Picturing an inventor or technology innovator can easily yield the image of a famous male scientist or engineer. Here is a list of impactful women to help change that.
The technology industry is unfortunately still a poor example of gender diversity in the workplace, with men outnumbering women at the C level more than three to one. Fortunately, many companies have made promises to hire more women and create more opportunities for them to climb the ladder to the executive level. But it should be known that women have been affecting and innovating technology for centuries, often without the credit they deserve.
Here are six founding women of technology that you should know, because without them, the industry, the channel and our world would likely look different today.
Considered by many to be the first computer programmer, male or female, Ada Lovelace is credited with writing the algorithm to be processed by the first modern computer. Born in London in 1815, and officially known as Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, the writer and mathematician became fascinated with Charles Babbage’s early model of a computer, the Analytical Engine, when she was just a teenager. Between 1842 and 1843, she translated a lecture by Babbage into English that was recorded by Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea, and even edited the algorithm with her own extensive notes to allow for more complicated computation. Babbage’s Analytical Engine was never built, but Ada’s algorithm was published as one of the earliest examples of a computer program and software. It’s tragic to ponder what else Ada Lovelace could have accomplished if she’d lived longer than 36 years.
Katharine Burr Blodgett
If you’ve ever used a computer, you probably have never given much thought to the piece of it you arguably use the most: the screen. Many computer devices, eyeglasses, car windshields, certain picture displays and more are all made possible by nonreflective glass thanks to American physicist and chemist Katharine Burr Blodgett. Blodgett was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge, and later the first woman to work as a scientist for General Electric Laboratory. Through her tireless work in surface chemistry, and practicalizing the work of her colleague, Irving Langmuir, who specialized in creating single-molecule thin films on surface water, Blodgett invented “invisible” glass. The glass was originally used for film camera lenses and submarine periscopes along with other WWII-era technology. She went on to secure eight US patents in her lifetime.
This woman earned every bit of her nickname “Amazing Grace” thanks to her innovations in modernizing software as we know it. Grace Hopper was an Ivy League-educated mathematician who joined the US Navy Reserves at 34 years old, as she was too old to join the Navy in an active duty role. At the time, computer programs were all written in numeric code, until Hopper developed the first compiler in 1952 to allow computers to “talk” in their own language. This led her to later coinvent the first universal programming language, COBOL. Hopper stayed with the Navy for decades, working her way up to the rank of Rear Admiral. Now whenever you type a command on your computer, you’ll think of Grace Hopper.
If a triple threat is what you’re looking for, Hedy Lamarr was truly the embodiment of the word: beauty, talent and most importantly, brains. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, the Austrian-American actress graced the silver screen from the 1930s through the 1950s, and her angelic features give meaning to the term “old Hollywood glamour.” But her legacy wasn’t just left on film, it was left on modern technology. Lamarr was also an inventor best known for her work with the frequency-hopping spread spectrum during World War II when she learned radio-controlled torpedoes could be jammed and thrown off target by the enemy. Lamarr worked with her friend George Antheil to create a frequency-hopping signal that would essentially make the signal untraceable. Although the invention was patented in 1942, the US Navy found the technology too challenging to use at the time, until the Cuban Missile Crisis two decades later when it was updated and implemented into Navy ships. Spread-spectrum techniques inspired by Lamarr’s invention are now used today in Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi.
Olga D. Gonzalez-Sanabria
The highest-ranking Hispanic person ever at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio is also a woman: Director of Engineering, Olga D. Gonzalez-Sanabria. The Puerto Rican-born scientist is best known for her invention that powers the International Space Station and literally keeps the astronauts that live there alive, her Long Cycle-Life Nickel-Hydrogen Batteries. While the ISS mostly relies on solar cells to power itself while it orbits earth every 90 minutes, a third of each of the space station’s orbits is spent in darkness without direct sunlight. That’s where Gonzalez-Sanabria’s batteries kick in and keep the ISS and its six-member crew running. Without Gonzalez-Sanabria’s contribution, NASA and the ISS wouldn’t be able to conduct the critical research they do.
Marie Van Brittan Brown
The first modern home security and closed-circuit surveillance system can be attributed to Marie Van Brittan Brown. A native resident of Queens, New York, in the 1960’s, the nurse feared for her safety in a neighborhood where crime was frequent and emergency response was slow. Wanting to better protect herself and her husband, Van Brittan Brown invented and later patented a security system that allowed her to see who was at her front door via a camera connected to a television in her home, speak to and listen to whoever the visitor was, unlock the door with a remote control if the visitor was friendly or alert police at the push of a button if they were dangerous. Today, modern versions of Van Brittan Brown’s invention are used in both residential dwellings and businesses of all sizes.
These are just a handful of women who impacted technology, but there are many more female inventors and innovators who have changed our world from cutting edge advancements in cataract surgery, to a better way to make a paper page. Their stories are remarkable and their mark on our history is unforgettable. Take time out of your life to research what women have done to contribute to the things you may take for granted every day.