America, though a young country, when compared to many other parts of the world, has produced many important inventions.
It is easy to look at those inventions and say, “Wow, look at what man has done.” But let’s not forget those contributions made by women, who too often get overlooked for how they helped contribute to radical innovation in the world.
Grace Hopper – Computer Language
Quite possibly the most important and widely used contribution in the modern world, Grace Hopper helped to develop a computer compiling languages for the Mark I computer system.
The Mark I was a computer system located at the Commander Howard Aiken’s Computation Laboratory at Harvard University. At 51 feet long, the machine performed calculations daily that had previously taken months. However, the machine had no way of taking instructions and understanding what to do with them, so she built a new computer language that would do just that. This language would eventually become COBOL, which in the year 2000, was the basis of about 240 billion of the 300 billion lines of computer code that had been written up to that point.
Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar
Stephanie Kwolek was an engineer employed at Dupont and was tasked with finding ways to create stronger materials. Through her study of petroleum engineering, she figured out how to prepare chemicals in the right conditions to create a material known as Kevlar.
Kevlar is a collection of synthetic fibers strung together through a special process that yields a material that is five times stronger than steel, lighter than fiberglass, and is heat-resistant. There are currently more than 200 applications for Kevlar, including bulletproof vests, the hulls of boats and aircraft, and so much more.
Shirley Jackson – Subatomic Particles
Shirley Jackson is regarded for her many contributions to the field of subatomic particles that have aided the development and advancements across semiconductors, helium films, and how density waves interact with layered compounds.
She was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. at MIT and to receive the National Medal of Science; she conducted research for AT&T Bell Laboratories; has collaborated on more than 100 scientific articles; and, in 1995, she was appointed as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Hedy Lamarr – Spread Spectrum Technology
Hedy Lamarr started her early life as an actor in cinema during the 1930s and 40s. While in her trailer, she was allowed to tinker with electronic devices – her intelligence had largely been ignored in favor of her beauty.
After escaping the Nazi party in 1937, she fled to London with knowledge gained about wartime equipment in Germany, and used for gifts to work on projects she hoped to sell to the U.S. military. Her most notable contribution was a method to prevent radio waves from being jammed. However, the technology wasn’t used until after her patent expired, and she wouldn’t receive credit until 1997. Her invention, which was later named Spread Spectrum Technology, went on to fuel the creation of wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cordless phones, and cellphones.
Virginia Apgar – Newborn Care
Virginia Apgar created a scoring system to evaluate newborn babies to identify and treat prenatal problems and complications. The Apgar score uses a 10-point system that physicians and nurses can apply during the first one to five minutes after birth to measure breathing, skin color, reflexes, motion, and heart rate. A low score is a signal that immediate medical attention is needed.
The Surgeon General, Julus Richmond, who held the position between 1977 to 1981, once commented that Apgar, “had done more to improve the health of mothers, babies, and unborn infants than anyone else in the 20th century.”
Virginia Apgar was one of the first women to attend medical school. She graduated in 1933 from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. She would later return in 1949, and was appointed as the first woman professor at the school and continued to study obstetric and pediatric anesthesia.
Each of these women brought radical innovation to the world, improved our quality of life, and advanced our technology in ways that changed us forever. If you enjoyed this list, then it will be worth your time to check out this list to learn about the women and innovations not featured here.