We all know the names of inspirational and influential women in our history. Women like Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou- and many more whose actions and work have dramatically shaped the world we live in. There are, however, some women in STEM fields, both throughout our history and in our present, who haven’t quite become the household names they deserve to be.
Although we’re seeing the number of women graduating with degrees in STEM fields steadily increasing (over 200,000 graduated in 2016 as opposed to over 140,000 in 2009, according to Statista), there’s still a large gender gap within STEM fields with women only making up 28% of STEM jobs. As educators working with STEM education, we’re all too aware of how important it is for our students to have inspirational figures within their fields that they can look up to. To both celebrate Women’s History Month and give our girls some STEM inspiration, let’s take a look at some women who made STEM herstory.
1) Eldorado Jones
Our first woman in STEM was nicknamed the “Iron Woman” (not to be confused with Marvel’s Iron Man, very different but equally cool). Eldorado started inventing after beginning her career as both a teacher and a stenographer at an insurance company. She created several inventions throughout her lifetime, including her most well-known invention- an airplane muffler. Eldorado was able to invent an airplane muffler that, according to Modern Mechanics, used “a series of small pinwheels which ‘chew up’ the sound waves and retard the passage of exhaust gases without crating undue back pressure upon the engine.” It was also described as the “first successful exhaust engine for airplanes.” In addition to her airplane muffler, Eldorado also invented a lightweight electric iron and travel ironing board. She established her own inventing company to develop her products and primarily hired women over the age of 40 as her employees- props to you, Eldorado!
2) Deepika Kurup
Born in 1998, this modern-day STEM innovator is making waves in the field of water purification. She found her inspiration to begin her inventing journey when she visited India with her parents at the age of 14. She noticed the lack of clean drinking water and how it affected the citizens of the country- especially the women. In an interview with CNN, Deepika stated, “So water also affects women’s health and … how women can contribute to the economy, because instead of spending time with their family and instead of spending time working and raising money, women have to walk hours on end every day to go collect water…That definitely is not something that I used to see in the United States and so I wanted to do something to change that.”
This prompted her to create a new and affordable water purification system consisting of a cement-like compost material that, when activated by sunlight, can dramatically reduce the bacteria in water. She was able to present her invention before President Barack Obama in 2012 and received the award for “America’s Top Young Scientist”.
3) Marie Van Brittan Brown
As with many inventors, Marie’s contribution to modern technology was inspired by a problem she faced in her own life. Marie and her husband, Albert Brown, resided in Queens. She worked as a nurse and he worked as an electronics technician so they often worked irregular hours, leaving their home more vulnerable in a neighborhood with a high crime rate. Marie desired to increase the level of safety and security in her own home, thus leading to her to become the inventor of the first home security system.
Her original design consisted of peepholes, cameras, surveillance monitors, and a two-way microphone to communicate with the person at the door prior to opening it. Her patent for this invention was approved in 1969 and she’s also been credited with inventing the first closed-circuit television. So when you sleep soundly at night knowing that you’ll be alerted of any threats through your security cameras- you have Marie to thank!
5) Ann Makosinski
Another modern-day innovator, inspiration struck Ann in the form of her friend in the Philippines. When Ann heard that her friend had failed her grade because she had no electricity or light with which to study, she knew she had to create a solution. This resulted in her invention The Hollow Flashlight, which is a flashlight that can run off of the heat of the human hand rather than electricity. She’s now in talks to manufacture the product, thereby bringing light to areas that otherwise couldn’t afford it. Ann also invented what is called an eDrink which is an invention that converts the excess heat from a hot drink into electricity that can charge your phone.
6) Karla Zimonja
There are numerous examples of influential women-developed video games throughout history, but a more modern example of note would be Karla Zimonja. Karla is both a game designer and one of the co-founders of developer Fullbright. She was one of the integral players in the development of the game Gone Home, a first-person exploration-based game in which you wander around a house, examine objects, and uncover a hidden story. In regards to working under their own company on the projects, Karla said to Vice, “It feels good to me to have full ownership of things, to be in control of the thing we’re making, as opposed to having a board that’s in control… Not having higher-ups saying things like: ‘What are you doing? Is that going to sell to males aged 18 to 35? Is it? IS IT?’ That is worth so much to us.” Additional gaming credits Karla has in graphics include Fate: Undiscovered Realms, Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species, and Zoo Tycoon 2.
7) Alba Colon
Alba dreamt of being an astronaut all throughout her childhood in Puerto Rico. When she grew up, she pursued a degree in Mechanical Engineering and ended up joining the Society of Automotive Engineers. There she fell in love with cars and ended up joining GM straight out of college, working her way up to becoming the lead engineer for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Over the course of her illustrious career in car mechanics, she’s worked with prominent drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, and Jimmie Johnson. She’s also led Chevy to earning 160 race wins, eight Manufacturers’ Cup awards, and six driver’s championships.