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  • 02/27/09--06:26: Lillian Ruth Kessler
  • In 1982, when she retired from the presidency of Kessler International Corporation, Lillian Kessler prepared a brochure listing the principal export items of the company she had founded in 1946. The list included abrasives, adhesives, locomotive parts, chemicals, navigational and meteorological instruments, tank and jeep bearings, crankshaft and camshaft grinders, and many other automotive parts. A pioneer in a “man’s business,” Kessler established the first American export business that catered exclusively to buying missions attached to foreign embassies in Washington, D.C. For many years, she was the only female member of the Overseas Automotive Club, a national trade organization.

    Lillian Ruth Kessler was born on March 15, 1908, in Cleveland, Ohio. She was the first of three children, followed by Beatrice and Edwin, born to Mary (Galen) and Julius Kessler. Julius, a manufacturer and wholesaler of men’s sport clothing, had emigrated from the Ukraine to New York at age fifteen to join his father and siblings. Mary Galen came to New York from Odessa with her parents at age four. Galen’s family moved to Philadelphia and then to Cleveland.

    A brilliant child, Lillian Kessler excelled academically, developing interests in history and politics. She became president of Glenville High School’s competition-winning debate team and was, for a time, its only female member. At age sixteen, she entered the University of Michigan. She transferred to Radcliffe College the following year, but completed her college degree at Western Reserve in 1929. She then became a junior high school history teacher in the Cleveland public school system.

    In 1930, she married Joseph Fuchs, the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. A daughter, Elinor Clare Fuchs, was born in 1933. As a young mother, Kessler returned to graduate school to study American history at Western Reserve, earning an M.A. and embarking on a Ph.D. Her mentor, Professor Robert C. Binkley, who was a consultant in the creation of the Works Projects Administration’s Historical Records Survey, recommended Kessler as a prototype developer for the Ohio State program. She accordingly left academic life for the workplace.

    Lillian Kessler and Joseph Fuchs separated in 1938, divorcing in 1940. In 1939, Kessler was appointed director of the Historical Records Survey for the state of Ohio. Around this time she also collaborated with Philip D. Jordan on an anthology of old American songs called Songs of Yesterday (1941).

    In 1943 she moved to Washington, D.C., accepting a position as Library of Congress archivist of the now-discontinued white-collar projects of the WPA. She left that position after only a few months to work as a technical analyst, studying postwar reconstruction for the Foreign Economic Administration, a federal agency. After the war, she briefly worked as a foreign markets consultant to various companies, including Sinclair Oil. During this period, she wrote the article “The Industrialization of China” for the anthology Towards World Prosperity (1947).

    In 1945, Lillian Kessler was well positioned to recognize a postwar opportunity. American automotive equipment covered the globe; the foreign governments that owned U.S.-built trucks, jeeps, and tanks would require spare parts to keep these vehicles serviced. By learning the secrets of “parts interchange” (for instance, that General Motors spark plugs might actually be made by another company), Kessler saw that she could supply foreign governments at prices below those offered by the automotive manufacturers. The business that she began in 1946, Kessler International Corporation, specialized in automotive parts, but eventually expanded to the sale of road- and dam-building equipment, electronic and communications components, and military support supplies.

    To represent her business, Kessler traveled widely in the 1960s and 1970s, making solo trips to India, Pakistan, Iran, South Korea, and Japan. Health problems forced her to seek a buyer for the business in the late 1970s. Kessler International has continued, in greatly expanded form, under new leadership.

    Kessler maintained an active family life with her daughter, her two grandchildren, Claire and Katherine Finkelstein, and the five children of her brother Edwin, a psychoanalyst, who established his practice in Washington, D.C., after the war. She became a collector of modern Latin American artwork, eventually donating twelve paintings by the Panamanian painter Dutary to the Art Museum of the Americas.

    Kessler’s maternal grandfather broke with Orthodox Jewish tradition, identifying with the socialist thinking then sweeping Jewish circles. Her parents joined Abba Hillel Silver’s Reform Jewish temple in Cleveland, where Lillian was confirmed at age fourteen. Later in life, she maintained a nominal attachment to the Reform Washington Hebrew Congregation. However, her Jewish identification was largely cultural, and evinced itself in her racially progressive views and liberal politics.

    After a long illness, Lillian Kessler died on September 18, 1993, in Washington, D.C.

    Entrepreneurs, Libraries, Teachers, International Relations, Judaism-Reform, Engineering, Non-Fiction

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  • 02/27/09--06:30: Olga Taussky-Todd
  • Olga Taussky-Todd called herself a “torchbearer for matrix theory.” Her subject originated in the mid-nineteenth century, remaining a province of mathematicians until physicists reinvented it in the 1920s to interpret quantum mechanics. Her work and passion helped shape matrix theory and draw other talented mathematicians to its development. A century after its inception, matrix theory joined calculus as an essential component of a scientist’s education.

