Five women who changed the world - Engineers, Scientists, Inventors

Brunel's history is in engineering. Over the last 40 years as we've grown and expanded into industries such as Energy, Life Sciences and Automotive, we've found jobs for thousands of women all over the world.

To celebrate Women's History Month in March, we've chosen five women who broke new ground in their fields of Engineering, Science, Mathematics and Invention. Often working in male-dominated environments and denied the credit their work deserved at the time, these women are now recognised by the world as trailblazers and geniuses.

Be warned, reading this blog may lead to inspiration.

 

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” - Marie Curie

Hedy Lamarr, credit: kaspersky.com

Hedy Lamarr

Hollywood Icon, Film Producer, Inventor
1914 - 2000

When she wasn't dazzling audiences on the silver screen, Lamarr was hard at work inventing systems that are the basis for almost all modern communication.


Heard of something called WiFi? How about GPS? Bluetooth maybe? Chances are you're probably reading this right now while connected to a wireless network of some sort. You owe this to Hedy Lamarr. Her work on radio frequency hopping has since been used as the foundation for GSM, Wifi and Bluetooth. She should be recognised as a titan of communications science. What is even more amazing is that she had no formal scientific education or training.

And on top of all this, Hedy was one of the first women to own and run their own production company in Hollywood. Truly a ground-breaking woman in so many ways.

Katharine Burr Blodgett, credit: thefamouspeople.com

Katharine Burr Blodgett

Physicist, Chemist, Inventor
1898 - 1979

She has, quite literally, changed the way we see the world.

The first woman to receive a PhD in physics from Cambridge University. The first woman to work as a scientist for General Electric Laboratory, Katharine Burr Blodgett was a famous female inventor in the field of molecular engineering. She specialised in working with monomolecular coatings. 

Her key invention was known as invisible glass, covering glass with a non-reflective coating which is known as Langmuir-Blodgett Film. This invention has been used in cinematic cameras and projectors ever since. 

Non-reflective glass is now used in many products, including car windscreens, computer screens, eyeglasses and anything else that needs a perfectly transparent surface.

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek

Chemist
1923 - 2014

It's fair to say that Stephanie Kwolek is responsible for saving a LOT of lives.

How? She invented something called Kevlar.

Her career began almost accidentally, when she took a temporary role with DuPont. She was planning to save money for medical school and to become a doctor. She found the work interesting and ended up staying with the company for 40 years. During that time she filed numerous patents and won many awards.

The kevlar discovery was made during a project to find a new artificial fibre to replace the steel used in car tyre at the time. What she created was 5 times stronger than steel, stiff and fire resistant. This discovery would lay the ground for inventing the fire resistant fabric Nomex, worn by police, firefighters, pilots and racing drivers to protect themselves. 

In 1995 Kwolek was awarded the DuPont company's Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement. She remains the only female employee to win this award. The Royal Society of Chemistry has a biennial grant called the Stephanie L Kwolek Award which recognises outstanding contributions to materials chemistry.

Margaret Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton, credit: MIT Museum

Margaret Hamilton

Computer Scientist, Systems Engineer
1936 - Present

Margaret is in many ways a modern day icon. She was one of the first people to use the phrase "software engineering" and helped to drive the development of it as a legitimate engineering discipline. Throughout her career she has published well over 100 papers, worked on 6 major programs and over 60 projects.

Her work, along with Grace Hopper, helped to open the door for more women to forge successful careers the STEM fields.

She is the subject of one of the most famous images associated with the moon landings, standing next to the code that she and her team at MIT wrote for the Apollo project. Alongside this, she also founded two successful businesses and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honour in the United States) in 2016.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Mathematician & Writer
1815 - 1852

No conversation about famous female inventors can be had without mentioning Lovelace. She's one of the reasons I can write this blog, and you can read it anywhere in the world.

It's fair to say, historians are divided on the subject of her contributions. Our view is that there is enough evidence in favour.

Ada Lovelace has a strong claim to being the first computer programmer. She also created what many consider to be the first algorithm. She was also the visionary who saw uses for Babbage's Analytical Engine "beyond number-crunching". 

Doron Swade wrote "Ada saw something that Babbage in some sense failed to see. In Babbage's world his engines were bound by number...What Lovelace saw...was that number could represent entities other than quantity. So once you had a machine for manipulating numbers, if those numbers represented other things, letters, musical notes, then the machine could manipulate symbols of which number was one instance, according to rules. It is this fundamental transition from a machine which is a number cruncher to a machine for manipulating symbols according to rules that is the fundamental transition from calculation to computation.."

Since 1982 the Ada Lovelace Award is given by the Association for Women in Computing. 

The award is given to individuals who have excelled in either of two areas: outstanding scientific technical achievement and/or extraordinary service to the computing community through accomplishments and contributions on behalf of women in computing.