5 Groundbreaking Women in Engineering
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5 Groundbreaking Women in Engineering


Thanks to Emerson for supporting this episode
of SciShow. To learn more, visit Emerson.com/WeLoveSTEM. [♪ INTRO] After many years of ignoring their stories,
the world has finally started to talk about women in science — which is amazing! Everyone should know about all the women in
the past and present who have kicked butt doing amazing research. But we really can’t talk about women in
STEM enough — and we definitely don’t talk as often as we should about women who
have done cool work in science’s more applied sibling, engineering. It’s a pretty wide-ranging field, and like
with more basic science, it’s had women making big advances in it for a long time. And the coolest part? Lots of the stuff they work on and have worked
on affects your day-to-day life. We’re talking train travel, your Bluetooth
headphones, your hybrid cars. So buckle up for five fantastic women in engineering. Hedy Lamarr was a lot more brilliant than
people often gave her credit for. She’s best known for being a famous 1940s
actress, but she also helped come up with the idea that today underlies secure WiFi
and Bluetooth technology. This part of Lamarr’s story began in the
1930s, when she was unhappily married to an Austrian arms dealer. She often hosted her husband’s dinner parties
or attended meetings with him. And while she wasn’t a fan of playing hostess
to literal Nazis at these events, she did end up learning a lot about weapons control
systems from just being there. With World War II on the horizon, that was
a pretty big deal. See, at this time, radio waves were starting
to play an important role in these control systems. And at some point, Lamarr quietly came up
with an idea that would make these signals much harder to jam or intercept. It was an early form of what we today call
frequency hopping spread spectrum. Rather than sending all of your information
over one frequency, you spread it out by sending little packets of info over different frequencies. The information you’re sending hops from
frequency to frequency — and in order to get the whole message, you have to know when
and on which frequencies bits of information will arrive. That makes your data much more secure. It also means that it’s harder to jam your
signal, because the jammer has to block lots of radio frequencies instead of just one. Now, fast-forward to the 1940s. By this point, Lamarr had left her husband,
gone to Hollywood, and become friends with a composer named George Antheil. And finally, she started talking to him about
her radio ideas, and how they could be used to help the U.S. military. The two agreed that hopping frequencies could
solve the problem of people intercepting or jamming weapons frequencies… but of course,
you needed a way to know which frequency the signal would be on at what time. Together, Lamarr and Antheil came up with
the idea of using player piano rolls to synchronize the sender and the receiver. If you’re not familiar, these are big paper
rolls that you could plug in to a piano that would then play a song. They each had little cut-outs to tell the
piano which notes to play when. The idea was that each of the 88 keys on the
piano could be used to represent a different frequency. And in 1942, this team got a patent for it. Unfortunately, the U.S. military didn’t
take it too seriously, and Lamarr didn’t receive wide recognition for her work until
much later, when plays and movies were being written about it. Today, though, this idea of sending packets
of information over a broad range of frequencies is what makes our WiFi secure and helps sync
our Bluetooth devices. So thanks, Hedy. Olive Wetzel Dennis graduated from Cornell
University in 1920 with a degree in civil engineering, then promptly went and got herself
a railroad job. That all might sound relatively normal now,
but it wasn’t really done at that time. Dennis was only the second woman to graduate
from Cornell’s civil engineering program, and women didn’t really work for railroads. But, hey, that didn’t stop her. She got a job working as a draftsman for the
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and helped build bridges in rural Ohio. Then, not long after, she became a service
engineer with the B&O. That meant she rode the line for tens of thousands
of kilometers a year, paying attention to details, testing things out, and making all
kinds of improvements. Her work led to stain-resistant upholstery,
ceiling lights that could be easily dimmed, air conditioning, better meals, window vents
that brought in fresh air and kept out dust, and reclining chairs. Of course, when Dennis got kind of famous
for her work, newspapers gave her nicknames like “the Lady Engineer” and the “world’s
greatest housekeeper.” Yikes. But! She was awesome at her job. And today, everybody appreciates that train
cars are air-conditioned. Dennis was super detail oriented, an advocate
for women pursuing their dreams, and proof that engineers don’t have to invent a bunch
of stuff to have a big impact. Because really, she didn’t just change trains. Small improvement by small improvement, she
also changed the way we think about transportation and set a new standard for comfortable travel. Annie Easley isn’t a household name, and
she doesn’t have a huge movie about her. But she was another one of NASA’s hidden
figures. She always knew that she was good at math,
but she thought she wanted to go into pharmacy — that is, until one day in 1955, when she
read about the human computers at NASA’s predecessor, NACA. These were people who did the calculations
necessary for spaceflight. And right away, she knew that’s what she
wanted to do. Easley worked as a computer until machines
replaced humans… and then she just became awesome at programming computers instead. As a programmer, she helped analyze alternative
energy, including wind and solar power, and she also worked to understand the storage
life of batteries. The code she wrote for analyzing energy-conversion
systems actually contributed to the development of the kinds of batteries that we use in hybrid