    She was born on August 30, 1906, in Olümz, Austro-Hungary (later Olomouc, Czechoslovakia). She came from a well-to-do, cultivated Jewish family, the second of three daughters of Julius David and Ida (Pollach) Taussky. In 1909, the family settled in Linz, where her father worked as an industrial chemist and journalist. All three sisters pursued scientific careers. Olga entered the University of Vienna in 1925 to study mathematics and chemistry, but after a year left chemistry to study the philosophy of mathematics. It was the time of Moritz Schlick’s famous Vienna Circle, which attracted philosophers and scientists from around the world. Kurt Gödel, whose work at age twenty-five shook the foundations of mathematics, became her mentor and friend.

    When Olga finished her dissertation on algebraic number theory in 1930 with Philip Fürtwangler, Richard Courant brought her to the world renowned Göttingen Mathematics Institute for a one-year appointment to edit Hilbert’s manuscript on number theory. There she met Emmy Noether, the preeminent woman mathematician of the century, and Princeton geometer Oswald Veblen. Courant, who in 1932 cautioned Olga about the volatile political situation in Germany, left Göttingen two years later for New York University, where he was to found a major mathematics institute. When Noether found refuge at Bryn Mawr, she and Veblen arranged a fellowship for Olga during 1934 and 1935.

    Two lonely but productive years in Vienna followed, during which she supported herself by tutoring and an assistant’s stipend from Hans Hahn and Karl Menger. She spent the next two years at Girton College, Cambridge, England, and then, with mathematician G.H. Hardy’s help, she found a junior post at a women’s college in London University. In 1938, she married the Irish mathematician John Todd.

    During World War II, Taussky-Todd worked on aircraft design at the National Physical Laboratory near London. This work turned her away from her first love, number theory, to her second, matrix theory.

    In 1947, her husband received a year’s appointment at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington. The matrix theorists assembled there and stirrings of the embryonic computer revolution made the offer appealing. Both were hired, traveling to America on a Liberty ship with a hundred war brides. They remained until 1957, when they were lured to the California Institute of Technology, Todd to be a professor of mathematics, and Taussky-Todd to be a research associate. She received tenure in 1963, but had to wait until 1971 for a professorial appointment, well after she had become internationally known. She published two hundred papers in her lifetime, most during her fertile thirty-eight years at Cal Tech, where she guided fourteen doctoral students.

    Among her many honors and awards were the Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year (1963) and the Mathematical Association of America’s Ford Prize (1970). She served on the councils of both the London and the American Mathematical Societies, and was vice president of the latter in 1986–1987. Both the journals Linear Algebra and its Applications and Linear and Multilinear Algebra published issues dedicated to her.

    Taussky-Todd was visiting professor at the University of Vienna in 1965, accepted the Austrian government’s Cross of Honor in Science and Art in 1980, and later became a corresponding member of the Austrian and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Historians and others puzzle over the warm feelings some Austrian Jews, Taussky-Todd among them, retained for their country of origin in the face of Austria’s long tradition of virulent antisemitism. Her writings ascribe her career difficulties to academe’s prejudice against women, not to antisemitism. Though of Jewish birth, she identified herself with an international intellectual community, not a specifically Jewish one.

    Olga Taussky-Todd died on October 7, 1995, in Pasadena, California, survived by her husband of fifty-seven years.

    SELECTED WORKS BY OLGA TAUSSKY-TODD

    “An Autobiographical Essay.” In Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews, edited by Donald J. Albers and G.L. Alexanderson (1985); “How I Became a Torchbearer for Matrix Theory.” American Mathematics Monthly 95 (1988): 801–812.

    Bibliography

    Berkley, George. Vienna and Its Jews (1988); Brewer, James W., and Martha K. Smith. Emmy Noether (1981); Davis, Chandler. “Remembering Olga Taussky-Todd.” The Mathematical Intelligencer 19, no. 1 (1997): 15–21; Grinstein, Louise S., and Paul J. Campbell. Women of Mathematics (1987); Luchins, Edith H., and Mary Ann McLoughlin. “In Memoriam: Olga Taussky-Todd.” Notices of the American Mathematical Society 43, no. 8 (1996); Reid, Constance. Courant in Gottingen and New York (1976); Schneider, Hans. “On Olga Taussky-Todd’s Influence on Matrix Theory and Matrix Theorists.” Linear and Multilinear Algebra 5 (1977/8): 197–224.

    Teachers, World War II, Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Journalism

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  • 03/20/09--08:01: Judith Resnik
  • One of the seven crew members who died in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, Judith (“J.R.”) Resnik was a pioneer for women entering NASA’s space program, and the second American woman astronaut to travel in space.

    A talented scientist and a private individual, Resnik gave her deepest loyalties to her father, her career, and her close friends. Although she avoided publicity whenever possible, she was fun-loving and spirited; her romantic crush on actor Tom Selleck was often a source of good-natured teasing among her coworkers.

