5 Badass Scientists You've Probably Never Heard Of - But Should Have (Part 1)
These scientists changed the world, so why is it that so many of us have never heard of them? They also happen to have something else common.
5 min read
Here's part one of my 5 Badass Scientists everyone should have heard of, but mostly hasn't. You may have guessed *ahem* what else they all have in common. Yep, they're all women too. There are quite a few I could have chosen, but for one reason or another, these ladies are my selected 5. Enjoy!
1. Ada Lovelace
Born in 1815 in the UK.
Ada Lovelace, born Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of English poet Lord George Gordon Byron: an abusive, irascible man who abandoned his family one month after Ada’s birth. Her mother decided to immerse her in mathematics and science from the age of four, in the hope of preventing her from developing her father's irrational, moody personality. Not your average childhood as a girl in the early 19th century! That turned out to be a good idea. At the age of 12, inspired by birds and horses, Ada designed a flying device that could carry a person. Five years later, she met inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage (“the father of the computer”), who was first reluctant to take her as a student but was soon impressed by her capabilities and potential. Charles was working on a mathematical calculating machine at that time and Ada was collaborating with him on that. Visionary, she immediately saw how much potential such machines had. Not only did she write that machines could be programmed with a code to calculate Bernouilli numbers (some people consider it to be the first algorithm carried out by a machine, or in other words, the first computer programme), she also imagined different functionalities of the modern computers: that any piece of content (text, music, pictures) could be translated to digital form and operated by a machine. Pretty impressive for almost 200 years ago! She is considered to be the first computer programmer and to have written the most important paper in computer history.
#inspo: “I don’t wish to be without my brains, tho’ they doubtless interfere with a blind faith which would be very comfortable. “ & “I am in a charming state of confusion.”
#funfact: Ada had a gambling problem – she lost several thousands of pounds by betting on the wrong horses at the Epsom Derby. Rumour has it that Ada and Charles exchanged a book once a week that may have contained a programme... to predict horse-race results. Oops!
2. Chien-Shiung Wu
Born in 1912 in China.
When Chien-Shiung was a child, it was not common for little girls to be educated. Luckily, her father was a women rights pioneer and actually opened the first school for girls in Liuhe, the town were she was born, 40 miles away from Shanghai. At 24, Chien-Shiung left for the US where she studied experimental physics as a graduate under the supervision of Ernest O. Lawrence, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1939 for his invention of the cyclotron particle accelerator. She gained a Ph.D. and then became proffessor at Princeton University, Smith College and later on at Columbia University in New York. Chien-Shiung was recruited for the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government research project (1942–45) that produced the first atomic bombs. She helped develop a process to separate Uranium metal into different isotopes (U235 and U238) needed to fuel the atomic bomb. After the war, Chien-Shiung started working on beta decay. Her colleagues Yang and Lee came up with a theory called “the law of conservation parity”, predicting that radioactive atoms would decay in a symmetrical way and received a Nobel Prize. Chien-Shiung actually carried out a series of experiments to test the law and observed the existence of a particle that did not follow this rule, and in doing so, disproved the law of conservation of parity. It appears that Chien-Shiung contribution remained typically anonymous.
She was the first... (1) Chinese-American to be elected into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; (2) Female instructor in the Physics Department of Princeton University; (3) Woman with an honorary doctorate from Princeton University; (4) Female President of the American Physical Society, elected in 1975; (5) Person selected to receive the Wolf Prize in Physics in its inaugural year of 1978.
#inspo: “These were moments of exhilaration and ecstasy! A glimpse of this wonder can be the reward of a lifetime. Could it be that excitement and ennobling feelings like these have kept us scientists marching forward forever?”
#funfact: When she was interviewed for the secret Manhattan Project, Chien-Shiung already knew what they were working on by looking at an equation left on the blackboard.
3. Hedy Lamarr
Born in 1914 in Austria.
Hedy, born to a Jewish family in Vienna, had always been fascinated by cinema. She dropped out of high school as a teenager and started a career as an actress in Berlin, playing in several German movies in the early 1930s. Her talent and beauty made her a great success and she soon started working in Hollywood where she starred in several American films including “Algier”, “White Cargo” and “Samson and Delilah”. But Heidi was not just a pretty actress. She was also a fearless inventor, who developed with composer George Antheil a technology known as “Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum”. It all started when Hedy was married to Friedrich Mandl, an Austrian fascist weapon manufacturer who dragged her to numerous business meetings. In these meetings, she listened carefully to Friedrich and his partners talk about devices that could detect and listen to radio signals emitted by American aircrafts. After divorcing him and moving to the US, Hedy was determined to make their plans fail. She realised that “by transmitting radio signals along rapidly changing, or "hopping," frequencies, American radio-guided weapons would be far more resilient to detection and jamming. The sequence of frequencies would be known by both the transmitter and receiver ahead of time, but to the German detectors their message would seem like gibberish”. Working with her friend George, they developed a system for classified communication that was patented in 1941 and used in US submarines in the 1960s. This invention led to the emergence of technologies widely used today such as GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth systems.
Quote #inspo: “I'm a sworn enemy of convention. I despise the conventional in anything, even the arts.”
Fun fact: In her spare time, Hedy worked on several inventions – not all of them successful! She developed a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. It failed: Hedy herself said that it was disgusting.
Agree with my #Top5 so far? SHARE this post so that more people can discover these scientists. Any thoughts or suggestions? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
Lola Wajskop graduated with a Masters in Electronics and IT Engineering last year. Originally from Belgium, she currently lives in London where she is pursuing a Masters degree in Management at London Business School. She wants to work in tech and is passionate about her initiative “Yes She Can”, that she launched two years ago with a friend. The goal? Promote engineering studies among female high school students.