cars today. Easley also helped develop software for Centaur,
a high-energy rocket that would become known as “America’s Workhorse in Space.” The Centaur was designed to use liquid hydrogen
as a fuel, which was kind of a big deal at the time. Hydrogen is really light – it’s the lightest
element – and liquid hydrogen also really burns. This makes it a super efficient rocket fuel,
providing a lot of power for not that much weight. But liquid hydrogen — and the Centaur — got
off to a rocky start. When the rocket was first tested, it was buggy
and prone to problems… mostly because liquid hydrogen is so hard to work with. It needs to be stored at less than negative
250 degrees Celsius, expands quickly when heated, and is so cold that it can make metal
brittle. So the engineers at Lewis Research Center,
including Annie Easley, became responsible for “taming” liquid hydrogen by testing
it and analyzing data about it. Eventually, Centaur rockets would be used
in over 100 uncrewed launches, boosting satellites into orbit and probes into space. The Centaur would be responsible for sending
the Cassini mission to Saturn in 1997, as well as probes and fly-bys to Mercury, Venus,
Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. So like, no big deal or anything. Lynn Conway literally wrote the textbook on
microchip design. She helped kickstart the development of the
kinds of computers and cell phones we have today — and, on a different note, her work
as an activist for transgender rights has also been influential. Working in the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
in the 1970s, Conway invented scalable design rules for VLSI chip design. That stands for Very-Large-Scale-Integration,
and it’s where millions of transistors get combined into a single chip to increase its
processing power. She also pioneered teaching these methods
at MIT. Conway’s way of thinking was that the chip
itself wasn’t the invention. Instead, it was the idea of using the best
computing technology available to figure out a newer and better way to make the next chip. She deeply understood that the computing industry
would constantly reinvent itself. Based on her teaching at MIT, and in collaboration
with Carver Mead of Caltech, Conway wrote Introduction to VLSI Systems, which pretty
much set in motion chip design as we know it. Also, it led to Moore’s law, which suggests
that the computing power of chips doubles every two years. Yes, that Moore’s law. All of this is amazing, but another remarkable
part of Conway’s story is that, by this point, she had already had a whole other career
in the 60s. Back in those days, she invented dynamic instruction
scheduling, which is basically where hardware can rearrange a set of instructions to execute
them in the most efficient way possible. It’s another fundamental component of computer
architecture and modern computing, but up until recently, nobody really knew that Lynn
Conway was also responsible for that. That’s because she had done the work before
coming out as transgender and transitioning. And with the way people viewed gender in the
60s and 70s, it didn’t feel safe for her to claim that work. But despite that, she still managed to become
one of the leading thinkers in computer engineering. Finally, Treena Livingston Arinzeh studied
mechanical engineering as an undergrad, and it was only later that she became interested
in applying engineering principles to medicine. But once she did? She became an extremely influential researcher
in the field of stem cells. These are sort of blank-slate cells that can
differentiate into specialized types of cells. And Arinzeh’s primary interest is in using
them to repair injuries. You can’t just throw a bunch of stem cells
in a wound and hope they’ll fix things, though. So an important part of Arinzeh’s research
is the development of tiny, synthetic biostructures that can serve as a kind of scaffolding for
stem cells. She’s made some great advancements in this
field, but her most well-known finding so far was actually published back in 2003. That year, she was able to show that a large
bone defect in a dog could be repaired by transplanting stem cells from another dog. And, maybe most importantly, immunosuppressant
drugs weren’t needed to keep the body of the transplant recipient from rejecting those
cells. This finding laid the groundwork for a big
idea: that adult stem cells from one person can be implanted into another person without
being rejected or causing an adverse immune reaction. This is huge. Without the help of immunosuppressant drugs,
most transplants from donors are rejected by the body because the immune system recognizes
them as foreign and tries to fight them off. But Arinzeh’s work suggests that isn’t
true for so-called mesenchymal stem cells. These are stem cells that can differentiate
into things like bone and cartilage cells, and Arinzeh’s work supports the fact that
they might be immune-privileged. In other words, molecules on the surface of
the cells tell the immune system that they shouldn’t be destroyed, which allows them
to go about their business of differentiating and repairing without interruption. Since her landmark study, Arinzeh has also
studied therapies for treating cartilage and neurons, both of which are notoriously tricky
to repair. In addition to her research, Arinzeh also
runs a summer program for high school students. Growing up, she didn’t have a lot of understanding
of what an engineer does… but this program can help make sure that these kids will. And that’s why it’s so important to talk
about women in engineering, too. Because, of course, as Olive Wetzel Dennis
once said, “There is no reason that a woman can’t be an engineer simply because no other
woman has ever been one.” And of course now, there have been female
engineers, and they’ve changed our lives — so we’ll keep celebrating their stories
and the amazing research they’ve done. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
and special thanks to Emerson for helping us make it! If you want to learn more about who Emerson
is and what they’re about, you can go to Emerson.com/WeLoveSTEM. [♪ OUTRO]

