8 Tech and Science Innovations You Didn’t Know Were Dreamed Up By Women

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8 Tech and Science Innovations You Didn't Know Were Dreamed Up By Women

If you’re asked to name inventors who’ve fundamentally impacted the world, men like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Alexander Graham Bell are likely to spring to mind. And while we’re all familiar with Marie Curie, the famous pioneer of radioactive metals, what about all the other famous women who have changed our lives with groundbreaking technological inventions that made the world safer and better?

Women have been responsible for some of the most important and impressive discoveries in the modern world. It’s important that we celebrate their achievements. In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a compilation of some of the most ingenious science and technology inventions created by women, which have revolutionized life as we know it.

Non-reflective glass

Inventor: Katharine Burr Blodgett 

Katherine Burr Blodgett was a pioneer early in her career when she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics at England’s Cambridge University, and then later became the first woman hired by General Electric (GE). At GE she proved herself to be a valuable researcher and engineer. Her work ensured the successful development of important products during World War II, including gas masks, smoke screens, and innovative techniques for de-icing airplane wings.

However, Blodgett is best known as an accomplished chemist who made several key contributions to the invention of non-reflective or “invisible” glass in 1935. Initially used for camera lenses, movie projectors and submarine periscopes, today non-reflective glass is also essential for eyeglasses, car windshields, and computer screens.

Satellite propulsion

Inventor: Yvonne Brill 

Yvonne Brill has been described by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics as “a trailblazer at a time when women were not encouraged to enter the science and technology fields.” In the mid-1940s, she is believed to have been the only female rocket scientist in the U.S., impressively working in the field without an official engineering degree. After taking brief break to raise a family, Brill returned to work at Astro Electronics where she developed her satellite propulsion system in the 1970s.

Known as the electro-thermal hydrazine thruster, Brill’s groundbreaking system enabled engineers to better maneuver and monitor the positions of satellites in orbit around Earth. Moreover, it accomplished this task while enabling satellites to carry less fuel and more scientific equipment. Today her system is still the industry standard for unmanned spacecraft.

Space station batteries

Inventor: Olga D. González-Sanabria

Olga D. González-Sanabria began a career at NASA Glenn Research Center in 1979. Almost 20 years later, she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame as a “scientist, inventor and executive,” joining the ranks of other notable inductees such as Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Blackwell. While she earned this award for many achievements, one of the biggest was her instrumental role in developing the long cycle-life nickel-hydrogen battery in the 1980s. Today the International Space Station is powered by González-Sanabria’s technology. 

Kevlar

Inventor: Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek’s role in the creation of Kevlar happened by accident. Having studied chemistry with the intention of becoming a doctor, Kwolek graduated university and ended up working as chemist at the DuPont Company in 1946. Along the way, Kowlek became so enamored with polymer research that she abandoned her medical school plans and devoted herself to understanding synthetic fibers.

In 1965 Kwolek made an unexpected research breakthrough that led to the development of a liquid crystalline polymer solution, which could be used to create a super stiff, strong, and lightweight fiber. Recognizing its potential, DuPont patented it a year later under the name Kevlar. Today Kevlar is used in a variety of products, from bulletproof vests to safety helmets, camping gear, and even suspension bridges. 

Stem cell isolation

Inventor: Ann Tsukamoto

For many years, scientists theorized that human stem cells had the potential to revolutionize medicine. However, research on the topic couldn’t be taken to the next level until one important thing happened: stem cells were isolated. Unfortunately, years of research on the topic hadn’t led to any results. Then, in the early 1990s Dr. Ann Tsukamoto discovered how to do it, and she subsequently co-patented the process with professor Irving Weissman in 1991.

Over the years, Tsukamoto’s revolutionary invention has helped with several medical advancements, particularly in understanding the blood systems of people with cancer. Researchers are hopeful that one day it might even lead to a cure.

Computer software

Inventor: Grace Hopper

During World War II Grace Hopper joined the U.S. Naval Reserve to assist her country in wartime. Several years later, she was assigned to a team working on the Mark I computer. Subsequently, she became the third person to program it. Frustrated by the tedium and inefficiencies of copying code by hand, Hopper decided to change things. She would attempt to create a computer program that could be used by people who were neither computer experts nor mathematicians.

By 1958 she had developed a programming language called FLOW-MATIC. During this period, businesses were eager to reduce the costs of programming, and so industry got to work creating a new programming language. The result was COBOL (“common business-oriented language”). Based on FLOW-MATIC, COBOL featured English-like syntax and was highly readable. Today, Hopper is popularly known as the Queen of Software and the Mother of COBOL.

Spray-on skin

Inventor: Fiona Wood

Originally dreaming of becoming an Olympic sprinter, Fiona Wood changed her ambitions to becoming a doctor. By 1981 she had graduated medical school; ten years later she was Western Australia’s first female plastic surgeon. As head of the burn unit at Royal Perth Hospital, Wood’s experiences spurred her to research how to improve established skin repair techniques in 1992.

Eventually Wood developed a new method for growing skin tissue, which involved removing a small patch of healthy skin from a burn patient and using it to grow new skin in a laboratory culture flask. Afterwards, the new cells were sprayed onto the patient’s damaged skin. While traditional skin grafting required 21 days to grow enough new cells, by 1999 Wood’s method had reduced it to 5 days.

Scotchguard

Inventor: Patsy Sherman 

Like with many notable inventions, Scotchguard was the result of a lab mishap. It was created by Patsy Sherman, who took a 3M laboratory job in 1952. At that time, women who were hired to do laboratory work were considered temporary employees Sherman had plans to become a career scientist. After starting at 3M, she was assigned to a team developing a fluorochemical polymer that would resist degradation when exposed to jet fuel.

One day, some of Sherman’s chemicals spilled on her tennis shoe and wouldn’t come off. Notably, the chemicals didn’t change the color of the shoe and repelled oil, water, and other liquids. Seeing potential, Sherman and co-inventor Samuel Smith began to working on a new product. Several years later, they had created Scotchguard. 3M would eventually develop 40 products in the Scotchguard family.