all these inventions of women attributed to men

Wi-Fi, nuclear fission or the pulsar: what do these inventions have in common? They were all created by inventors, eclipsed in the shadow of their male colleagues. We recall their story on March 8, 2021.

Where are the women in technology and science? In the shadow of their male counterparts, for many of them. On the occasion of International Women’s Rights Day, March 8, 2021, we have decided to look back on the journey of inventors eclipsed by history, whose exploits have been attributed in particular to men.

We are talking aboutMatilda effect to denote the way in which the contribution of many female scientists has been minimized, see attributed to male colleagues.

Ada Lovelace and the first computer program

Her manuscript still attests to this today: Ada Lovelace, born in 1815 and died at the age of 37, produced the first computer program. Between 1842 and 1843, the Countess translated into English an article by mathematician Federico Luigi, which describes Babbage’s analytical machine. On the latter’s advice, she will enrich this translation with her own notes, the volume of which is more imposing than the original text.

In note G, she presents a particularly detailed algorithm. This work is considered the world’s first computer program, written in machine-executable language. Charles Babbage, who dedicated his life to building this famous analytical machine, benefited greatly from the work on the algorithm led by Ada Lovelace.

There’s Lovelace. // Source: Wikimedia / CC / Science Museum Group (cropped photo)

Hedy Lamarr and Wi-Fi

We owe not only to Hedy Lamarr, Austrian naturalized American actress, about thirty films. The inventor, born in 1914 and deceased in 2000, also played another important role in the history of our telecommunications. The patent that she filed in 1941 (recorded the following year) further attests to this: Hedy Lamarr had invented a ” secret communication system ”For radio-guided devices, such as torpedoes. The discovery, at the origin of GPS and Wi-Fi, was the fruit of a collaboration with George Antheil, an American pianist.

The patent thus filed allowed the United States Army to use it freely. However, the technology was not mobilized until 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. The “Lamarr Technique” won the actress an Electronic Frontier Foundation award … in 1997.

Hedy Lamarr en 1944. // Source : Wikimedia / CC / MGM (cropped photo)

Alice Ball and the treatment for leprosy

For 90 years, the University of Hawaii did not recognize his work. Yet Alice Ball contributed to the development of an effective treatment for leprosy during the 20th century. This chemist, born in 1892 and died in 1916 at the age of only 24, became the first African-American to graduate from this establishment. She later became the first woman to teach chemistry there.

Alice Ball looked at a natural oil produced by trees of the “Chaulmoogra” species, known to treat leprosy. By isolating components of the oil, it has managed to retain its therapeutic properties while making it injectable into the human body. Alice Ball, who died before she had time to publish her work, fell into oblivion while Arthur L. Dean, the president of the University of Hawaii, assigned his job.

Alice Ball (1915). // Source : Wikimedia/CC/University of Hawaii System

Grace Hopper and the first compiler

In 1951, Grace Hopper designed the first compiler, that is, a program capable of translating source code (written in a programming language) into object code (such as machine language). Born in 1906 and deceased in 1992, this American computer scientist was part of the United States Navy where she rose to the rank of general officer.

During World War II, she worked on the Harvard Mark I, the first large digital calculator built in the United States. The mathematician John von Neumann is presented as the one who initiated one of the first programs executed by the machine. Grace Hopper was, however, part of the team of the first Mark I programmers.

Grace Hopper (1984). // Source : Wikimedia / CC / James S. Davis (cropped photo)

Esther Lederberg and bacterial genetics

This microbiology specialist was a pioneer in microbial genetics, a discipline combining microbiology (the study of microorganisms) and genetic engineering (the addition and removal of DNA in an organism). Microbial genetics is the study of the genes of microorganisms.

Esther Lederberg was born in 1922 and died in 2006. She discovered what is called the “lambda phage”, a virus that infects the bacterium E.coli in particular. The lambda phage is widely studied in biology and is used to allow DNA cloning. Esther Lederberg identified it in 1950. She collaborated regularly with her husband Joshua Ledeberg: it was he who obtained the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1958, rewarding this work on the way in which bacteria exchange genes without reproducing.

Esther Lederberg. // Source : Wikimedia/CC/Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg

Jocelyn Bell and the pulsar

In 1974, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to British astronomer Antony Hewish. Yet he was not the one who discovered the pulsar, an astronomical object that could be a spinning neutron star. Antony Hewish was Jocelyn Bell’s thesis supervisor: he contented himself with building the telescope necessary for these observations. It was the astrophysicist, born in 1943, who was the first to identify the pulsar.

In 2018, she finally received the Fundamental Physics Prize. She chose to use the $ 3 million which were offered to him to encourage underrepresented students in the field of physics.

Jocelyn Bell (2015). // Source : Wikimedia/CC/Conor McCabe Photography (photo recadrée)

Chien-Shiung Wu and nuclear physics

Chien-Shiung Wu, born in 1912 and died in 1997, was a specialist in nuclear physics. In 1956, she demonstrated through experience the “non-conservation of parity in weak interactions”, during her work on electromagnetic interactions. It is an important contribution to particle physics.

Two Chinese theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, had carried out theoretical work on this question. Both received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957. It was not until 1978 that Chien-Shiung Wu’s experimental discovery was rewarded with the Wolf Prize in Physics.

Chien-Shiung Wu in 1963. // Source: Wikimedia / CC / Smithsonian Institution (cropped photo)

Rosalind Franklin and the structure of DNA

The physical chemist Rosalind Franklin, born in 1920 and died in 1958, played an important role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, especially its double helix structure. Thanks to X-ray diffraction, she takes DNA pictures that make this discovery. She presented her results in 1951 to King’s College.

A certain James Dewey Watson attends this presentation. This geneticist and biochemist informs biologist Francis Crick of Rosalind Franklin’s discovery. Using the photos of the physical chemist, they publish what appears to be their discovery of the structure of DNA. In 1953, they published this work in the journal Nature. They won a Nobel Prize in 1962, not to mention the pioneering work of Rosalind Franklin.

Rosalind Franklin. // Source : Flickr / CC / retouch (photo retrieved)

Lise Meitner and nuclear fission

Nominated three times for a Nobel Prize, this Austrian physicist has never received the precious distinction. However, it was a collaboration between Elise Meitner and Otto Frisch, her nephew, which made it possible to provide the first theoretical explanation of the merger, in 1939.

The scientist, born in 1878 and died in 1968, has never received the same esteem from the committee awarding the distinction as that held by her colleagues. In 1944, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was given to Otto Hahn, a chemist wrongly considered to be the discoverer of nuclear fission.

Lise Meitner (1906). // Source : Wikimedia / CC (cropped photo)

Katherine Johnson and astronomical navigation

Katherine Johnson’s decisive action in NASA’s aeronautical and space programs was the subject of a film, Shadow Figures. Born in 1918, this physicist and mathematician has calculated many trajectories and worked on the launch windows of many missions. A true “human calculator”, it checked by hand the trajectories of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, which sent a man into orbit around the Earth.

In 1969, she calculated essential trajectories during the Apollo 11 mission. It was on this occasion that humans – men – landed for the first time on the Moon. In 2015, she was rewarded and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Katherine Johnson en 1966. // Source : Wikimedia / CC / Nasa (cropped photo)

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Article originally published on March 08, 2019 and updated on March 08, 2021

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