms for computers yet to exist (Ada Lovelace, 1842) to developing new computers using quantum algorithms (Krysta Svore, 2018); from the phenomena of radioactivity and it’s detrimental effect on life (Marie Curie, 1896) to creating life itself, women have made so much for this world. I’m going to tell you just some of the most pioneering women who have made huge impacts.
Marie Curie, the creator of the concept of radioactivity, is renowned and respected as the mother of the X-Ray machine, winning two Nobel Prizes for her work. With her husband Pierre between 1898 and 1902, they discovered two atomic elements, Plutonium and Radium. During WW1, she also helped developed the medical uses of small X-ray machines and they became known as ‘Little Curies’.
Some created methods and formulas that actually surpassed the technology available to them. One of those was Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood actress-come-inventor who devised Spread-Spectrum technology, a method to extend the bandwidth of information signals, making transmissions hard to detect or alter. Initially developed with her friend George Antheil as a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, her creation was so complex it was not able to be used until two decades later in the 1960s. Spread-Spectrum technology has since become the foundation of wireless technology. Another woman ahead of her time was Ada Lovelace, the creator of an algorithm that expanded on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and developed it to operate more than just calculations. Her approach, self-described as ‘poetical science’, arguably meant that she could question and scrutinise how developing technologies could be applied to everyday life; the perfect illustration of an engineer’s mindset.
While Lovelace was seen to be one of the founding figures of the modern-day computer, many more women have since expanded on her creation, formulating numerous programming languages, including Grace Hopper, Jean Sammet and Barabara Liskov. The algorithm for Spanning Tree Protocol, a method of creating links between computers and networks, was created by the ‘mother of the internet’, Radia Perlman.
Women have also been making waves in the biological sciences: from Rosalind Frankin’s revolutionary work on x-ray crystallography in 1950s London, to Dr Wiratni Budhijanto’s new waste-water treatment invention in Indonesia. Budhijanto’s technique transforms solid waste in water into biogas and converts it into renewable energy, while being ten times more efficient than traditional processes.
There are many women who have been causing stirs in the hardware category, like Caitlin Kalinowski, designer of Olulus virtual reality products. Kalinowski has also worked to champion other female engineers through Wogrammer and Lesbians Who Tech in order to showcase women and LGBTQ+ people in the STEM industry. Another woman using organisations to help women is Erica Baker, the Senior Engineering Manager at Patreon, a service ensuring creatives get paid for their work. She is also very active in recruiting women of all ethnicities into software development through Black Girls Code and Code.org.
What is wonderful to see is people celebrating others in the world of STEM, especially women, who made up just 22% of the UK STEM workforce in 2018; but we still have a way to go (and I haven’t even mentioned the wage gap…). Women are persistently making things that make the world an innovative, efficient and better place to live. So listen and let her do her job.