    Born Judith Arlene Resnik on April 5, 1949, in Akron, Ohio, to first-generation Jewish Russian parents, Judith was a bright, curious child who, by kindergarten, could both read and solve simple math problems. Her father, Marvin, was an optometrist and a part-time cantor when he married Sarah Polensky, a former legal secretary from Cleveland Heights. After Judith was born, the Resniks had a son, Charles.

    The Resniks were an upper middle-class Jewish family devoted to their religion and to all learning. Gifted in math and science, Resnik excelled in academics from a young age. She also attended Hebrew school and, by her teenage years, was an accomplished classical pianist. Teachers and friends described her as extremely bright, disciplined, perfectionistic, and personable.

    With a score of 800 on her math SAT tests, Resnik was accepted to Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon) in Pittsburgh, where she majored in electrical engineering. After graduating in 1970, she married Michael Oldak, a fellow engineering student. The couple moved to New Jersey, where Resnik was employed in the missile and surface radar division of RCA. In 1971, they moved to Washington, D.C. Resnik received her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Maryland, and began work on her Ph.D. while employed as a biomedical engineer in the neurophysics lab at the National Institutes of Health. She and Oldak divorced in 1975.

    In 1977, while she was finishing work on her doctorate, NASA began recruiting minorities and women to the space program. Though Resnik had never shown particular interest in the space program, she decided to apply. After receiving academic honors for her doctoral work in electrical engineering, she accepted a job with Xerox. She moved to Redondo Beach near Los Angeles, where she continued to train for the NASA tryouts. In 1978, at age twenty-nine, Resnik was one of six women accepted into the program.

    She would be the second American woman to fly in space (after Sally Ride in 1983), and the fourth woman worldwide. During her first six years at NASA, she specialized in the operation of a remote-control mechanical arm that moved objects located outside the spacecraft. In 1984, on her first space flight on the shuttle Discovery, Resnik was responsible for unfurling a 102-foot-long solar sail, which, on future missions, would be used to capture the sun’s energy.

    NASA’s Challenger, Flight 51-L, was Resnik’s second space launch. She was to have assisted in photographing Halley’s comet. Famous for its civilian crew member, teacher Christa McAuliffe, the mission endured three delays before taking off at 11:38 a.m. on January 28, 1986. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the space shuttle exploded in midair due to hydrogen leakage caused by faulty O-ring seals. Along with her six crew members, Resnik died in one of the worst space disasters in history.

    Resnik, Judith - still image [media]
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    The first Jew and second woman to travel to space, Judith Resnik lost her life in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, in which six other astronauts were killed.

    Institution: NASA

    Bibliography

    Bernstein, Joanne E., and Rose Blue with Alan Jay Gerber. Judith Resnik, Challenger Astronaut (1990); “For Women Only: Resnik Scholarship.” Flying (January 1991); Hauck, Richard. Telephone interview by author, June 27, 1996; Sherr, Lynn. “Remember Judy.” Ms. (June 1986); Spencer, Scott, and Chris Spolar. “The Epic Flight of Judith Resnik: An Investigative Obituary.” Esquire (December 1986).

    Science, Engineering

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    Women in Engineering
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    Photo credit: Deutsche Fotothek, 1979.

    I got my copy of Ms. Magazine yesterday and in it, and was excited to see an article called “Girls Love Robots, Too,” about a group of girls in San Diego who started their own robotics team and have won honors in national robotics competitions. It talks about how it’s a big thing for girls to have their own team, since men outnumber women in engineering 73 to 27, and emphasizes that the girls are defying the stereotype that only boys like science and math. The story makes engineering look fun: it features photos of smiling girls with a trophy and lab goggle, and discusses how the girls have designed a trash-collecting robot to clean oil from water.

    The story struck home with me because tomorrow is the last day of my six-week engineering internship. Out of the eight people in my lab, two (including me) are women. Out of the twenty or thirty high school kids in the internship program, approximately five are women. The gender imbalance has been noticeable from day one, and no matter how many times I have tried to tell myself that it doesn’t bother me, many times it has—not because I’m not used to boys (some of my best friends are male), but because on many occasions I found myself thinking, Dina, what are you doing here?

    A lot of that is because no matter what my mother tells me about being smarter than all the boys, society often tells me the opposite. Not directly—there are tons of initiatives right now aimed at getting girls into science—but quietly. From the way that video and computer games and the programming and technical skills that come with them are marketed at boys, to the way that sons are often taught about cars instead of daughters, to the way that when I tell people I want to go into science they automatically assume I want to be a doctor, not an engineer, somehow the feeling has cultivated inside me (and not just me—I’ve had this conversation with a good female friend of mine that also wants to become an engineer) that engineers are supposed to be boys.

