You’ve all heard of famous inventors such Galileo (telescope) or Karl Benz (automobile), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone) and Benjamin Franklin (bifocal glasses), but do you know who Grace Hopper and Stephanie Kwolek are?
One of these women invented the first compiler for computer programming, without which it’s fair to say the world would be a very different place, and the other invented Kevlar, a material five times stronger than steel, currently used around the world to protect people from bullets! Now these are very important inventions, but as history shows us, women’s achievements can often be overlooked when it comes to handing out the correct amount of praise.
We’ve decided to correct that and take a look at some of the most important discoveries and inventions made by women in the last 100 years:
1. Marie Curie – Theory of Radioactivity
By the time Marie Curie, a Polish and naturalized-French physicist, was just 44 she had laid out a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium (1898) and won TWO Nobel Prizes for her contribution to science! She was the first person in history to win Two Nobel Prize’s and the the only person to win twice in multiple sciences!
2. Nancy Johnson – The Ice Cream Maker
In 1843, Nancy from Philadelphia became one of the most important women, nay, people, in history by patenting a design for a hand-operated ice cream maker, which is still used to the current day! We don’t know what more to say other than thank you, Nancy Johnson. Thank you.
3. Maria Telkes – The FIRST 100% solar powered house
The Hungarian scientist is famous for creating the first thermoelectric power generator in 1947, designing the first solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts,and the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953 using the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity.. Girl power indeed!
4. Ann Tsukamoto – Stem cell isolation
In 1991 this was a huge and complex US invention – the ability to isolate the stem cell has been vital in medical advancements in learning more about cancer. Hopes are that one day it could lead to a cure to that and many other diseases.
5. Grace Hopper – Computer Programming
US born Grace Hopper and Howard Aiken designed Harvard’s Mark I computer, a five-tonne, room-sized machine in 1944. Hopper invented the compiler that translated written language into computer code and coined the terms “bug” and “debugging” when she had to remove moths from the device (who knew?!) Now, just close your eyes for a minute, and try to think what the world would be like without the invention of programming. Almost pre-historic isn’t it?
6. Elizabeth Magie – Monopoly
Speaking of a time before the computer, no childhood memories would be complete without the recollection of getting into a tizz about your brother stealing from the bank, or not passing GO…
Originally patented in 1904 by Magie and called ‘The Landlord’s Game’ the game was a critique of the injustices of unchecked capitalism but was not so ironically stolen by a fella named Charles Darrow who sold it to the Parker Brothers in 1935. The company did eventually track down Elizabeth Magie, but only offered her $500 for her invention!
7. Rosalind Franklin – DNA double helix
Although the discovery of the DNA double helix is often attributed to Watson and Crick, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962, it was not actually theirs to claim. They had a theory on the structure of DNA, however, it was Rosalind Franklin who’s work confirmed their theory.
Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist, was the first person to capture a photographic image in 1952 using a technique she had honed: observing molecules using X-ray diffraction (nope, we’ve got no idea what this is either, don’t worry).
Why was she never credited for this?! Well, it is alleged that, without her permission, an estranged male colleague of hers called Wilkins, showed her photograph to competitors Watson and Crick, and the rest as they say, is his-story.
8. Maria Beasley – The life raft
In 1882, Maria Beasely of the US decided that people should stop dying at sea. Which is great. People had been navigating the seas for millennia, but until then hadn’t come up with an effective product to help in the event of a SOS situation. Now, thanks to Maria, thousands of lives have been saved!
9. Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar
Although this invention from American chemist Stephanie Kwolek in 1965 was an accident, it makes it no less loved! This material, which is five times stronger than steel, is used in bicycle tyres, racing sails, body armour, frying pans, musical instruments and building construction, thanks to its tensile strength-to-weight ratio (again, no idea). What isn’t it in?
10. Dr. Shirley Jackson – Research that led to the invention of all things telecommunication
The theoretical physicist was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973. While working at Bell Laboratories, she conducted breakthrough scientific research with subatomic particles that enabled others to invent the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Imagine all the important information you would have missed without this amazing woman!