In our world of ‘equal representation’, mathematical models of gender, race etc. are often used by those seeking the masses’ approval, without understanding the complexity of the issues they are dealing with. One of those are women in engineering. People count the number of men in engineering and then compare that to the number of women in engineering. Some even assume that women are not suited to engineering work. Young women often do not consider engineering as one of their options. Therefore, to show how capable women are in this field, I would like to highlight some remarkable women who have played a major role in engineering.
Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer. She is often considered the world’s first computer programmer, as she wrote the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine. Lovelace worked closely with Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Analytical Engine, a mechanical general-purpose computer. She translated an article about the Analytical Engine written by an Italian engineer, Luigi Menabrea, and added her own extensive notes, which included the algorithm. Lovelace’s work laid the foundation for modern computer programming, and her contributions to the field of computing were recognised long after her death.
Hedy Lamarr was an inventor and famous actress. During World War II, she co-invented a frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology, which was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect and jam. Although the technology was not implemented during the war, it laid the foundation for modern wireless communication technologies. Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 and has been dubbed ‘the mother of Wi-Fi’.
Grace Hopper, born in 1906, was computer scientist and US Navy rear admiral. She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and is credited with popularising the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.
Hopper also played a significant role in the development of the UNIVAC I computer and the development of the first compiler. She was a pioneer in the field of computer science and made numerous contributions to the industry throughout her career.
As a NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson made significant contributions to the US space programme. Her calculations were instrumental in the success of the first manned spaceflights, including the Apollo moon landing. She figured out the paths for the spacecraft to orbit Earth and land on the Moon. NASA used Katherine’s maths to send astronauts into orbit around earth, and to the moon and back.
Born in 1943, Emily Roebling played a vital role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. After her husband, the chief engineer, fell ill, she took over his duties for more than ten years, and became the first woman to lead a major engineering project in the US. The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed suspension bridge and at the time of its opening was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 486 metres and a deck 39 metres above mean high water.
These are just a few examples of the many incredible women who have made a lasting impact on the field of engineering. Their contributions have paved the way for future generations of women in engineering and continue to inspire others to pursue careers in this field.
We cannot concentrate on mathematical models to get women into engineering. We need to find ways of making it easier for them to participate. Many things have changed since I first started as an electrical engineer. However restrictions, attitudes and perceptions still prevent engineering from being one of the obvious choices open to women when planning their future. Let us focus on these and get rid of them.
Yours in Automation,
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