Despite science being a man’s world during their lifetimes, there are several key women who helped create and develop technology that helped lay the ground work for the computer or smart phone you are reading this on.
The first is Ada Lovelace (1815-1852). Lovelace was the daughter Lord Byron, the famed poet. She was also a gifted mathematician. Lovelace was taught from a young age math and science. Things that were not standard for women at the time. Later in life she became friends with Charles Babbage (a mathematician and inventor). Babbage is known as the father of the computer as he invented the difference machine. Through math, she was able to introduce several computer concepts. She described how codes could be created for the device. She also created a theory called “looping” that allows for the engine to repeat a series of instructions. Something that is still used today. She is considered to have written the first computer coding in the early 1800’s. Without computer coding, your computer would not function, as it would not have any instructions on what to do.
Grace Hopper (1906-1992) joined the US Navy during WWII and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University to work on and program the Mark I computer. After the war, she continued working in computing at Harvard University, and then later into the private sector. In 1952, with her team at Remington Rand she created the first compiler of computer languages. This compiler turns worded instructions into code that can be read by computers. This allowed you to write words instead of only “1’s and 0’s.” She thought it would be easier for people who are programming computers to be able to use words and not constant math equations. Her compiler was a precursor for the Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, that is used around the world. She did not invent COBOL, but she helped develop its precursor and encouraged its adaption.
Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) was the first woman to receive a Ph.D in physics from England’s Cambridge University. She was also the first woman hired by General Electric. Blodgett contributed to several important military needs during WWII including gas masks, and smoke screens. It was her work in chemistry that she led to her most influential invention: non-reflective glass. It is nearly impossible to imagine a world without non-reflective glass. Today it is used for camera lenses, eye glasses, car windshields, and screens for computers and smart phones.
Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) began her working career at DuPont after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. She worked at DuPont for forty years, but it was her discovery in 1965 that would revolutionize the world. In her work with polymers, she developed a light weight and durable fiber. We know it as Kevlar. Kevlar is used in everything from bullet-proof vests, sports equipment, and building materials. It is also used in fiber-optic cables that help send the internet lightning fast to your computer at home.
Hedy Lamar (1914-2000) was better known for her silver screen ventures, and was known by many as the most beautiful woman to ever appear in film. But behind that pretty face, was an extraordinary mind. She became a pioneer in wireless communications after she immigrated to the United States. Hedy and George Anthiel co-invented and patented a “Secret Communications System” in 1941. It helped combat Nazis during WWII. Later it was used on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many other military applications. The “spread spectrum” technology forms the backbone that allows wireless devices such as cell phones, fax machines, and your computer to operate.
You can read more about these women (and many more remarkable women) at www.biography.com