Despite the still existing gender gap in society, more women are advancing in the engineering field, and the gap is slowly becoming smaller. To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th, we would like to commemorate three of the most inspirational women scientists and engineers who have changed the world and paved the way for other women to follow.
Florence Violet McKenzie (1890-1982)
Florence Violet McKenzie had an incredible career as an electrical engineer, that was mainly characterized by her contribution to encouraging women to become engineers. However, her legacy also includes, becoming Australia’s first female certificated radio-telegraphist, the first female member of the Wireless Institute of Australia, and the first woman in Australia to hold an amateur wireless licence.
In 1934, her passion for inspiring others and her strong belief that electricity could save women from domestic incidents led her to open the Electrical Association for Women. She provided technical and practical training for women in the use of electricity. She, later, also wrote the first ’all-electric cookbook’.
Before the war broke out, she foresaw the need to train female wireless telegraphists and used her qualifications and teaching skills to form the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps. Her free courses helped women become skilled in wireless communications, which would eventually prove essential during the war.
She and some of her trainees managed to form the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) – this was the first time women were allowed to join the navy, and the urgent need for telegraphists meant they were relied upon heavily. By the end of the war, WRANS represented 10% of the entire Royal Australian Naval Force.
Her most resonant saying could not be more significant today: “It is finished, and I have proved to them all that women can be as good as, or better than men’’.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
When we think of radioactivity and women in science, Marie Curie instantly comes to mind. In addition to having coined the term ‘radioactivity’, she is also known for her courage and determination in a time of limited opportunities for careers for women. Her dedication and discovery brought immense changes to society and helped build the understanding of medical science that we have today.
Marie and her husband, Pierre, focused their research on the magnetism of radioactivity in their laboratories. Curie isolated polonium, the radioactive element that emits a particular kind of x-ray called gamma rays. Curie went on to uncover the properties of radium and eventually earned two Nobel Prizes for her work in the field. In receiving the first of these, she became the first woman ever to receive such an honour.
In addition to her discovery and vital work during the First World War, Marie went on to design radiology cars to support soldiers on the front line.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Hedy Lamarr was primarily famous for being a movie star in the golden age of the silver screen in 1930’s Hollywood - but she was also known as a brilliant engineer.
In 1942, Hedy earned recognition through her idea of a radio signaling device – which later led her to become a pioneer in wireless communication. The original idea was meant to solve the problem of enemies blocking signals from radio-controlled missiles during World War II, by switching from frequency to frequency in split-second intervals and prevent enemies from detecting messages.
Due to limited advancement in technologies at the time, the idea was not feasible until much later. Eventually, Hedy’s idea became very important to the military and is the foundation for today's advanced wireless networks. Without her and her genius mind, we would not have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other inventions that have become essential in the digitally-dependent world we live in today. She is now recognised as one of the most interesting and intelligent women in the movie industry.
EIT is committed to continuing to inspire and encourage women to pursue engineering careers anywhere in the World. We currently offer two scholarships for future and current female students, EIT Women in Engineering Scholarship and EIT Aspiring Female Engineer Scholarship.