    I hate that feeling more than anything. I want to be an engineer, and I know that I will be an engineer if I continue to want to—but I know that doing so will be very different for me than for my male peers. A very large part of that is because for most of my life I thought I wanted to be a doctor, or a veterinarian, or some kind of vague profession involving comparative literature, and so now I am in a continuous phase of catching-up in terms of knowledge of science and programming—something that has to do with who I am, not with my gender. But another part is caused by the fact that for my entire childhood no one (besides my mother, of course) even mentioned to me that engineering would be a cool, fun profession for a girl to go into. Until this year, when I had an amazing chemistry teacher who pushed me to explore how much I could do with my love of science, I thought that engineers were in charge of construction sites. Really.

    I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to have this internship, but it’s been hard. After the first week I started to hate myself for knowing nothing about programming and being behind everyone else (read: the boys) in literally every form of useful scientific knowledge. But six weeks have gone by, and I’ve learned, and learned how to learn. Although some of the guys my age in the lab started out skeptical, to say the least, about my brainpower and actual capacity to achieve anything, they grew to accept me, help me, and appreciate what I was able to achieve, kind of. However, I can think of multiple occasions when I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was a complete outsider among all of the people my age in the program, hating the way that the boys naturally talked to me differently about the work they were doing because I’m a girl. Not everyone was like that—I met a bunch of guys who treated me like a person, period—but there were a lot. Whenever that happened, I tried to reassure myself that there are amazing women in science today, but struggled, even though my boss (the other woman in my lab), is an incredibly smart and intelligent woman. Because the statistics are grim and most of the women I read about in the newspaper do work in bioengineering and medicine, sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that going into more technical engineering will be a good fit for me as a woman. In a way, the struggle has made me more motivated to prove to myself that I can be a successful woman engineer, and I’m glad for that, kind of. However, I’d much prefer to think of my likely choice of career as a natural one and not have to prove anything to myself.

    We need women in science, including engineering, and women need to be in science, including engineering—it’s necessary for society and for womankind. But in order for that to happen, we need to push women towards science, not just by having scholarships for women engineers (although those are great, especially right now when I’m applying to college), but by pushing girls into science, especially technical science, from a young age. Society needs to help make it cool for girls to get programming experience and lab experience so that girls will feel that it is normal to confidently tell people that they are girls who think that engineering will be an amazing way to spend their lives—something that I’m struggling with today, and that girls will continue to struggle with until we do something to change it.

    Education, Science, Engineering, TechnologyGender Stereotypes

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    Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali
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    MIT Professors Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali, winners of the 2013 ACM Alan M. Turing Award. Photo by Jason Dorfman, CSAIL/MIT. Permission from MIT News Office.
    June 15, 2013

    Professor Shafi Goldwasser first met her MIT colleague Prof. Silvio Micali when they were graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley in 1980.  They shared a mentor and thesis advisor, Prof. Manuel Blum, and they also shared a passionate interest in cryptology, the science of codes.  One of their projects involved finding a way to play a game of poker securely over the phone.  From this, the two devised a method for encrypting and ensuring the security of single bits of data.  This original research led to award-winning careers for the pair.

    On June 15, 2013, the two professors were awarded “the Nobel Prize in computing,” the Alan M. Turing Award presented by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  Named for the British mathematician who defined the mathematical foundation of computing and helped break the German Enigma code during World War II, the ACM is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

    Goldwasser and Micali created new mechanisms for how information is encrypted and secured, work that is fundamental to today’s communications protocols, Internet transactions, and cloud computing.  The ACM credited them with “revolutionizing the science of cryptology” and with developing the gold standard for enabling secure Internet transactions.

    Born in New York in 1958, Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  She leads the Theory of Computation Group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

    “Our work was very unconventional at the time,” Goldwasser said.  “We were graduate students and let our imagination run free, from using randomized methods to encrypt single bits to enlarging the classical definition of a proof to allow a small error to setting new goals for security.  Winning the award is further testimony to the fact that the cryptographic and complexity theoretic community embraced these ideas in the last 30 years.”

    Among other Turing Award winners are the professors’ Berkeley mentor Manuel Blum and their MIT colleague Barbara Liskov.

    More details about the work of Profs. Goldwasser and Micali are given in this article from MIT.

    In this video from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Prof. Goldwasser comments on a scene from “Breaking the Code,” a play about Alan Turing by Hugh Whitemore, presented on March 15, 2011, two years before winning the award named for him.

    Sources:  “Shafi Goldwasser;”“MIT Researchers’ Innovations Became Gold Standard for Enabling Secure Internet Transactions,” ACM; “Alan Turing,” BBC; “Goldwasser and Micali win Turing Award,” MIT News.


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    Judith Resnik in space
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    View of Mission Specialist Judith Resnik sitting on the floor of the middeck on September 8, 1984. Beside her on a notebook is a note which says "Hi Dad". Above her head on the middeck lockers are various stickers such as "Beat Army", "Beat Navy" and "Air Force: a great way of life". Beside her is a [sticker] which reads "I love Tom Selleck."

    August 30, 1984

    The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Judith Resnik grew up in Akron, Ohio.  Attending Firestone High School, she was the only female student at the school to achieve a perfect score on her SAT examinations.  Excelling in mathematics from an early age, she went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, receiving a BS in electrical engineering in 1970 and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977.