100 Comments

  • Xue Fu

    In my country, some teachers in high school are still claiming that "girls are not suitable for stem". And as women have been excluded from education&research for such a long time, there are so few female faces in my textbooks。So it is encouraging to see this kind of information.

  • FireSnake

    You can talk about them as much as you want it'll "never" be a 50/50 thing in engineering. it's not just social constructs that have them chose other careers….

  • jamil phillips

    Its understandable why some people would be slightly uneased by this video. Though im not I can see from their perspective, people including me have been up to the neck in political correctness, people getting demonetized for wrong think and the possible google and social media censorship situation and things that remind them of these problems could become an emotional trigger. And I might be completely wrong on this but its a little too coincidental or at least bad timing that during this media age of wokeness Scishow has become just a smidgen more political that or Ive only recently realized the politics because of the media situation. Either way I enjoyed this episode.

  • Gustav Crock

    It was interesting until you injected their political beliefs. Great job at shooting this video in the foot

  • Dorissa Claire

    Lynn Conway is a freaking BOSS. Imagine being a groundbreaking scientist not once but TWICE! It’s totally crazy she couldn’t even claim her past work!

  • Gina Woolsey

    I love literally every part of this video, from the honoring of engineering, to the trans woman, to including different types of engineering!

  • Mystery Surprise Toys

    Why does it matter that these brilliant people happen to have been women? The fact that they are women is not extraordinary.

    Would we or should we pay as much attention to these people if they happened to have been black or disabled??

    Honestly, we should honor them for their achivements not their genitals.

    Also, girls are not naturally interested in STEM. So, no amount of pushing is ever going to achieve parity with boys.

    And who cares if one of them happened to transition genders. It is a very very small percentage of the population. And it is not a good thing, it is literally a mental disorder called, Gender Dysphoria. It is not a virtue or anything to be proud of.

  • Laurens Dehaan

    Great work! Credit where credit is due. Hope it inspires some hesitant young women to take the plunge and strike out into the field.

