8 Inventions By Women That Everyone Assumes A Dude Built
Wait? She built that?
1. Rosalind Franklin, DNA Discoverer
Watson and Crick's super famous article in Nature on the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure, which would win them a Nobel Prize, nearly forgets to mention Rosalind Franklin's role. It was actually Franklin who was the first to capture a photographic image of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, known as Photo 51.
2. Ada Lovelace, Mother of Computer Programming & Algorithms
At barely 20, she created step-by-step instructions so that a machine could do complicated math. She then went on to train the machine to work not only in numbers, but words and symbols too. The machine was designed "to compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent." Aka computer programming.
Years later, historians argued that Lovelace didn't come up with the work herself and tried to give all credit to Charles Babbage. Thankfully Babbage's own memoir gave credit to her mathematical wizardry and she is now considered the mother of computer programing. Thanks Charles.
3. Melba Roy Mouton, NASA Satellite Program Creator
During her time at NASA, she not only oversaw the tracking of the Echo Satellites, but also contributed to seminars on A Programming Language and an article published by NASA about documenting computer code.
Unfortunately, every time we see anything related to the "race to the moon", it's all white dudes.
The feature film Hidden Figures portrays these amazing women and gives them recognition and light.
4. Lise Meitner, Lady of Nuclear Fission
In 1938, after fleeing Germany because of her Jewish ancestry, Lise and her pal, Otto Hahn, put the idea of nuclear fission down on paper for the first time ever.
But Hahn left her name off his landmark paper, and when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recognized the breakthrough in 1944, they gave the prize in chemistry to Hahn. Meitner eventually earned a more exclusive honor, though; in 1994 she was honored with an element—meitnerium, or Mt on the Periodic Table.
5. Candace Pert, Opioid Receptor Ideator
When Pert, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, protested that her professor, Dr. Solomon Snyder, had received an award for her discovery of the receptor allows opiates to lock into the brain, Snyder's response was curt: "That's how the game is played."
Pert commissioned a formal letter and then got back to work. She was working toward a more effective treatment of Alzheimer's when she died in September.
6. Katherine Johnson, NASA's Human Computer
Johnson is a physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for the famous 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, and for many other NASA flights including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard.
Johnson recalls her time at NASA, “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”
7. Judy Malloy, GrandMama of Hypertext Fiction
Malloy, a self-taught computer programmer, conceptual artist, and single mom working at a tech company in the early days of Silicon Valley, Malloy self-published a short story called Uncle Roger in 1986.
It's a wry take on California tech culture through the eyes of an eccentric computer chip salesman, and at the time, the experience of reading Uncle Roger was totally new. It lived online (and still does), and the reader clicked through fragments of the story in whatever order they chose, twisting and reshaping the narrative along the way.
Malloy created an elaborate new database system to tell her story, with 32 UNIX shells and a sophisticated search engine for its time. But in 1992, a New York Times book critic crowned the young novelist Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story as the "granddaddy of full-length hypertext fictions," though Uncle Roger came first and Malloy's piece was acclaimed by the emerging digital art community as the earliest notable example of the form.
8. Hedy Lamarr, Movie Star By Day, Invented Early Wireless Technology By Night.
Although Lamarr was a Hollywood glamour girl and played the femme fatal in movies opposite the likes of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, she wasn’t the typical looks-obsessed starlet.
“Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes indicated in his book Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Lamarr’s idea of a good time was a dinner party and discussion with intelligent friends.
“Hedy didn’t drink. She didn’t like to party,” Rhodes told NPR. “Hedy had to find something else to do to occupy her time.”
That “something else” was inventing, and it turned out she had a knack for designing problem-solving technologies. Transforming the drawing room in her house into an innovation studio with a drafting table and the necessary tools, Lamarr invented an aid to help people with limited mobility get in and out of the bath, a florescent dog collar and a bouillon cube that would dissolve to turn water into soda.
Despite securing superstar status in the industry, Lamarr’s fascination with science and technology never faltered. She set her sights on helping the Allies in World War II.
When many German submarines began targeting non-military ships, Lamarr believed radio-guided torpedoes would make more powerful and accurate retaliatory weapons for the Allies’ cause, but she needed to find a way to prevent the radio signals from jamming.
Lamarr and Antheil developed a radio communication system based on the 88 piano keys. It was a success, and the duo received a patent for their work in 1942. Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy ignored their technological feat for another 20 years.
When the war ended, Lamarr and Antheil’s work could have easily perished in a Navy file cabinet. Instead, their invention helped military and private companies develop a frequency-hopping mechanism used during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, the system became the precursor to modern wireless technologies
Too many times, women have been left out or written out of history. It is important for us, as a civilization, to remember the facts and as we stand on the "shoulders of giants," to understand that those giants aren't always white men.
In the current studio release, Hidden Figures, Octavia Spencer portrays one of three NASA mathematicians, who cannot believe that their fundamental contribution has been overlooked. Watch her interview on The Wrap.