    While working on her graduate degree, she was employed by RCA in Moorestown, New Jersey and Springfield, Virginia.  Her design engineer work with RCA included designing custom integrated circuitry for radar control systems, project management of control system equipment, and her first work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), support for the sounding rocket and telemetry systems programs. 

    She joined the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland as a biomedical engineer and staff fellow, where she performed biological research on the physiology of visual systems.  But it was an encounter with the actress Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, a NASA recruiter, and an advocate for women and minorities in the scientific fields) that encouraged Resnik to apply to become a NASA astronaut.  Of the 8,000 applicants, NASA accepted just 35, six of them women, including Resnik.

    Excelling in her year-long training, Resnik began her work on the Remote Manipulator System (RMS), operating the huge arm of orbiter spacecraft.  It was this work that made her a prime candidate for the crew of the maiden flight of the orbiter Discovery.  For seven days, Resnik operated experiments in crystal growth and photography suing the IMAX motion picture camera.  She also displayed her acrobatic skills in weightlessness for viewers of the Discovery’s video transmissions, and held up a sign that said, “Hi Dad.”  But it was Resnik’s skill in manipulating the RMS system to remove dangerous ice crystals from the orbiter that earned the crew the nickname “Icebusters.”  By the end of the flight, Resnik had logged nearly 145 hours in space.

    Killed in the explosion of the orbiter Challenger on January 28, 1986, Resnik was given many posthumous honors, including the IEEE Judith A. Resnik Award, established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and awarded to an individual or team in recognition of outstanding contributions to space engineering.

    In a speech at the Akron Roundtable in 1984, Resnik advised students to “Study what interests you.  Do all you can and don’t be afraid to expand into new fields.”

    Sources:  “Judith A Resnik,” NASA; “Judith Resnik,” Akron Women’s History.


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  • 03/17/14--11:19: Living by Their Own Codes
  • Irene Greif
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    Image courtesy of Irene Greif
    Radia Perlman
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    Radia Perlman, 2009

    Women who make history rarely feel the need to adhere to others' narratives—and that goes double for Jewish women.  So it's not surprising that when Radia Perlman, architect of many of the routing and bridging protocols that make the modern Internet possible, discusses her childhood, she casually disposes of the standard geek-culture heroic origin story: "I did not fit the stereotype of the 'engineer.' I never took things apart or built a computer out of spare parts."  Irene Greif, a fellow computer scientist who brought ethnographers, anthropologists and sociologists into systems design through her field of computer-supported cooperative work, cheerfully admits: "I have a whole history of always choosing marginal roles and in marginal subjects of research and so on for myself."  Her work, though, has turned out to be anything but marginal. 

    Greif and Perlman followed very different career paths—Greif was the first woman to earn a PhD in computer science from MIT and spent ten years doing research there, while Perlman, frustrated with MIT's lack of support for graduate students, left in the middle of her PhD to take the jobs that would lead to some of her most important inventions.  (She later returned to complete her degree.)  And they take different approaches to women's involvement in computer science: "The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn't skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking . . . Pretty much nothing is purely gender-related," says Perlman, while Greif describes herself as "fanatical about making sure women are visible at by-invitation conferences and panel sessions."  But what they do share is a commitment to opening the field not just to women but to a wider conception of who a computer scientist is and what computer science is.  Greif's life’s work has been "getting a set of people together across disciplines who would look at social systems and computer systems at the same time." Perlman emphasizes that individual variation matters more than gender averages, but even if "a higher percentage of boys than girls dive right in and take things apart when they are young . . . that's not the only type of person that makes a good engineer."

    As they recount in interviews for the Atlantic's Women's History Month "Mothers of Invention" series, Greif and Perlman rose through the most traditional avenues of the computing world—MIT, Intel, IBM—by meeting, then exceeding, every standard those institutions set.  Indeed, women have been present in computer science as long as it has existed. "Obviously it was possible to have a job in the industry long ago," Perlman points out, "like my mother did in the 1950s."  But in the future Greif, Perlman and others like them have made possible, women will help define the new standards of the field.  That's women's history.

    Read the full interviews:

    The First Woman to Get a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT

    Radia Perlman: Don't Call Me the Mother of the Internet

    Engineering, Inventors, TechnologyComputer Programming

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  • 05/21/14--12:13: Judith Resnik
  • The second female American astronaut to travel into space, Judith Resnik is remembered for her death in the tragic Challenger explosion. Resnik studied electrical engineering at Carnegie Tech (now called Carnegie-Mellon) before working in the missile and surface radar division of RCA. In 1971, she moved to Washington, DC, where she earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Maryland while working as a biomedical engineer in the neurophysics lab of the National Institutes of Health. In 1977, NASA began recruiting women and minorities to work in the space program and Resnik decided to apply, becoming one of six women accepted to the program. Resnick began as a specialist in operating the remote control mechanical arm that moved objects outside the spacecraft. In 1984, on her first space flight with the shuttle Discovery, she operated the 102-foot-long solar sail that was intended to capture the sun’s energy. The Challenger mission was to have been her second space launch, but 73 seconds into the flight, the shuttle exploded, killing the entire crew in one of the worst tragedies in NASA’s history.

