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March 8 is International Women's Day

March 9, 2021

The 2021 theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”. For centuries, women have been challenging the stereotype that the STEM fields are not ones they should pursue. This blog posts highlights women who have made contributions to STEM and beyond.

Hedy Lamarr: At the Forefront of Telecommunications

Classic movie fans may recognize the name Hedy Lamarr from movies such as Samson and Delilah and Dishonored Lady, but Lamarr is behind the technology that seamlessly connects us day after day.

Lamarr is responsible for inventing the technology that eventually lead to WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

According to the National Women’s History Museum, in 1940 Lamarr and George Antheil, “came up with an extraordinary new communication system used with the intention of guiding torpedoes to their targets in war.”

The system involved “frequency hopping,” which prevented the interception of radio waves. This meant systems like torpedo targeting could not be interrupted by enemy forces. While Lamarr and Antheil sought a patent for the invention, it wasn’t implemented at the time.

It wasn’t until many years later that Lamarr’s contribution to this important piece of telecommunications was acknowledged. In 1997, Lamarr and Antheil were jointly awarded the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and in 2014, 14 years after her death, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Ada Lovelace: Earliest Computer Programmer

The daughter of poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace’s skills were mathematical in nature, with her contributions leading her to be considered the first computer programmer.

Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage, through whom she was exposed to the difference engine and the analytic engine. In translating an article on Babbage’s analytic engine, Lovelace wrote notes that were three times longer than the original piece, and were published in a science journal in 1843.

“In her notes, Lovelace described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers,” says “She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today.”

Like Lamarr, Lovelace’s contributions were not fully realized until far beyond her life. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Lovelace’s impact on computer science were brought to light.

Sally Ride: First U.S. Woman in Space

Sally Ride was the first American woman, and third woman globally, to travel to space. Ride studied physics and responded to an ad for female astronauts in the late 1970s.

On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space on the space shuttle, where she operated the robotic arm. Ride traveled again to space in 1984, and worked on researching the Challenger accident in 1986. She remained with NASA until 1987, when she left to teach at the University of California at San Diego.

Encouraging young women’s interest in the sciences was important to Ride. In addition to writing children’s books, Ride founded first Imaginary Lines and later Sally Ride Science, organizations supporting interest in math, science, and technology to help narrow the gender gap in these fields.

Read more about the contributions of women in STEM.

Capitol Tech encourages women to pursue their love of STEM and counts the Society of Women Engineers among their clubs and organizations.