  • nikiichan

    I grew up in a culture that is rather strict on gender stereotypes and was forbidden from going into engineering/technology. I studied something else and worked in that field only to be told by every "mentor" that as an Asian woman I was too polite and wouldn't last in the field. I gave up because honestly while I could do the work there was no passion there and I was tired of working for free in order to prove myself. I realised that it doesn't matter how hard you work and good results you achieve, if you are a woman, some men will always want to "mansplain", give unsolicited advice or speak in a condescending manner. It has happened in the past and it happens now, the only differentiating factor is the strong mindset that these woman possess. I respect these woman because they fought for what they wanted and they achieved great things. My goals aren't as great but I hope to get there someday.

  • Joaquin Pirotto

    Stop treating women as other! Do you know how discrimination of left handed people, both institutional and social, ended? We stop talking about "left handed people" and just talked about "people".

  • Stephanie Ness

    I would love to see more videos on groundbreaking women in engineering! I'm a civil engineer and I love learn more about the women that paved the way for me to be able to do what I do now!

  • Lesbian Amazon Sister

    If you're going to make a video about women in science, please be sure to only list females.
    The entire reason women often are overlooked is because we're seen as the weaker sex, incapable of scientific achievement.
    So sick of males in drag being credited as women.

  • mert ER

    Lamarr didnt come up with that idea to this new technology, this is wrong. She took this idea from one of those conversations her husband and the german military persons had.

  • Daniel Shterev

    This video belittles men's achievements in STEM, and is condescending to women with a tone like: Good job women, a few of you succeeded in what many men do for a living.
    Don't get me started on the following issue: We had to find 5 women, but couldn't and ended up including one that was born a men, but transitioned…

  • ruthanddaniel

    As a Mechanical Engineer I find this really interesting, I love learning about those who have paved the way for engineering to be what it is today.

  • Overonator

    I don't care if they are men, women, or trans. I find that to be irrelevant. Their work stand and falls on its own merits.

  • AdeleiTeillana

    I find it insulting that in a video about women in engineering, you chose to include a man posing as a women. Did he have struggles all his own? Sure he did, but they weren't the same as a person who is born and grows up as a woman, especially not in the past. Back then, even more than today, white little boys were given everything, told they could do anything, the sky was the limit for them. Little girls on the other hand, had to struggle for recognition, were gently pushed into more feminine roles, and even today don't always get the message that maths and sciences are fields where they can excel. He didn't have to grow up with those subtle differences. If you want to make a video about transgender pioneers or people who struggled to succeed despite being transgender, fine, throw Lynn Conway in there, but he doesn't belong in this video!

  • Salz Stangl

    Unfortunately affirmative action will get a lot of not-actually-passionate women into stem fields and taint the efforts of those who are actually great visionaries.

    I am afraid that female accomplishments in the western world in those fields will start to decline over the next two decades (if this continues)

  • SciShow

    This episode was produced in collaboration with and sponsored by Emerson. Click here to learn more about their We Love STEM initiative: https://www.emerson.com/welovestem?cm_mmc=SciShow-VideoYoutube_-WomenInSTEM2019

  • John Aggett

    cool video, thanks for the education, I am Autistic I this made me think because I know that its much harder for women to get diagnosed with Autism than men, do you think any of these ladies are/where Autistic?

  • Skooby Doofus

    Let's all just stop and appreciate how painful it was for Hank to say "World's Greatest Housekeeper." 😋

  • R3Testa

    Yeah… #4 is a woman who was previously a man? Does that really count if your trying to tell us all the great things women have done? Great thing a man has done: Became a woman after designing and building a supercomputer.

    I certainly don't mean any disrespect to anyone with this, but it seems like cheating. Like writing your name on someone's lunch so you can eat it. She did in fact do quite a bit more AFTER the transition….

    I notice that her Wikipedia page lists as "spouse(s)" only her husband, not her wife, and omits her children.

