Saturday, 7 March 2020

Necessity is the mother of invention

International Women's Day is marked on March 8 every year and celebrates the cultural, social, economic, and political achievement of women around the world. Women of all walks of life have contributed to the development of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Here are a few examples.

Sarah Goode (1855-1905), Inventor of the Folding Cabinet Bed

Goode was an entrepreneur who had many customers with very small apartments. She invented the folding cabinet bed to save space. It was a desk by day and a bed by night. When Goode registered her patent for the folding cabinet bed in 1885, she became the first Black American woman ever to get a United States Patent.

Her aim was to balance out the weight of the folding of the bed so that it could be easily lifted up, folded and unfolded, and to secure the bed on each side so that it would stay in place once it was folded. She provided supplementary support to the centre of the bed when it was unfolded.

Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008), engineer

Mary Golda Ross was the first known Indigenous female engineer, and the first female engineer in the history of Lockheed. She was Tsalagi (Cherokee). She was one of the 40 founding engineers of the Skunk Works project at the Lockheed Corporation. She worked at Lockheed from 1942 until her retirement in 1973. She is best remembered for her work on aerospace design – including the Agena Rocket program – as well as many "design concepts for interplanetary space travel, crewed and uncrewed Earth-orbiting flights, the earliest studies of orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes."

Asima Chatterjee (1917-2006), chemist

Asima Chatterjee was a chemist who is greatly renowned for her contributions to organic chemistry and phytomedicine. She developed cancer medicines, anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs. She was the first woman to be named a Doctor of Science by an Indian university. She studied at the University of Calcutta and wrote several volumes of work on the medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent. She was nominated by the president of India as a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Bette Nesmith Graham (1924-1980), Inventor of Liquid Paper

After she got divorced in 1946, Bette took a job as a secretary. Typewriters with carbon ribbons had just come into widespread use, and the old erasers that were previously used just smudged the paper. So, Bette, who had trained as an artist, came up with a mix of tempera paint to paint out her mistakes. Her boss never noticed the corrections. Soon other secretaries wanted a bottle of her special paint, and she realized that she had come up with something that would sell. When Liquid Paper (also known as Tippex and White-out) became a multi-million dollar company, she created two foundations to help women find new careers, especially unmarried mothers. The foundations also created college scholarships for older women and gave shelter and counselling to battered women. She described herself as a "feminist who wants freedom for myself and everybody else."

Fun fact: she was also the mother of Robert Michael Nesmith, the guitarist in the band The Monkees.

Frances Gabe (1915-2016), Inventor of the Self-Cleaning House

Before there was the Roomba, there was the self-cleaning house, with resin walls, waterproof furniture, no carpets, and a device in the ceiling that emits a jet of water, soap, and hot air to dry everything in the room after it has cleaned it. These labour-saving devices were invented by Frances Gabe, who went partially blind for 18 years after the birth of her first child, and grew up accompanying her architect father to work.

Lynn Conway (born 1938), inventor of new computer chip designs

Lynn Conway invented scalable, dimensionless design rules which hugely simplified chip design and design tools; and a new form of internet-based infrastructure for rapid-prototyping and short-run fabrication of large numbers of chip designs.

She was born in 1938 and transitioned to female in 1968. She was fired by IBM but went on to work for Xerox and DARPA.

She has five patents to her name, and retired to Michigan, USA. In Fall 2012, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers published a special issue of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Magazine devoted to her career, including an autobiographical account of her career, and commentaries by the former Director of Engineering at HP, a Professor of EECS at U.C. Berkeley, and a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University.

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