    Resnik, Judith - still image [media]
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    The first Jew and second woman to travel to space, Judith Resnik lost her life in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, in which six other astronauts were killed.

    Institution: NASA

    Place of Birth
    Akron, Ohio
    Occupations
    Date of Birth
    April 5, 1949
    Date of Death
    January 28, 1986
    Engineering, Technology

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    Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness 1943
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    Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness and the Bellboy, 1943.  Photo in the public domain.

    August 11, 1942

    On this date in 1942, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr (called “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood”) received a patent with composer George Antheil for a “frequency hopping, spread-spectrum communication system” designed to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect or jam.  Lamarr and Antheil made an interesting pair of collaborators.  She was an Austrian-born beauty and American film star who practiced electrical engineering when off the movie lot; he was an avant-garde composer, notably of Ballet Mécanique, a score that included synchronized player pianos.  The two devised a method whereby a controlling radio and its receiver would jump from one frequency to another, like simultaneous player pianos, so that the radio waves could not be blocked.

    The two submitted their patent to the US Navy, which officially opined that Lamarr could do more for the war effort by selling kisses to support war bonds.  On one occasion, she raised $7 million.  She and Antheil donated their patent to the US Navy and never realized any money from their invention, which would eventually become the basis for wireless phones, Global Positioning Systems, and WiFi, among other cutting-edge technologies.

    Her son Anthony Loder recalls, "She was such a creative person, I mean, nonstop solution-finding.  If you talked about a problem, she had a solution."

    Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna on November 9, 1914.  A student of German theatre director Max Reinhardt, she began her film career in Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1930.  A brief nude appearance by the actress in the film Ecstasy brought her notoriety and fame before she fled Germany in 1937 as the Nazis rose to power.  She travelled to America on the same boat that carried Hollywood studio head Louis B. Mayer; by the end of the voyage, Lamarr had a movie contract with MGM paying $600 a week, contingent on her learning English.  Her film career included Algiers, White Cargo, and the lead in Samson and Delilah.

    In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her its prestigious Pioneer Award, three years before her death in Orlando, Florida on January 19, 2000 at age 86.

    Watch the Sunday Morning profile of Hedy Lamarr on screen and as an inventor.

    Sources: “August 11: Hedy Lamarr, Inventor,”Jewish Currents; “Hedy Lamarr: Movie star, inventor of WiFi,”CBS Sunday Morning.


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  • 03/18/15--08:18: Hertha Ayrton
  • The first woman proposed for membership in the Royal Society, Hertha Ayrton created inventions from tools architects used for enlarging and reducing drawings to fans that could clear poison gas from mine shafts. Ayrton began working as a governess at age sixteen, but attended Girton College at Cambridge, where she founded both a mathematics club and a fire brigade. Since Cambridge wouldn’t give women degrees, Ayrton took exams at the University of London in 1881. After graduating, she earned money by embroidering, teaching math, and creating math problems for the Educational Times. In 1884 she applied for the first of her 26 patents, part of a lifelong struggle to ensure she and other female scientists like Marie Curie received credit for their work. In 1885 she published a paper solving the flickering of electric lights, a discovery that led to her becoming the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1899. She ran the physical sciences section of the 1899 International Congress of Women. In 1906 she won the Hughes medal for her work on sand and water ripples, and later used these discoveries about currents and motion to create fans that could combat mustard gas and other chemical agents in WWI. 

    Ayrton, Hertha - still image [media]
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    In this photo from a 1926 biography of Hertha Ayrton, captioned "Mrs. Ayrton in her laboratory," the British scientist and inventor stands in the "lab" in her own home where she conducted all her experiments. Ayrton was the first woman to be proposed for fellowship of the British Royal Society, but her candidacy was denied on the grounds that as a married woman she had no legal existence in British law.

    Institution: Hertha Ayrton 1854–1923: A Memoir, by Evelyn Sharp (London: 1926)

    Place of Birth
    Portsmouth
    Date of Birth
    April 28, 1854
    Date of Death
    August 23, 1923
    Engineering, Inventors, Mathematics, Physics

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  • 11/18/15--13:17: Shafi Goldwasser
  • 600px-shafi_goldwasser.jpg
    Rights
    Creative Commons (attribution non-commercial share alike)
    Institution
    Weizmann Institute

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  • 11/18/15--13:19: Safra Catz, 2010
  • 400px-safra_catz.jpg
    Rights
    Creative Commons (attribution non-commercial share alike)
    Date / time
    2010

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  • 11/19/15--11:38: Radia Perlman
  • A software designer and network engineer, Radia Perlman earned a place in internet history for creating the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) which governs how information is sent between servers. Perlman earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD from MIT while doing research for course credits through the university’s artificial intelligence laboratory. There, in 1976, she created TORTIS, a child-friendly version of the LOGO programming language, which children as young as three could use to control a robot. She wrote the algorithm for STP in less than a week, capping her work by writing a playful poem to describe her invention. Over the course of her career, working at Novell, Digital, Sun, Intel, and EMC, she continued to fine-tune and eventually replace STP with improved systems that would allow larger networks of computers to communicate more smoothly. She holds over 100 patents, and as of 2015 has written two books: Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols and Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World.