  • Iago Silva

    Hmpf; up till recently, I used to be just as curious about the stories of female thinkers like Noether, Pockels, Lovelace, Hodgkin and (many) others, in fact even more so, than male ones (and that simply because there are proportionatelly less of them/they aren't as much talked about), but as we've been sinking ourselves deeper and deeper into identity discourse, every time I hear a 'celebration' of their work, I can't help but reflexively twitch my nose at the faint background odor of irrelevant ideology. Thanks for ruining STEM appreciation equally for everyone, peoplekind (now insert feminist verborrheic drivel here)

  • Caitlin Barron

    I am a computer engineering major and have taken several classes on computer architecture but still had never been made aware of the amazing human that is Lynn Conway before now. Thank you SciShow for continuing to educate people in stem about the incredible men and women that came before us!

  • Cuddly Cactus

    One thing I just don't understand about the entire STEM project is why can't it be called STEAM and include Art??? Women in Art!

    Seriously why can't Art be included into this to make STEAM? And then

    Full STEAM Ahead

    would make a good tagline for the STEAM project!!

    So who do I have to contact to fix this?!?!

  • bookgrrl

    It's too bad that Lynn Conway was not mentioned in Walter Issacson's book The Innovators, which includes a history of microchip design

  • My Bucket List Adventures

    There should be a transgender catagory. She s not a Man, but she's not really a woman either. This clip is about women.

  • Joe Bob

    Michele Brekke. First female flight director at NASA: an industry dominated by males from it's beginning until that point. At least an honorable mention please.

  • raharu000

    I mean, I'm sure for every woman ignored, you could name a man that was also ignored. And if that's the case, then you're basically saying that the injustice of being ignored depends on your gender, which would be sexist. If you're trying to fight sexism, a better approach would be to not highlight gender. Being a woman should just be incidental to being a groundbreaking scientist. Because ultimately you want gender to be invisible when talking about a scientist's achievements, a better title would be "5 Groundbreaking Engineers" and then just showcase all women.
    By qualifying the engineers as women, you're putting this in "women's studies" catagory, which is just baiting and courting controversy. I guarantee you would get less downvotes and less trolls and it would also make being a female engineer seem less marked and more normal.

  • Greg Reilly

    That one about Heddy Lamar makes me question those so-called spirit boxes. Women have always been underestimated. Marilyn Monroe herself was a lot smarter than she is given credit for. And that was parodied in Superman 3, with the dumb blonde that recognized a computer on cocktail napkins. Thank you SciShow! More please!

  • Emil Sørensen

    I think we can do this video without implying that one person caused Moore's Law. I think we're exaggerating the implications of some of these things.

    We can give people credit for good work without everything having needed to lead to a revolution in the field. These revolutions rarely happen any more. Everyone tends to work on a small bit of some huge problem. That's the job. Which, by the way, is why we need to stop giving people like Elon Musk credit for "inventing" stuff. It's a canard.

  • Gino7lord

    Before finishing i wonder if Ada lovelace, lord byrons daughter is on this. She created a very early version of a computer.

  • 6th Wilbury

    I work at UC Davis, which was rated as the No. 1 university in the country for women in STEM. So I just like this video many, many times.

    Oh wait, I can only do it once? Okay, time to find one of my Aggies to crack the software and allow me to stuff the ballot.

  • Natalie Schelling

    Thank you so much for making this video. I'm a civil engineer and love learning about other women in the field. Despite being the only female engineer in my office, I am so grateful to those who have come before me and helped open the doors to the rest of us. Thank you SciShow for continuing to encourage everyone to pursue careers in STEM.

  • DragonofEpics

    What about the inventor of the windshield wiper? Also you fun fact: Lynn Conway commissioned the robot head replica of her wife to be made.

  • Absolute Trash

    There are 3 things in my life I've had to go through that have traumatized me and I still have nightmares about on the regular:

    1. Losses of loved ones
    2. Childbirth
    3. Engineering school lol

    I honestly don't know how I'm still alive and functioning (a little dramatic, I know. But still).

  • Alberto Galleguillos

    as an (mechanical) engineer my self, i am proud of the engineers who paved the path for me, and the ones who will come after me; regardless of gender, engineers bridge (pun intended) the gap between the "office"/"science"/"textbook" world and the "real"/"physical"/"everyday" world. We should all be proud of the shoulders we stand upon.

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