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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
    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
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    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
    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
    Creative Commons (attribution non-commercial share alike)
    Weizmann Institute

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

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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
    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
    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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    Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness 1945
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    Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness and the Bellboy, 1945. 

    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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    2016-2017 Rising Voices Fellow Maya Jodidio Pipetting DNA into a Gel
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    2016-2017 Rising Voices Fellow Maya Jodidio pipetting DNA into a gel.

    To Girls Taking Their First STEM Classes,

    If you’re a female-identifying teen and you attend high school, chances are good that you take, or will take, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) class. Physics, biology, and chemistry are the usual suspects. We’re writing to share some collective wisdom with you from our own high-school experience.

    Allow us to introduce ourselves: we are two high-school graduates heading off to college, named Caroline and Maya. Between the two of us, we’ve taken thirteen STEM courses throughout high school, led science-focused clubs, and conducted research, all of which has been challenging, interesting, and fulfilling to us. I (Caroline) didn’t consider myself a “science person” until relatively late in high school when, thanks to a few incredible science educators, I found myself one of two girls in an AP Chemistry class, and the only girl in AP Physics the next year. As someone who enjoys being a little contrarian, and on the (many) occasions when I felt singled out because of my gender, I enjoyed the opportunity for intellectual retaliation — not to mention my “team uterus” lab group in AP Chem! I (Maya) had the privilege of conducting molecular biology research through a school club for three years and spent the summer after junior year preparing to help run the club at an intensive research institute.

    In these STEM classes, we’ve learned invaluable lessons about thinking logically and problem solving––and we want you to, too. Unfortunately, far fewer female-identified high school students are likely to go to the advanced level in STEM subjects than their male counterparts.

    This is certainly not to say that women haven’t made their mark in the sciences. From Rosalind Franklin, Hedy Lamarr, Judith Resnik, and Martine Rothblatt, Jewish women in particular have a long history of accomplishments in the lab or on the workbench. They have created often unheralded revolutions with their brains, determination, and perseverance.

    This work comes with a unique set of challenges for women. Here are some statistics for you: 22% of high school girls take advanced math and science classes in comparison to 18% of high school boys, but women make up only 29% of the engineering and science workforce. And, despite women making up more than half of the undergraduate population at universities, less than 20% of computer science and engineering majors are women, and only about 40% of physical science and math majors are women.

    This trend begins in elementary school.

    We know, because we’ve seen and experienced it firsthand. Despite the many STEM courses we took throughout high school, both of us have faced many incidents of sexism in lab and classroom spaces. The perception that women are not meant to do lab work or calculations is still prevalent. As you enter these spaces and find yourself wondering if that thing your lab partner said was “actually” sexist, we just want to tell you: You are not overreacting. What you are wondering about was probably sexism, intentional or otherwise.

    You may be afraid to raise your hand in class with a correct answer, or to dispute a lab partner over proper methodology. Just remember, you have the right to steer your own inquiry, you have every right to be in this class, and you are meant to be doing this just as much as they are.

    Mansplaining. It happens to all of us. If you routinely have male classmates condescendingly re-explain concepts to you, assuming that you don’t understand, it is totally okay to address that malarkey, and say, “Actually, I’ve got this.

    If you freeze in the moment but want to say something later, call the person in and explain to them why you’re upset. Genuinely misunderstanding something does not mean you are suddenly unfit to be in the class! It does, however, entitle you to go to the teacher to ask for help, if and when you feel comfortable. Just like in any other subject.

    Sometimes you may hear classmates (or, if you’re really unlucky, teachers) say that we’re living in a “postfeminist” era and that it’s enough for girls to make up twenty percent of a class. Next time you hear this, you can say to them: “It’s not just ‘nice’ to have a diverse group of problem-solvers in the lab—it’s essential. When you exclude a group of people from the lab, problems go unnoticed and unsolved.

    Finally, if you are ever told your success is due to your professors’ preference or because you fill a minority seat, we would like to say: You are smart and qualified and never need to apologize for taking up space.

    Once you come to the realization that you’ve worked hard for your achievements and you deserved them, no one can take that away from you. If you would like to say something along the lines of “Yeah, I have a vagina, and I’m doing math. What’s the problem?,” know that we, and the entire network of Jewish feminists in STEM, stand behind you.

    We would like to acknowledge our privilege as white women in a society where we are born with a package of advantages. We are lucky to have the ability to share our experiences and to have support from friends and family. There are many other women who have less privilege. We hope our words are helpful for any woman who feels frustration, sadness, or loneliness in her pursuit of a STEM career––or simply in a science classroom. At the end of the day, STEM has provided us with challenges, opportunities, and many other rewards that make encountering, and fighting back against, sexism worth it. If you feel discouraged, never forget that you have a whole sisterhood of women rooting for you and believing in your ability to succeed fearlessly.

    Wishing you luck, skill, and strength in all your scientific inquiries,

    Maya Jodidio and Caroline Kubzansky

    Feminism, Schools, Engineering, Inventors, Natural Science, PhysicsSTEM