    Radia Perlman, 2009
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    Radia Perlman, software designer and network engineer, 2009.
    Place of Birth
    Portsmouth, Virginia
    Occupations
    Date of Birth
    January 1, 1951
    Engineering, Non-Fiction

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  • 11/19/15--11:43: Shafi Goldwasser
  • Shafi Goldwasser was honored with the Turing Award, the highest honor in computer science, for her work in revolutionizing the field of cryptography. Raised in Israel, Shafira Goldwasser graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1979 with a BS in math and science from before going on to earn an MS in 1981 and PhD in 1984 in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1982 she coauthored a paper with MIT professor Silvio Micali, “Probabilistic Encryption,” widely credited with turning encryption from an art to a science and allowing better data security in the internet age. The pair followed this with another game-changing paper in 1985 on zero-knowledge interactive proofs, which make it possible to prove a statement or concept without revealing any new information. (This system was the basis for security questions allowing internet users to retrieve lost passwords.) For their efforts, the pair was honored with the Turing Award in 2012. Goldwasser began teaching at MIT in 1983 and at the Weizmann Institute in 1993; as of 2015 she still teaches at both institutions.

    Shafi Goldwasser
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    Computer scientist Shafi Goldwasser.
    Courtesy of the Weizmann Institute via Wikimedia Commons.
    Place of Birth
    New York, New York
    Engineering, Mathematics

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  • 11/19/15--11:49: Safra Catz
  • As president and then CEO of Oracle, one of the world’s largest software companies, Safra Catz has helped shape the present and future of the computer world. Catz graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 before earning a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. She began working as a banker for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in 1986 and served as their senior vice president from 1994–1997 and then as managing director from 1997–1999. She joined the Oracle Corporation in 1999, joined the board of directors in 2001, became president in 2004, CFO in 2005, and co-CEO in 2011. During her tenure, Oracle has overtaken several rival companies and become a significant force in cloud-based computing. Since 2008, Catz has also served on the board of HSBC Group, one of the largest banking institutions in the world. Regularly ranked by Forbes and Fortune as one of the most powerful women in business, she was named the highest-paid woman in a Fortune 1000 company in 2011 by Fortune.

    Safra Catz, 2010
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    Safra Catz, president of Oracle, in 2010.
    Courtesy of Ilan Costica via Wikimedia Commons
    Place of Birth
    Holon
    Date of Birth
    December 1, 1961
    Entrepreneurs, Engineering

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  • 12/14/15--14:04: Janet Lieberman
  • With her mastery of 3D printing, Janet Lieberman helped create the first successful hands-free couples’ vibrator in 2014. Lieberman earned a BS from MIT in mechanical engineering in 2007 and immediately went to work designing 3D printers for Z Corporation, MindsInSync, and industry leader Makerbot, where she was the lead engineer for the award-winning Mini Compact Desktop 3D Printer. When she created Dame Industries with Alexandra Fine in 2014, Lieberman used her knowledge of 3D printers to tinker with the design and production of prototypes for Eva, a hands-free vibrator that could be recharged via USB and that incorporated feedback from couples who tested the product. Fine and Lieberman launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund mass production and quickly blasted past their $50,000 goal in five days, eventually earning over $800,000 from their initial campaign, along with accolades from Bustle, Daily Dot, and Forbes, among many others. Lieberman continues to fine-tune Eva’s design and work on ways to speed production of the popular toy.

    Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman
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    Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman
    Date of Birth
    July 17, 1985
    Entrepreneurs, Engineering, Inventors

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  • 03/17/14--11:19: Living by Their Own Codes
  • Irene Greif
    Full image
    Irene Greif.
    Courtesy of Irene Greif.
    Radia Perlman, 2009
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    Radia Perlman, software designer and network engineer, 2009.

    Women who make history rarely feel the need to adhere to others' narratives—and that goes double for Jewish women.  So it's not surprising that when Radia Perlman, architect of many of the routing and bridging protocols that make the modern Internet possible, discusses her childhood, she casually disposes of the standard geek-culture heroic origin story: "I did not fit the stereotype of the 'engineer.' I never took things apart or built a computer out of spare parts."  Irene Greif, a fellow computer scientist who brought ethnographers, anthropologists and sociologists into systems design through her field of computer-supported cooperative work, cheerfully admits: "I have a whole history of always choosing marginal roles and in marginal subjects of research and so on for myself."  Her work, though, has turned out to be anything but marginal. 

