Albeit slowly, women are rightfully earning more and more recognition for their innovations and discoveries in STEM fields. But as we know, that wasn’t always the case. Here are some essential scientific discoveries made by women that you might not have been aware of.
Maria Telkes, often referred to as the ‘Sun Queen,’ developed an interest in solar energy and the sun’s radiation in high school in the early 20th century. After immigrating to the U.S. from Budapest, Telkes pursued a PhD in physical chemistry and became a research professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While there, she worked with architect Eleanor Raymond to design the Dover House –– the first house designed to turn solar heat into electric energy. Her additional work includes the development of solar heating and solar water distillation systems.
Despite being one of the only black students attending MIT in 1964, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson rose to the top ranks of her class and dominated the physics field. Her research work with telecommunications in the 1990s led to the development of Caller ID, a feature that has enhanced communication around the world. Dr. Jackson has set several milestones for women in science, including being the first African-American woman to earn a PhD from MIT, and being the first African-American woman to lead a national research university at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was even a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during his eight-year term.
Bulletproof Fabric (Kevlar)
On a mission to ensure better fuel economy in 1965, Stephanie Kwolwek accidentally created Kevlar, a synthetic fiber strong enough to stop steel bullets moving at full speed. Kwolwek dedicated her life to fiber chemistry and polymer research after developing a love of fabrics and sewing from her mother. Her life-saving discovery earned her an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Medal of Technology –– two rare honors for women. Kevlar is primarily used in bulletproof vests, but can also be found in car tires, spacecrafts, helmets, and protective gloves.
Home Security Systems
Native New Yorker Marie Van Brittan Brown was fed up with the increasing crime rate and slow police response time in her neighborhood in Queens. Around 1966, she developed an early model of modern home security systems that utilized peepholes, cameras, monitors, and a two-way communication technology now known as intercom. Her innovation earned her an award from the National Scientists Committee, an unprecedented feat at the time. Her early systems inspired the widespread use of closed-circuit TVsecurity (CCTV).
Cause of Global Warming
Scientist Eunice Newton Foote was one of the original pioneers of the contemporary climate change movement. In the 1850s, her experiments with carbon dioxide gas and oxygen led to the conclusion that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a severe effect on global warming. Despite breaking ground in scientific discovery, Foote, as a woman, was prohibited from presenting her research findings to the American Association of Advancement of Science (AAAS) herself. Three years later, a man named John Tyndall published similar findings and has been largely credited with founding modern climate science.