Throughout history, female engineers have been at the forefront of invention and innovation. Their contributions have paved the way for life as we know it, whether it’s an improved traffic stoplight design to robotics development in space. Unfortunately, however, their accomplishments are often overlooked compared to those of their male counterparts. To shed some light on how women in STEM have greatly influenced the world as we know it, we’ve put together a list of five influential female engineers that should be on your radar.
Many people are familiar with Hedy Lamarr because of her 28-year acting career, during which she starred in many popular films and co-founded a production studio. What is often overlooked, however, is that despite no formal training, Lamarr was a prolific inventor. Among her inventions were a traffic stoplight and a tablet that dissolved to create a carbonated drink. Although the drink wasn’t successful, Lamarr eventually advised Howard Hughes on his inventions and created a frequency-hopping signal that couldn’t be tracked or jammed. By partnering with George Antheil, a composer, and pianist, Lamarr brought the device to life, eventually patenting it. The technology continues to influence today’s Bluetooth technology and early versions of Wi-Fi.
Dr. Ellen Ochoa
Dr. Ellen Ochoa is the first Hispanic female astronaut and a graduate of Stanford University’s electrical engineering program. As a mission specialist and flight engineer, she has logged nearly 1,000 hours in space. Her time in space included technical assignments for flight software, computer hardware and robotics development, testing, and training. Ochoa has three patents in optical information processing and an extensive list of awards and fellowships, including NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.
Often referred to as the mother of invention, Lillian Gilbreth helped develop techniques for surgery and rehabilitation. Though her background was in psychology, her knowledge of industrial management helped shape her engineering career. Eventually, she taught at Purdue University, Bryn Mawr College, and Rutgers University. Gilbreth is best known for her time and motion study in industrial management, which emphasized the worker’s ability to accomplish tasks.
Lynn Conway studied physics at MIT and earned her BS and MSEE at Columbia before she went to work at International Business Machines Corporation, also known as IBM. When she underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1968, she was fired, and later began rebuilding her career as a programmer at Memorex Corporation. She was recruited by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and invented scalable design rules for VLSI chip design, later writing and teaching the methods she had invented. Conway designed the meta-architecture for a major Department of Defense effort and has taught and acted as Associate Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan. Conway is also a transgender activist and a STEM icon.
Grace Hopper graduated from Vassar College in 1928 with a degree in mathematics and physics, later joining the faculty. While teaching, she continued her education at Yale, eventually joining the US Naval Reserve. In 1949, Hopper began work as a Senior Mathematician at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. She programmed the Mark I computer (the third person ever to do so), and pioneered applications for Mark II and Mark III. She consulted and lectured for the US Navy and eventually returned to active duty. Finally, Hopper retired, easing into a role as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation where she worked into her eighties.
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