    Greif and Perlman followed very different career paths—Greif was the first woman to earn a PhD in computer science from MIT and spent ten years doing research there, while Perlman, frustrated with MIT's lack of support for graduate students, left in the middle of her PhD to take the jobs that would lead to some of her most important inventions.  (She later returned to complete her degree.)  And they take different approaches to women's involvement in computer science: "The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn't skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking . . . Pretty much nothing is purely gender-related," says Perlman, while Greif describes herself as "fanatical about making sure women are visible at by-invitation conferences and panel sessions."  But what they do share is a commitment to opening the field not just to women but to a wider conception of who a computer scientist is and what computer science is.  Greif's life’s work has been "getting a set of people together across disciplines who would look at social systems and computer systems at the same time." Perlman emphasizes that individual variation matters more than gender averages, but even if "a higher percentage of boys than girls dive right in and take things apart when they are young . . . that's not the only type of person that makes a good engineer."

    As they recount in interviews for the Atlantic's Women's History Month "Mothers of Invention" series, Greif and Perlman rose through the most traditional avenues of the computing world—MIT, Intel, IBM—by meeting, then exceeding, every standard those institutions set.  Indeed, women have been present in computer science as long as it has existed. "Obviously it was possible to have a job in the industry long ago," Perlman points out, "like my mother did in the 1950s."  But in the future Greif, Perlman and others like them have made possible, women will help define the new standards of the field.  That's women's history.

    Read the full interviews:

    The First Woman to Get a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT

    Radia Perlman: Don't Call Me the Mother of the Internet

    Engineering, Inventors, TechnologyComputer Programming

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  • 05/21/14--12:13: Judith Resnik
  • The second female American astronaut to travel into space, Judith Resnik is remembered for her death in the tragic Challenger explosion. Resnik studied electrical engineering at Carnegie Tech (now called Carnegie-Mellon) before working in the missile and surface radar division of RCA. In 1971, she moved to Washington, DC, where she earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Maryland while working as a biomedical engineer in the neurophysics lab of the National Institutes of Health. In 1977, NASA began recruiting women and minorities to work in the space program and Resnik decided to apply, becoming one of six women accepted to the program. Resnick began as a specialist in operating the remote control mechanical arm that moved objects outside the spacecraft. In 1984, on her first space flight with the shuttle Discovery, she operated the 102-foot-long solar sail that was intended to capture the sun’s energy. The Challenger mission was to have been her second space launch, but 73 seconds into the flight, the shuttle exploded, killing the entire crew in one of the worst tragedies in NASA’s history.

    Judith Resnik
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    The first Jew and second woman to travel to space, Judith Resnik lost her life in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, in which six other astronauts were killed.

    Institution: NASA

    Place of Birth
    Akron, Ohio
    Occupations
    Date of Birth
    April 5, 1949
    Date of Death
    January 28, 1986
    Engineering, Technology

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  • 03/18/15--08:18: Hertha Ayrton
  • The first woman proposed for membership in the Royal Society, Hertha Ayrton created inventions from tools architects used for enlarging and reducing drawings to fans that could clear poison gas from mine shafts. Ayrton began working as a governess at age sixteen, but attended Girton College at Cambridge, where she founded both a mathematics club and a fire brigade. Since Cambridge wouldn’t give women degrees, Ayrton took exams at the University of London in 1881. After graduating, she earned money by embroidering, teaching math, and creating math problems for the Educational Times. In 1884 she applied for the first of her 26 patents, part of a lifelong struggle to ensure she and other female scientists like Marie Curie received credit for their work. In 1885 she published a paper solving the flickering of electric lights, a discovery that led to her becoming the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1899. She ran the physical sciences section of the 1899 International Congress of Women. In 1906 she won the Hughes medal for her work on sand and water ripples, and later used these discoveries about currents and motion to create fans that could combat mustard gas and other chemical agents in WWI. 

    Hertha Ayrton, 1926
    Full image

    In this photo from a 1926 biography of Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923), captioned "Mrs. Ayrton in her laboratory," the British scientist and inventor stands in the "lab" in her own home where she conducted all her experiments. Ayrton was the first woman to be proposed for fellowship of the British Royal Society, but her candidacy was denied on the grounds that as a married woman she had no legal existence in British law.

    Institution: Hertha Ayrton 1854–1923: A Memoir, by Evelyn Sharp (London: 1926)

    Place of Birth
    Portsmouth
    Date of Birth
    April 28, 1854
    Date of Death
    August 23, 1923
    Engineering, Inventors, Mathematics, Physics

    0 0
  • 11/18/15--13:17: Shafi Goldwasser
  • 600px-shafi_goldwasser.jpg
    Rights
    Creative Commons (attribution non-commercial share alike)
    Institution
    Weizmann Institute

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