IWD 2023: Inspirational women throughout history
Proof that women can have it all, Hedy Lamarr was both an acress and inventor. Along with starring in classic Black and White films in the 40’s and 50’s. During the Second World War in collaboration with composer George Antheil, she created a device to reduce the jamming of radio signals. Although it was never used as part of the war effort that device was later acknowledged and became the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.
Annie Easley began her career as a “human computer,” working with researchers to analyze their problems and work out the calculations they needed by hand. As this role was slowly replaces with the advent of machine computers, Annie moved with the times and became a computer programmer and developer including working on the battery technology used for early hybrid vehicles. Throughout her life she put a strong emphasis on inspiring female and minority students to consider STEM careers.
Mary Allen Wilkes
Mary Allen Wilkes was told by a teacher that she ought to be a computer programmer when she grew up which eventually prompted her to apply for and take a job at the MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, where she worked on developing a programming language on LINC. She earned her title as the pioneer of the home computer when she self-designed and used a computer in her home, much smaller than the existing giant computers being used at the time. Her achievements go beyond technology, in the 70’s she embarked on a successful career in law and remains an inspiration for women looking to enter male dominated industries.
A gifted mathematician, Katherine Johnson worked for NASA and was involved in projects including the moon landing. During her 33 years at NASA, she has a reputation for solving complex manual calculations, being personally asked to check the calculations for the mission that successfully saw the first American orbit the earth. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama who said she "refused to be limited by society's expectations of her gender and race while expanding the boundaries of humanity's reach."
Known as the ‘Grandmother of Computer Science’ Ada Lovelace is known for her work on ‘The Analytical Engine’ a proposed mechanical computer from inventor Charles Babbage. Ada was the first to recognise the greater potential of the machine and that it could be ‘programmed’ and had applications beyond relatively simple calculations. She is credited with publishing the first algorithm intended for mechanical computers, earning her the accolade of one of the world’s earliest computer programmers.
These are just five examples of truly inspirational women in STEM roles and the contributions they have made. There are many thousands more and on International Women’s Day it seems right that we celebrate their contribution not only to STEM, but to breaking down barriers within the industry.