In honor of International Women’s Day, what better way to celebrate than to share with some prolific women whose ingenious inventions have contributed to our holographic dreams in some way, shape or form.
Actress by day and inventor by night, Austrian-born Lamarr became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. Together with co-inventor George Anthiel, they developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in WWII.
Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent in 1941 but the significance of their invention was not realized until decades later. The “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped to invent would eventually galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technological backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless functions operational.
Erna Schneider Hoover
An alumni of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, Hoover joined the company as a researcher in 1954 where she later created a computerized telephone switching system. The switching system used a computer to monitor incoming calls and automatically adjust the call’s acceptance rate. Primarily, this helped to eliminate overloading problems. Prior to the system’s development, most businesses relied on hardwired or mechanical switching systems. With this, Hoover was awarded one of the first software patents ever issued (Patent #3,623,007 on November 23rd, 1971.) Bell Labs also made her their first female supervisor of a technical department.
Fun Fact: Hoover loved Marie Curie’s biography which showed that women could succeed despite the odds and prevailing wisdom of the time.
Dr. Shirley Jackson
Like Hoover, Jackson also worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories but in the theoretical physics department. Jackson conducted several successful experiments in theoretical physics and used her knowledge in the field to foster advances in telecommunications research while working at Bell Laboratories.
Dr. Jackson conducted breakthrough basic scientific research that enabled others to invent the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables.
You also have Jackson to thank for caller ID and call waiting.
Katharine Burr Blodgett
Blodgett was a woman of many firsts and a resume of endless accolades. She was the first female scientist hired by General Electric’s Research Laboratory in New York as well as the first woman to earn a Ph.D in Physics from Cambridge University in 1926. She was also the first woman to receive the Photographic Society of America Award.
Blodgett discovered a way to apply monomolecular coatings layer by layer to glass and metal. The thin films, which naturally reduced glare on reflective surfaces, when layered to a certain thickness, would completely cancel out the reflection from the surface underneath. This resulted in the world’s first 100% transparent - or invisible - glass. Blodgett’s patented film and process in 1938 has since been used for many purposes including limiting distortion in eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, camera and project lens.
Thomas received a patent in 1980 for inventing an illusion transmitter. At the time, this futuristic invention extended the idea of television - with its images located flatly behind a screen - to having three-dimensional projects appearing as though they were right in your living room!
The invention was based on the properties of mirrors. A regular flat mirrors shows a reflection of an object appearing behind the glass surface. A concave mirror - on the other hand - presents a reflection that appears in front of the glass which creates the 3D illusion. This was one of the first beginnings of 3D technology and Thomas’ technology has subsequently laid the groundwork for 3D movies and televisions today. Thomas worked as a mathematical data analyst for NASA after receiving a degree in physics.
Randice-Lisa “Randi" Altschul
Having once famously declared, “We’ve printed a phone!” Altschul is proof that lack of expertise in a certain field need not restrict any inventor from creating an exciting new product in that area. With little technical education, the New Jersey toy inventor began creating games and toys for children and adults in 1985. However, it was not until 1996 that Altschul came up with the idea that would make her famous: the world’s first disposable cell phone.
While driving down the highway and talking on her mobile phone one day, she became frustrated as her connection became weak and the conversation cut in and out. All she wanted to do was throw her cell phone out of the window.
Herein lay her “Eureka!” moment. Why not create a disposable cell phone that people could buy and use until an allotted amount of time was used up and then throw away? Inspired by her days in toy invention, Altschul’s phone was called the Phone-Card-Phone®, half a centimeter thick, and about the size of a credit card.
Arzner remains the most prolific woman studio director in the history of American cinema. Not only did she direct the first “talkie” (a movie where you can hear the actors talking versus a silent film) for Paramount, teach Francis Ford Coppola, directed Katharine Hepburn, she also became the first female member of the Director’s Guide Association (DGA).
But wait - she was also an inventor - inventing the boom microphone in 1929.
The boom microphone is a microphone attached to the end of the boom pole. It is used to hold a microphone out of the line of sight of the camera on a film set. Unfortunately, Arzner never patented her boom microphone and in 1930, E.H. Hansen patented the first boom microphone complete with directional control.
Askins was a NASA chemist and worked at the famed Marshall Space Flight Center where she was charged with the task of inventing ways to improve astronomical and geological photos taken from space. Up until that time, images taken from high above the earth were barely visible, though containing a wealth of information.
The solution she developed for her work at NASA had a greater impact than anyone could have imagined. Askins’ invention involved the use of radioactive materials to enhance negatives, which, as it turned out could also be used to enhance images even after the pictures had been developed. After patenting the invention in 1978, Askins’ method was put to use by NASA with great success. In fact, the invention was so successful that it was adopted outside the agency for a variety of other uses, including improving the clarity of x-rays and restoring old photographs.
Time and time again, women have turned seemingly impossible dreams into reality. Here's to the women who continue to break down barriers to make a better world for us all.