Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hedy Lamarr: an unlikely geek

In celebration of Ada Lovelace day 2010, here's a biography of someone you might not think of as a scientist and inventor:

Hedy Lamarr (born 1913)
Radio communications system

The Viennese-born femme fatale of 1930s and 1940s films is a lot more than just a pretty face.

The actress, whose real name is Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, immigrated to the United States during the early years of World War II. She is best known for sultry roles in such movies as "Ecstasy" and "Samson and Delilah," but she also coinvented a remote-controlled, anti-jamming communications system, a major contribution to U.S. defense technology.

According to Bethesda resident Anne Macdonald, author of a book about American women inventors and a patent-holder herself for a knitting machine, Lamarr learned about designs for military technologies while married to a wealthy Austrian arms dealer for three years. Soon after Nazi Germany invaded Austria in 1938, she left her husband and went to London, where Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios changed her name and signed her up as his company's newest screen sensation.

In 1942, Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for the communications system, which employed a feature known as frequency hopping. A radio signal, such as those used to direct torpedoes, would "hop" from one broadcast frequency to another at certain intervals. Therefore, if a receiver was not synchronized to receive the entire signal, the signal could not be "jammed" nor deciphered.

Lamarr's invention did not fit MGM's image of her as a glamorous movie star, and her creative side was a well-kept secret in Hollywood. Still, Lamarr was so passionate about helping the war effort that she seriously considered abandoning acting to join the National Inventors Council full-time.

Lamarr's system was never used during World War II, but long after her patent expired, the Sylvania Corp. adopted and further developed the idea.

Source: Female inventors: Mothers of invention

The annual German Inventors' Day is held on her birthday, 9th November:
This lady is Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood diva and inventor.
She is the prototype for the everyday life an inventor, not because she was an Edison, but simply because she was someone that tried to realise her idea.
She did not become rich or famous from her idea (as an actress she was already). Her invention however, the frequency hopping process is still in daily use and an integral process in our mobile phones.
Her birthday, 9th November, has been taken to represent all inventors and this Inventors' Day.
My other Finding Ada blogposts:
Lisa Barone
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

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