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Fircroft celebrates women in engineering

08/03/2020
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The 8th of March marks international women’s day around the world. It is the focal point in the movement of women’s rights.

Today, we are taking a look at a just a handful of the inspirational women, who have shaped the history of engineering. Watch our staff video highlighting our top 7 female engineers from history, or read on...

 

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is one of history’s most influential mathematicians and is now considered the first computer programmer. 

She worked with Charles Babbage on his analytical engine, which Babbage intended to solve calculations. Ada Lovelace was the first to realise that the machine they developed together could be used for so much more and developed it further as one of the world’s first computers. 

Despite her invention she did not get credit or receive the fame she deserved at the time.

 

Katherine Johnson

Armed with a pencil, a slide rule and her extraordinary mind, Katherine Johnson was responsible for calculating the precise trajectories of NASA’s spacecraft that would take Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong to the moon. 

Aside from providing a vital navigational function, Johnson is also notable for being the first African American woman to work as a NASA scientist. Her story became the basis for the 2016 film Hidden Figures. 

Katherine Johnson sadly passed away in February, at 101 years old.

Hedy Lamarr

Best known as a filmstar in the 1930’s and ‘40s, Hedy Lamarr was also a talented and thriving female inventor.

One of her biggest accomplishments was to devise a method of encrypting signals to prevent enemy spies listening to sensitive information – a method that became the basis of how Wifi works today. 

She also advised the famous aviation tycoon Howard Hughes on the design for his aeroplanes – changing his square designs to a more streamlined shape. 

Unfortunately, despite her contributions to wireless communication technology, she never saw a penny from it. 

Beatrice Shilling

Beatrice Shilling is one of the most famous female mechanical engineers of all time, having revolutionised World War II aeroplane engines during her time working in the RAE. 
Her designs were incorporated into the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines used in the Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, which allowed the planes to perform more advanced combat manoeuvres and giving them a significant advantage in the Battle of Britain. 

In addition to her work as an engineer, Beatrice Shilling gained fame as a racer, becoming one of only 3 women to be awarded a Gold Star by the British Motorcycle Racing Club for lapping the circuit at over 100 miles per hour – and later became the fastest female racing car drivers at Goodwood.

Lise Meitner

Originally Germany’s first female professor of physics, Lise Meitner was forced out of her position and ultimately had to flee the country in the 1930s following rise to power of the Nazi party. As a Jewish woman, Meitner’s life was at threat and in 1938 she escaped to Sweden. 

In her new home country, she was able to carry out her work in radioactivity and nuclear physics.

Her research on the fission process allowed for the first instance of the break-up of a uranium atom, which ultimately led to the development of nuclear power reactors and the nuclear bomb. Meitner’s work was recognised by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944, but she herself did not receive the award. Since then she has been nominated 19 times for a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and 29 times for a Nobel Prize in Physics. Though she never won, her name was immortalised in the chemical element Meitnerium, named in 1992.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosaline Franklin an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who is best known for her discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. She accomplished this by taking the first image of a DNA diffraction pattern, known as photo 51. It became a famous photo in the field that was used in the development of a DNA model.

This better understanding of DNA led to better understanding of all of life and allowed for innovations like mapping the human genome and genetic engineering. Subsequent work was awarded the Nobel Prize, though Franklin herself was never nominated. 

In addition to her work with DNA, she also led pioneering research work in the molecular structure of viruses, coal and graphite.

Olga D Gonzalez-Sanabria

Now the working as the Director of Engineering at NASA’s Glenn Research Centre, Olga D Gonzalez-Sanabria is one of the most influential and accomplished women in science today. 

Her work with the research centre includes the development of long cycle-life nickel-hydrogen batteries which are used to power the International Space Station. 

She has published several technical papers on power in space and has been awarded a membership in the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame as a “scientist, inventor and executive”.

Who have we missed out?

Join the discussion in the comments to throw a spotlight on other women in engineering who have changed the world. 

 

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Fircroft celebrates women in engineering - Time to read 5 min
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