This blog was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated.
You’ve all heard of famous inventors such as Galileo (telescope), Karl Benz (automobile), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), and Benjamin Franklin (bifocal glasses), but what about Grace Hopper and Stephanie Kwolek?
One of these women invented the first compiler for computer programming, forever changing technology, and the other invented Kevlar, a material five times stronger than steel! These inventions have forever altered the world, but as history shows us, women’s achievements are often overlooked. But, when women get the credit they deserve, they can become role models to inspire the next generation of girls.
We’ve taken a look at some of the most important discoveries and inventions made by women in the past 100 years and give them credit where credit is due. Keep reading to find out!
1. Dr. Shirley Jackson – Telecommunication research
Theoretical physicist Dr. Shirley Jackson 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. Her research 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!
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2. Marie Curie – Theory of Radioactivity
By the time Polish physicist Marie Curie was just 44 years old, 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. She was the first person in history to win two Nobel Prizes and the only person to win twice in multiple sciences.
3. Nancy Johnson – The ice cream maker
In 1843, Nancy Johnson from Philadelphia became one of the most important people in history by patenting a design for a hand-operated ice cream maker, which is still used today. We don’t know what more to say other than thank you, Nancy, for helping people everywhere on hot days.
4. Maria Telkes – The first 100% solar powered house
This Hungarian scientist is famous for creating the first thermoelectric power generator in 1947. With this technology and the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity, Maria Telkes designed the first solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts, and the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953.
Solar energy is an important resource in mitigating the impact of the climate crisis. Join us in calling on world leaders to act now on climate justice!
5. Ann Tsukamoto – Stem cell isolation
In 1991, Ann Tsukamoto and her colleagues made a major medical breakthrough – they could identify and isolate stem cells. This discovery has been vital to medical advancements, including the development of bone marrow transplants to treat blood cancer.
Speaking of medical advancements, did you know that vaccines were a huge one? Find out more!
6. Grace Hopper – Computer programming
In 1944, US born Grace Hopper and Howard Aiken designed Harvard’s Mark I computer, a five-tonne, room-sized machine. 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, close your eyes, and try to think what the world would be like without the invention of programming.
7. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie – Monopoly
“The Landlord’s Game,” originally patented in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie, was a critique of the injustices of unchecked capitalism and is the first version of the iconic game “Monopoly.” Her game was not-so-ironically stolen by Charles Darrow, who sold it to the Parker Brothers in 1935. The company did eventually track down Lizzie Magie, but only offered her $500 for her invention. In 2019, Hasbro (the company that now owns the game) received criticism for releasing “Ms. Monopoly,” a supposedly feminist version of the game that still doesn’t recognize the woman who created the original.
8. Rosalind Franklin – DNA double helix
The discovery of the DNA double helix is often attributed to James Watson and Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962. Butit was actually Rosalind Franklin whose work confirmed their theory of the structure of DNA.
Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist, was the first person to capture a photographic image in 1952, nicknamed “Photo 51,” using a technique she had honed: observing molecules using X-ray diffraction (nope, we’ve got no idea what this is either). It is alleged that Wilkins, an estranged colleague, showed her photograph without her permission to competitors Watson and Crick, forever attaching their name to a discovery that was never theirs.
Speaking of women making major strides in both science and beyond, meet 9 women who did their part to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic!
9. Maria Beasley – The life raft
In 1882, US inventor Maria Beasely decided that people should stop dying at sea. People had been navigating the seas for millennia, but the lifeboats that existed at the time were not an effective product to help in the event of a SOS situation. Now, thanks to Maria, thousands of lives have been saved, including an estimated 706 from when the Titanic sank.
10. Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar
Although this invention from American chemist Stephanie Kwolek in 1965 was a happy accident, its discovery has helped prevent countless other harmful ones. This material, which is five times stronger than steel, is used in bicycle tyres, racing sails, body armour, frying pans, armored cars, musical instruments, and building construction. Over 200 applications for kevlar now exist, thanks to its tensile strength-to-weight ratio (again, no idea).